Remember the days in the boom when new companies like iSyndicate, Screaming Media, MoreOver, YellowBrix, and IntelliSearch were going to be the next Net zillionnaires by selling aggregated, syndicated content into intranets and public sites?
There was a heck of a lot of buzz, then many switched names and/or business models, and a few went out of business entirely.
"There wasn't really a market there three years ago. There was a lot of noise and confusion, a lot of people competing, but not much clarity on who the buyers were and what they wanted," explains Shaun Carrigan, CEO NetContent Inc.
Carrigan should know, since buying Intellisearch in 1999 to serve as NetContent's tech backbone, he's been through the entire rollercoaster boom and bust, and come out the other end with a solid three-pronged business model that corporate America seems to love.
But, don't go to his Web site to learn more just yet. "Things are really moving in this business right now," says Carrigan. In fact they're moving so quickly that the corporate site's outdated.
Here's how NetContent Inc's business model works:Gathering and indexing content from offline and online sources
The key to reselling success to the mid-market is to keep your content collection costs low, yet offer a breadth and depth of content that's not readily available from free services such as Google News.
Working deals with individual publishers to be allowed to collect and resell content is a massive pain -- not to mention expensive. So, like several other resellers, including Patrick Spain's Highbeam Research, NetContent licenses feeds from aggregators who've already done the hard work of collecting them.
NetContent purchases three main feeds:
o ProQuest: Aggregates roughly 6,000 feeds from print and online sources, including newspapers, trade magazines, subscription newsletters, and scholarly journals. ProQuest's primary market is academic libraries, but they also sell as much of their feed as they are allowed to business resellers.
(Fearing competition, some publishers don't let ProQuest resell their content outside the library marketplace.)
o NewsNow: This UK-based company spiders the Web for content, including more than 16,000 news sites and significant Blogs, and then sells headline-plus-hotlink feeds on to businesses and resellers.
o Thomson Gale: Springing from the old print directory world, Gale aggregates and creates databases mainly for the library world. NetContent buys the rights to resell Gale's continously-updated company profile database.
Then NetContent's technology mingles, flags by keyword, and sells the content back out to business customers. "We fill the gap between free online search and costly professional research like Lexis Nexis or Factiva. There's a big mid-market space. My question is, can you build a mass market there?" says Carrigan. Selling to corporate Web sites and intranets
First NetContent took the path Screaming Media, iSyndicate, and so many others were trying -- selling content feeds to company Web sites, intranets and extranets.
It was a very rough road at first both due to high competition and low marketplace demand. But, Carrigan says the market has stabilized recently.
"Most companies of any size are now on a third or fourth generation Web site or intranet, and somebody is concerned with the information that goes in them -- and that's hopefully not the IT department."
The best prospect actually turned out to be someone in marketing who either already bought content but wanted a better deal (lower price) or who'd considered it in the past but never moved off the mark. In other words, a marketplace you don't have to educate about the concept of content buying. You just have to explain why you're the best.
Carrigan discovered being "best" isn't necessarily about having gazillions more sources than the next guy. Content sales to the mid-market is all about cost and convenience.
If you can promise the prospect they won't have to involve their IT department too much, it's a huge selling point. And if you can provide decent service at a price tag that doesn't require a committee meeting or an EVP's approval, it's a help too.Enabling email newsletters: the killer app
While routinely chatting with customers, Carrigan learned some were using the feeds to create email newsletters for business partners, sales reps, customers and prospects.
In fact, corporate marketing departments were shifting focus from putting content on a site and passively hoping someone would find it, to pushing content out via email. The only thing holding many back was not having enough support from an IT department to handle deployment, and being tech phobic enough that it seemed like a pain to shop for an email broadcast provider on their own.
It was an "ah ha!" moment.
While Carrigan vehemently didn't want to change focus to being an all-serving email services firm, he knew if he could offer an easy do-it-yourself interface featuring integrated NetContent feeds, customers would flock.
He tested an easy-to-ok price point of $995 per month for up to 100,000 emails per month. Most business-to-business marketers have targeted niche lists and only mail once or twice a month, so very few would exceed that limit.
Once they tested the overall concept of email newsletters, many marketers wanted to start vertical letters for each market they served. So, for example, a labor relations law firm sends a dozen different versions of its newsletter, including one for the AFLCIO, one for the Teamsters, etc....
So, NetContent was set up to enable one marketer to use one interface to manage all their newsletters, with low add-on fees of $25 per month per list and $50 per edition per month.
The newsletter service proved so popular that Carrigan is now experimenting with promoting it via Google AdWords. (Link to sample ad below.) Scoop: individual subscription service sold via search ads
Carrigan's team just finished beta-testing their latest offering to be named Scoop -- an online subscription service for individuals, with the following three levels:
o $29 month - access to past 30-days of searchable databased articles and hotlinked Web headlines, plus personalized emailed alerts on any keyword or search term you desire.
o $35 flat fee - instant company profile, for any one of more than 100,000 public and private companies, including Gale data as well as hotlinks to databased articles on that company. The profile is created on the fly based on the latest info in the databases, so if you pull another copy a few days later, it would be automatically updated.
o $49 month - premium version of the subscription service which includes access to the searchable database, personalized email alerts, plus unlimited company profiles.
They conducted the beta test by running a wide variety of paid ads on Google for a month, and discovered a few very interesting things:
- People are not interested in buying a subscription to a content database, but they are interested in their particular niche industry. If you run ads by niche, and alter your landing page to match each niche (fairly easy with a dynamic content management system), the click and conversion rate is wonderful.
- Job seekers are a huge portion of business searches right now. So, if you can position your service as being a job-seeking resource, it's very compelling.
"We ran a series of ads with copy like 'Power Industry Jobs Alert: track growth companies; free pass; live customer support" says Carrigan.
Why use so much of the tiny copy space to talk about support? "Because nobody else provides it," explains Carrigan. "People are completely blown away when they realize there's a live person to talk to."
The ad landing pages were fairly standard for subscription sites -- offering a free trial 'guest pass' in exchange for contact info and a credit card number.
Results? "We had to mess around testing ads for a week before we found out how to get to it, but then we started getting click throughs on ads of 1.5-4%, the conversions were as high as 16%, and cost per lead as low as $8! I was blown away."
When he realized the trial campaign was a solid success, Carrigan switched it off and asked his tech team to begin the build out required for a strong back-end for individual subscription sales and servicing. His service department phoned all the new customers, explained the service would launch formally shortly, and offered them a chance to be a beta tester.
"My sense is, this could be an area of tremendous growth," says Carrigan.
"The key to this is we're selling holes, not drills. I see everyone else emphasizing how many sources they have, how powerful their products are. It's features. At the end of the day it doesn't matter is somebody is looking for a job or sending a newsletter. You have to figure out their specific needs and deliver marketing that highlights the availability of a solution to answer their pain." Useful links related to this article:
Samples of a NetContent Google ad and client newsletter
Proquest Information and Learning Company
NewsNow Publishing LTD