Thursday, April 5, 2012

B2B tablet publishing: the return of the 'bingo card' & other old school ways to drive reader response for advertisers

I sometimes express sympathy to those currently in the B2B media industry who have only just started their positions. Today's editors, sales reps and production people have to take on the work of three or more people in order for the executives to be paid their salaries and the PE owners to milk their profits prior to the eventual sell-off (does that sound snarky enough?)

To grizzled old veterans, the glory days of B2B publishing had to be the 90's on into the last decade. Then the wheels came off and publishers have been spending the past few years trying to figure out where those wheels went off to.

The venerable 'bingo card' could return
The fundamentals of B2B magazines were pretty rigid a decade or so ago: a magazine had to have its circulation audited and prove, day-in and day-out, that it was reaching the right audience (buyers); it needed to drive response for its advertisers through those annoying, but effective "bingo" cards; and the publisher, editor and sales reps needed to be knowledgable about their industries and an active participant in it.

Today, much of this is simply impossible. Publishers and editors (not to mention sales reps, art directors, etc.) manage multiple titles, in multiple industries, with predictable results.

But the introduction of the new digital platforms is presenting B2B executives with some interesting opportunities to return, in a different fashion, to some of their old practices.

Take the venerable bingo card – otherwise known as a reader response card. Many magazines have dumped these, often for some good reasons: more people are going online to directly learn more about companies, and those cards cost money to print and bind in the magazines.

Looking at some old cards I noticed that those from the late nineties required readers to place a stamp on the card before mailing. Ones far older actually would pay for postage.
B2B ad with response number
The reader response card was the lifeblood of the industry for years. Magazines may have been judged by their BPA audited circulation and the rates they charged, but when times got tough many magazines were taken off the schedule simply because the marketing manager counted fewer leads coming in from potential buyers that bore the name of that particular magazine.

One magazine, which shall remain nameless here, started sending all reader responses to every advertisers, regardless of whether that reader had any interest in that product at all. Small advertisers thought it was great, but eventually I got my reps to talk to the big, full-page advertisers using that magazine to discuss why they spent so much money in that book when a one-eighth page ad would generate the same number of responses.

Few B2Bs have been very active in creating mobile and tablet editions. But once the practice becomes ingrained – and it will soon – creative publishers will realize that the interactivity inherent in the platforms can substitute for some of the older practices used in print.

Take the qual-card. The qualification card, of course, is used when someone decides he/she wants to subscribe to the magazine. Since the magazine is usually free, the reader must prove that they are qualified to receive the magazine. Questions on the card not only include name and address, but also things like title, size of the business, areas that person are authorized to buy goods and services. If a reader doesn't have the authority to buy an asphalt paver they can't subscribe to Asphalt Contractor, for instance.

But binding qual-cards into a tablet edition is, well, difficult. But it is not possible.

The trick is to get that reader to give the publisher their information. In the past the reward was a subscription. Today it can be information – for instance, a newsletter, push notification, etc.

Most digital publishing vendors have not concentrated on uniques ways to use notifications and social sharing, but my guess is that in the next decade (or even the next few years) this will be the new features they tout. The key will be to promote these benefits throughout the app, not just at the initial launch of the app.

In exchange for filing out a form, the reader would get targeted information products, either in the form of a customized app experience, e-mail or text alerts, or a push notification.

The same techniques can be used to drive reader response to advertising.

For most publishers, the idea that an advertiser would benefit if their ad had interactivity is pretty much a no-brainer. But this is not the same as the reader telling the publisher of their interest in certain products. That was where the publisher had power: they knew the reader wanted more information from, say, John Deere. The reader filled out that card and where did they send it? Directly to the publisher, who compiled the leads and once a month mailed them to the advertisers.

How many B2B publishers are building in direct communications methods into their tablet editions? In the future I am sure some B2B magazine, that is a savvy developer, will program in a way for a magazine reader to express an interest in learning more about a product, compile those inputs, and send them to the publisher for eventual dissemination to the advertisers (as well as the companies mentioned in the articles).

The day of the bingo card's return may be closer than many understand. But it will take imagination and development skills to build these features into the standard B2B tablet edition.