Business to business media is in a state of flux, with subscribers and advertisers’ own businesses changing fast thanks to technology and internationalisation. The organisations formerly known as B2B publishers are having to reinvent themselves as information services, networking facilitators, lead generators and marketing solutions consultants.
Where are the nuggets of future value in this more complex environment for B2B media? How should publishing leaders be evolving their brands?
Over this year I’ve been working with several B2B publishers on aspects of their digital strategy, and also interviewed ten B2B leaders as part of a research project for Merit Group. This article summarises my observations on how to create long term value in B2B media.
1. Engage deeply with customers
B2B media brands have to be deeply embedded in their communities to be able to spot changes in their needs. When developing new products, especially data driven intelligence services, many publishers had a structured programme of working closely with customers and getting regular feedback throughout the product development process. And most have a method to gather continuous informal feedback on current products. Technology will be changing customers business, and their information and analysis needs will also evolve.
2. Test out subscription propositions
Traditionally many B2B media brands are reliant on advertising and sponsorship, with news and opinion style content on a controlled circulation or free to air model. Before attempting high value intelligence subscriptions, it is important to experiment with a range of subscription propositions, built around reports, research or archive content. Centaur has been developing the subscription proposition for The Lawyer, gradually adding more paid content and evolving tiers of subscriptions. Other B2B publishers are creating enterprise subscription packages for companies or institutions, providing access to digital content for a larger group of their staff. Many media owners are developing paid membership packages including content, networking and events for an elite group within their business community.
3. Develop intelligence products
Intelligence products, that provide data driven insights, leads or forecasts, and are sold on high ticket enterprise subscriptions, are the aspirational new revenue source for B2B media. Three quarters of the B2B leaders polled for the Merit research see intelligence products as their top future growth area. But they require significant tech investment, and an equally thorough research and development process involving engaged prospective users. Many intelligence products provide insights from data sets, and predictive forecasts, but an increasing number are creating tools to help manage customer processes, e.g. decision support for healthcare professionals, or assisting pharma cos with setting up and tracking clinical trials.
See related articles on data and intelligence products here
4. Grow live events
Live events are expected to be a major contributor to future revenue growth. They are particularly good for establishing a brand in a new market, and several B2B media businesses have launched events in new geographic regions as a way to research the market potential. Well established exhibitions can command 80% plus renewal rates from exhibitors.
5. Provide content marketing solutions
As advertisers increasingly focus on creating content to achieve their marketing goals, publishers are developing dedicated teams to create content for ad clients, from videos and reports to microsites and even bespoke live events. Media owners also have a wealth of data on the content consumed by subscribers as they progress through a purchase journey, potentially providing clients with deeper insight on the most attractive leads.
6. Expand internationally
B2B media are placing higher emphasis on international growth. Over half in the Merit research anticipate at least 25% of future growth will come from new geographic markets, Asia-Pac and North America being most popular. Expanding into new territories has its challenges though: from obtaining market knowledge, creating tailored content and data, anticipating local competitors and hiring local staff.
7. Experiment with AI
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have a dramatic impact of several aspects of B2B publishing. Firstly, it is likely to disrupt the markets and industries that B2B media serve, changing their information needs. AI can also help analyse the massive data sets on customer behaviour, and ultimately help media owners serve more personalised content to subscribers. Plus there is potential to add value to data sets in intelligence products, and not least, simplify and streamline internal processes and customer service. Informa has already had some success with using AI to predict which subscribers are likely to lapse and target their interventions earlier in the renewal process. But most B2B media will not have the resources to develop AI internally, instead they will have to seek out third party tools and software.
Further reading on AI and its impact on media here
8. Build deeper customer data
As the B2B media business model shifts towards selling a wider range of higher ticket services to different job roles within customer organisations, their focus is more on understanding major customers in greater depth, and gathering insights on their actual behaviour, rather than general demographics. Amanda Barnes, CEO of Faversham House, summed this up well as “knowing what customers actually do rather than what they say they do.”
9. Embrace marketing automation
Marketing automation is now a necessity, rather than a luxury, and those B2B media who don’t use it will lose out to those who do, according to Terry O Dwyer, CEO of Biotech and Money. The skill is in integrating different third-party systems. For example, Faversham House use Adestra, Salesforce, Advance and many other specialist plug ins.
10. Secure your talent pipeline
As the nature of the media business changes, there is a significant talent gap, especially in data analysis, customer insight, product development, marketing strategy and software development. Publishers are adopting a range of strategies to bridge this, from partnering with specialist agencies to help internal teams to acquire new skills, to hiring in raw talent and then providing training. Informa hired in an experienced Product Director who then set about building a product management team from scratch.
And finally, there’s a philosophical shift that B2B media owners need to make, inspired by a conversation with Tim Lucas of Bauer Media: “Don’t focus on protecting yesterday, engage deeply with customers to understand their changing needs, then develop the services they will require in future rather than hanging on to offerings that are no longer relevant.”
To download the Merit report produced by this research use this link.
If you’d like to discuss in more detail how you plan to develop your B2B media business, I’d be happy to share more insights over the phone or over a coffee: just get in touch.
About the author:
Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.