Marketing to Marketers

The one audience we haven’t read much about are the online marketers. They’re usually the servers of information, not the clients. But the Internet and e-commerce have created an entire industry meant to serve professional communicators.

And it’s a lucrative one. For every company looking to profit from the Internet, there are dozens of other companies looking to make a profit off of them. Welcome to the Internet food chain.

Just this week, Emily has received a stack of stuff about conferences, lectures, newsletters and other services meant to help her do her job. The value of many of these is questionable. Below are some examples. The names of the publishers and authors have been changed to protect the not-so innocent. And the parenthetical inserts are ours.

“At this price, they’d better have a good buffet.”

Let’s begin with Strategic Communications for the Year 2000 Crisis (Y2K, as if you didn’t know). For a mere $549 for this one-day event, you can learn the following:

  • “Not a single Fortune 500 company has the problem 100 percent licked.” (Commiseration doesn’t come cheaply.)
  • “Year 2000 may be almost 500 days away but your customers, partners and the financial community are worried NOW.” (500 days? Since we got this flyer the week of January 18, apparently the event organizers have an even worse Y2K problem than the rest of us could have imagined. Fortunately, most computers assume there are some 300-odd days in a year.)
  • “This is your opportunity to exchange ideas with your peers.” (According to this flyer, most of our peers are woefully unprepared, so why would we want to talk to them?)

If we went to just half the conferences for which we get flyers, it could become a full-time job — not to mention a major budget drain. In many cases, we could teach them ourselves (and, on occasion, we have).

The point is that some of these conferences play on your fear that you may not know enough, or somewhere there’s a secret that you must pay $549 to learn. But there really aren’t any secrets out there. And you can probably get the same if not more valuable information by reading about it online. (Another excellent option, by the way, is to read ClickZ’s conference coverage of the biggest industry events. For example, this week ClickZ covered the Forrester forum in Amsterdam, Preparing for Dynamic Trade in the Internet Economy.)

Why Read For Free What You Can Pay For In Print?

One newsletter in this week’s inbox featured an article with the somewhat ominous (or hokey, depending on your perspective) headline, “Spoonfeeding the Content Monster.” No, this isn’t the latest Sesame Street character to become a children’s toy craze. The article is actually useful for marketers who haven’t discovered the use of databases to manage and maintain site content. For those who still toil with individual web pages and HTML, this article demonstrated one way to get that thankless job under control.

Only one problem: It ends up being a pitch for a software program, rather than an insightful overview of the various kinds of databases and publishing software programs out there. Meanwhile, you can get plenty of information about database-driven web sites, including an overview of several products, at free sites such as BUILDER.COM.

BornEveryMinute.com

The next newsletter, however, is an eight-page, two-color marketing report for which the publishers have the audacity to charge $299 a year. Some gems from this publication: “How we used our web site to zero in on best prospects… we identified lots of satisfied, long-term buyers.” (Well, duh.) And in an article about getting better returns from an online store: “Put your hottest and most important merchandise at the front of your store.” (Well, duh again.)

And who could overlook: “Surround your product descriptions with useful info and other compelling content.” (As opposed to your first impulse, which probably was to pad it with your essay, “Why Posh is my favorite Spice Girl.”) And the coup de grace: when Emily searched the newsletter for a URL, there wasn’t one. Presumably, this Internet marketing newsletter doesn’t have a web site.

Use the Internet for Information About the Internet

As an online marketer, you can’t afford not to keep up with the industry. It’s essential to read what is working and what isn’t; how the business is changing; how technology is changing. But before you go spending thousands of dollars to get these newsletters or attend these conferences, spend some time reading on the Internet. Heck — for starters, check out our esteemed colleagues’ articles here at ClickZ.

If you do get a newsletter or information about a conference that looks compelling, try a search on the Internet and see how much you can research yourself before writing that check. Chances are you can find just as much information, if not more, than you would at the conference.

The benefit of using the Internet itself to find information is you can get just the stuff that is of interest to you, rather than having to pick from three lukewarm sessions right before lunch or having to choose from two good competing sessions (and then missing one) after lunch.

A Narrower Market Isn’t Necessarily A Smarter One

Many of these conferences and newsletters are directed at marketers or PR pros in specific areas — healthcare, for example. But Emily has found the more useful articles tend to be more general. Most of the strategies and tactics she applies in her daily job are concepts she’s learned from places that have nothing to do with health care.

Now, the caveat: we’re not saying that all conferences are a waste of time. Nor are we suggesting that all printed newsletters are best suited for the birdcage floor. Sometimes it’s nice to have editors prompt you to think about a topic you might not have considered before. But much of that expensive content can be found if you’re a regular visitor to some of the better online e-zines.

Remember that the next time you receive an offer for some monthly newsletter that promises all the “insider secrets” of Internet marketing — now at a special, limited-time offer of only $400/year (so hurry!).

Think about it. If the get-rich-quick seminar pushers on late-night TV knew such revolutionary, money-making secrets, do you think they’d actually share it with you? Even better, don’t you think they’d have something better to do with their astonishing wealth than to put on infomercials between reruns of Three’s Company?

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