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This Week in Content Marketing: Medium Picked the Wrong Business Model


PNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

In this episode, Robert and I discuss Super Bowl commercials, some Valentine’s Day content, and Snapchat’s all-important IPO. We also explore the new subscription model Medium is pursuing, and conclude that it has chosen unwisely. Our rants and raves include dark content marketing and e-newsletters; then we close out the show with an example of the week on influential entrepreneur Sara Spencer Washington.

This week’s show

(Recorded live on February 13, 2017; Length: 0:56:32)

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1.    Notable news and upcoming trends

  • Super Bowl commercials drop the ball (08:20): Robert and I spend a few minutes talking about the ads that aired during the big game, each of which cost upwards of $5 million. In contrast to the game itself, this year’s offerings were a yawn-fest for us, though we each came up with a short list of notable exceptions.

  • 8 things marketers need to know about Snapchat’s IPO (15:39): AdAge brings us a rundown of just-disclosed details on the social network as part of its recent IPO filings. What surprised me most is that Snapchat refers to itself as “a camera company.” Could this be its way of pivoting so that it’s no longer in direct competition with Instagram? As we see it, Snapchat’s next challenge will be to find a product to deliver to the subscriber base it has built.
  • Medium plans to launch a consumer subscription product this quarter (23:52): Medium CEO Ev Williams shared the company’s plans to “upgrade” its experience with a new paid product offering in Q1 of this year. According to TechCrunch, generating a strong source of revenue through subscriptions would be critical to the company’s stated goal of distancing itself from advertisement-based publishing models. Robert and I share why we’re skeptical that Medium can pull off the type of differentiated experience that would be required here, and suggest an alternate space where Medium really could excel.

2.    Sponsor (34:32)

  • Content Marketing Institute’s 2017 Events: Whether you are just getting started with content marketing or are looking to take your expertise to the next level, CMI’s portfolio of events has you covered. From our free virtual ContentTECH conference ­taking place on February 22 to Content Marketing World – the largest annual gathering of content marketing professionals in the industry – we offer a wide range of unparalleled training, education, and networking experiences. Check out all the events we have in store for 2017, including our strategy-focused Intelligent Content Conference and the launch of a brand new curriculum at Content Marketing University.


3.     Rants and Raves (38:12)

  • Robert’s commentary: Robert promises he isn’t trying to be political in raising awareness of this Observer article, in which Ryan Holiday describes how he practically wrote the trolling “playbook” that is, arguably, now being used by fringe groups and pot-stirrers to build their popularity. It’s a fascinating dissection of how to “leverage the dismissals, anger, mockery, and contempt of the population to prove credibility,” and Robert urges all marketers to become more informed on this manipulative technique.
  • Joe’s rave/commentary: Publishing Executive offers some helpful insights on how to develop newsletters that people actually want. One finding worth noting is The New York Times’ discovery that its website visitors were twice as likely to become paying subscribers if they signed up for a newsletter first. It’s a valuable proof point, and I hope marketers will take it as evidence of the benefits of a subscription-based content model.

4.    This Old Marketing example of the week (48:50)

  • This week’s example comes to us via listener @JaysonMassey, who brought the inspiring story of Sara Spencer Washington to our attention. Washington was a Virginia chemist and entrepreneur who, in 1913, opened up a beauty salon in Atlantic City, N.J.  Noting a lack of African American-specific beauty products at the time, Madame Washington (as she had come to be called) created her own line of products that catered to the needs of her under-served clientele. After achieving considerable success with these products, Madame Washington decided to expand her business in two very important ways: First, she founded the Apex School of Scientific Beauty Culture to train aspiring African American beauticians. Then, she built a newsletter to help keep her students informed about the latest hair styling tools, trends, and techniques (and Apex products) after they graduated. The Apex Publishing News Service supported Madame Washington’s growing business empire, raised her profile as an influential member of her community, and helped establish her as one of the most important business executives in the black community (as described in this profile) – making it a super-cool example of This Old Marketing.


Image source

For a full list of PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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