Stand out to survive: How to differentiate your B2B publication

Abe Peck
Abe Peck

By Dan Kubacki

As the world of trade journalism contracts in some areas and grows in others, business-to-business publications must be unique to enjoy long life cycles.

Abe Peck, director of B2B Communication at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said each trade publication must continue to deliver unique content its audience craves during a keynote address at the Generation B2B ASBPE 2019 National Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“Our content has to be unique, it has to be valuable,” said Peck, who also serves as executive editor for Inside Unmanned Systems and Inside GNSS. “When I explain B2B to my students, I tell them you have to find the reasons that your readers read, and finding that niche, you have to use it to enlighten and inspire them.”

Part of understanding your audience is knowing what your readers know and what you don’t know, Peck said.

“The first day you work at a B2B publication, you know less than all of your readers on day one,” he said.

Finding an “intellectual vertical” with your audience is also important.

“Do you write for beginners? It’s about differentiation—some people might enter a market and it’s day one for them, but if you’re too shallow, what do your veterans get from you?” Peck said.

Peck called for B2B editors to be the “thought leaders” of their industry.

“[Readers want] a publication that makes them smarter,” Peck said. “Best practices, peer-to-peer advice. Heroes of the niche. Those are the people that readers want to hear from. How does your audience measure success?”

New media

B2B journalism’s evolution toward digital platforms has never been more apparent, Peck said. While in 2006 one trade publisher earned more than half its revenue from print products and less than 20% from digital, in 2018 about 44% of revenue was generated by digital platforms versus 18% by print.

“You can’t just be the print or web guy, you must be cross-platform,” he said. “Know your silos, especially if you have a smaller staff.”

Multiplatform storytelling also extends to social media.

“Social, I think we all have to be involved in this,” Peck said. “Fifty-four percent of 13- to 35-year-olds say social is an essential part of their business lives.”

A sound social media strategy “allows you to build community,” Peck added.

Making an impression

Peck pointed to attending and covering industry events as a critical step to increase the knowledge and credibility of trade publication editors.

“I think they’re vital. I might be new to this magazine, but I learned a lot by just talking to people,” he said, referencing a recent show visit as the just-appointed executive editor of Inside Unmanned Systems and Inside GNSS.

“Take new employees to your events, and people are very nice to them. Hundreds of people come to your booth. You learn from the attendees.”

Trade journalists can be successful by fitting into the exact niche that their audience needs.

“Really being an audience maven is important, not just catering to them, but challenging them when it’s necessary to challenge them,” Peck said.

Peck also emphasized B2B editors must be passionate about their publications; otherwise their audience won’t be.

“If you’re not passionate about your publication, you won’t be happy and you’ll fail your audience,” he said.

Dan Kubacki is the production editor at Hotel News Now based in Lakewood, Ohio. He is one of ASBPE’s 2019 Young Leader Scholarship recipients.

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