Navigating Uncharted Waters in Lead Generation
Jonathan Dorn, SVP of Digital and Creative Services, Active Interest Media
"Data" has become the magazine industry buzzword du jour -- and for good reason. Publishers are finding that through their digital issues and online properties they can gather more insights about their readers than ever before. Some publishers, particularly in the B2B sector, are translating those insights into qualified prospects for their advertisers. By tracking reader behavior and interests, publishers can offer advertisers more than brand awareness. They can promise a list of high-value prospects who are ready to buy.
But B2B media companies are not the sole beneficiaries of lucrative lead generation campaigns, says Jonathan Dorn, the newly appointed SVP of digital and data at Active Interest Media. AIM, which publishes both B2B and special interest consumer titles, is finding that the circumstances that enable lead generation in the B2B space are present in many of the publisher's special interest brands as well. A highly targeted audience willing to purchase big-ticket products and services has the makings of lead generation gold, says Dorn.
Previously SVP of content and product development for AIM's outdoor, equine, and home buyer divisions, Dorn now oversees the digital operations and data strategy of all of AIM's titles. He's particularly excited, though, about his work with magazines Log Home Living, Country's Best Cabins, and Timber Home Living, which serve an affluent niche of second-home buyers and cabin enthusiasts. The significant investments necessary in new home construction and narrow audience are traits that make these brands ideal vehicles for lead generation. As a result, AIM has invested in substantial data collection and marketing platforms to develop customized lead gen campaigns that will encourage greater spend from advertisers and entice new ones.
Although AIM has sold leads prior through some of its B2B titles, these efforts do not match the scale or ambition of Dorn's latest project. The undertaking involves the launch of a new web platform MyWoodHome.com, which connects readers to to sub-sites for LHL, CBC, and THL. "These brands have had bingo cards and service request forms for the longest time. What we've done is move toward a model where we are tracking web users as they come to the site and seeing what they interact with." By tracking users' reading habits on the new site, Dorn and his team are able to ascertain what a reader is interested in purchasing and funnel them toward a downloadable whitepaper or resource.
"The goal is to capture their name and email," explains Dorn. Once they have that information, AIM staff can further nurture the lead with more specific content that can indicate the reader's budget and building preferences.
The Makings of a Superior Lead
Although it sounds simple, Dorn admits lead generation can be a complicated process. It's not enough for the lead generation team to capture an email through compelling content. They also need to ensure that the reader is ready to make a significant home investment. "It's important that we capture net worth, geography, and land ownership," explains Dorn. "We learned pretty quickly that until someone owns the land they plan to build on and have the necessary permits, they're not quite ready for our advertisers."
The MyWoodHome platform further cultivates readers with a "Get Started Here" callout that is situated prominently toward the top of the homepage. The callout asks a single question, "Do you own the land you plan to build on?" If a reader answers, "Yes," a new question will appear which asks about the next step in the process, such as, "Have you pre-qualified for financing?" If a reader answers "No," to one of the questions, Dorn's lead gen staff can pinpoint approximately where that person is in the home-building process and to which advertisers the lead will be valuable. Additionally, a "No" answer will guide the reader to a how-to article that will explain the next steps in the home-building process. It's this content value that incentivizes readers to submit more information, says Dorn.
Advertisers also have specific lead criteria. They often want a narrow swath of prospects who are interested in building a certain sized home, in a particular region, and with a specific building material, explains Dorn. "We need to be able to parse the type of home that readers are looking for from the emails they click and content they consume from us. Those are extremely important data points for our advertisers."
A Win for Advertisers
Although the project is relatively new -- the sales team began to promote and sell the lead generation service in the summer of 2014 -- many advertisers have welcomed the program with open arms, says Dorn. "A lot of home builders have come to depend on us because it's really hard to tell where customers are coming from nowadays. Historically, if you were going to hire a builder to create a log home for you, you would fill out a card in a magazine or call a 1-800 number. Consumers would identify themselves very early in the process."
Now, consumers are finding their information online, coming to service providers after they have already decided what they want and how much they're willing to pay. "It's become an unpredictable game for these builders to create any sort of pipeline or forecast," says Dorn. AIM's lead generation efforts have helped their advertisers identify prospects much earlier in the home-building process.
LHL, CBC, and THL are also better suited to launch these campaigns than advertisers nurturing leads on their own. "We have three distinct advantages," explains Dorn. "We have the trust of our readers which allows us to exchange content for reader information. We also have great editors who know more about the home-building industry than anyone else and can create useful content for readers and advertisers. Finally, we have a sizeable audience to market to. We just passed 400,000 likes on Log Home Living's Facebook page. That's significant for a niche publication."
Building a Robust Lead Gen Infrastructure & Team
Although AIM's cabin brands had the aptitude to launch lead generation campaigns, the endeavor required significant organizational changes. AIM has had to invest in new technology and hire new talent that have the data and lead generation skillsets the project requires.
On the technology side, Dorn spearheaded the effort to relaunch the websites on MyWoodHome.com. The new website platform is able to interface with the data collection tools needed to drive the lead generation campaigns, explains Dorn. "Essentially we've dumbed down the backend of our websites, which were quite customized before, so that the sites can be quick and reactive and also easier to integrate with the new platforms we're using to capture reader information."
One of those new tools is SailsThru, a marketing automation and list management platform that allows AIM to track reader behavior and set up trigger campaigns around specific content. If a user reads three articles on floor plans that exceed 3,000 sq. ft., explains Dorn, the marketing platform knows to email that user a specific marketing piece or whitepaper.
Dorn has also hired new talent in data engineering and lead generation. One of the most important hires was lead generation marketing director Amanda Phillips who sits at the nexus of editorial, sales, and digital, managing the campaigns sent to readers. "We needed someone who knows how to operate the backend of a platform like SailsThru and has some marketing savvy. Phillips understands how to reach a discreet set of email subscribers at the right time and with the right content."
Phillips collaborates with editors to help repackage existing content or create new content for specific campaigns, says Dorn. "For instance, [editors] may have a feature-length article that covers home financing exhaustively and she'll work with editorial to carve it into four shorter pieces that are more digestible for web consumption." In cases where Phillips needs new content for a campaign, editors will advise on the subject matter and create an outline with her. Then Phillips will assign the piece to a freelancer because often editorial doesn't have the bandwidth to take on additional content creation.
Plans for Future Expansion
Advertisers have been quick to warm up to the lead generation program, but it's too early to analyze the results of LHL, CBC, and THL's marketing efforts. "We're begging some forgiveness from our advertisers," says Dorn, "because a lot of this is new to us and our industry. They understand that we're on the bleeding edge and we're doing something that could be a game changer for them as well."
Dorn is optimistic and is eagerly looking ahead to how this model could work in other AIM groups. In AIM's equine and boat segments, Dorn sees significant opportunity. "Boats are big-ticket items as are horses and the equipment you need to buy for them. These retailers aren't selling a ton products each year so developing high quality leads has real value for them and is something they are willing to pay a decent dollar to create."
If AIM's lead generation project proves viable, the industry may see more special interest magazines diving into lead generation campaigns and redefining how they bridge reader and advertiser.
Related story: Why & How Penton Pivoted to Information Services