B2B Media Is Leading with First-Party Data – and Unlocking New Revenue
For the longest time I resisted calling website visitors anything but readers. After decades as an editor and publisher, I pushed back on calling them “users.” I still don’t like the sound of it, but resistance is futile.
Individuals you have a relationship with – be they core customers, newsletter subscribers, or occasional visitors – are all users who generate data. As recently as 3-5 years ago, while many B2B publishers talked about the importance of data, few were using it in a sophisticated manner. Since then we have hit the hockey-stick inflection point. First-party data is being monetized at an accelerated pace by more and more industry members.
This is still new enough that publishers are hungry for real-world examples. I had the good fortune to spend half a week in Chicago a few weeks ago celebrating first-party data with a few dozen B2B publishers at the Omeda Idea Exchange (OX3).
“Most media companies cannot survive on ad dollars alone,” said Jeff Litvack in his keynote, a counter-intuitive statement from the CEO of Adweek. The conference dug into B2B publishing opportunities in paid subscriptions, market data sales, events, lead-gen, SaaS offerings and more, including advertising. It was clear the better audience data you have, the more you can target the right offer to the most likely buyer at the right time.
Litvack described some of the programs that helped increase Adweek’s top and bottom line by more than 20% last year. He advised OX3 attendees to double-down on quality content by “hiring great journalists” and to ride the burgeoning wave of trust in traditional media.
For example, Adweek leveraged audience trust by creating an Innovators Council, a Women Trailblazers Council, and other affinity groups. They built sponsored events and other products around them. Editors organized roundtable discussions and forums with these thought leaders, which generated solid editorial content, social media buzz, special sections, and other opportunities.
Litvack also said, “If you’re not invested enough in your newsletters, you’ve got the wrong business driver. Newsletters can be more important than your website.”
Newsletters are a perfect tool for taking advantage of the data-centric approach because they help to build audience and provide means to learn more about that audience. They are inherent traffic-builders and brand-reinforcers, with direct ways to monetize. Look to niches and be creative – Litvack pointed out The New York Times has 60,000 subscribers to a “Game of Thrones” newsletter.
Joel Hughes, COO of EnsembleIQ, the PE-financed roll-up of multiple retail and food industry media, shared insights on their approach. Having brought together so many disparate companies, Hughes said EIQ is building both “a company culture and brand strategy . . . informed by purposely meaningful data.”
Hughes warned about being too short-sighted about taxonomy and tagging. “Tagging for specific campaigns and ad-targeting can mess up long-term metadata and archive access needs.” EIQ is building its own AI-driven content classification engine. “The bulk of the effort is training the artificial intelligence for correct predictions.”
Discover segments and job titles you don’t know, suggested Hughes, “versus fitting them into your preconceived notions.” EIQ has created what it calls an Audience Data Carwash to run data through and standardize titles, entity recognition, and personal data. By separating individuals and companies you can add valuable intelligence. Categories like new to industry; industry veteran but new to company; industry vet but new role; or consultant to industry, can each indicate different ways these users will ingest information as buyers of your advertisers’ products.
Building and Refining Data
Of interest to me were two competing points of view about the relationship of editorial planning and data-building. There was talk that B2B publishers should write articles designed for “intent discovery,” which can be turned into actionable data for advertisers. As Randall-Reilly SVP of Audience Linda Longton said, if someone reads three articles on buying a used piece of equipment, there is a good chance they are shopping for that equipment. However, Sean Griffey, CEO of Industry Dive, warned not to find artificial reasons to write stories. “Journalism is why we have the right to talk to people” in the first place, he said.
There was much talk about the advantages of list cleaning and segmenting and the quality of your first-party data. Kati Tucker, Director of Audience Development for Bobit Business Media, shared their process of cleaning lists, which includes identifying the unengaged, suspending them, and re-engaging with those who respond. This resulted in far higher open rates and more clicks and conversions. Randall-Reilly similarly cleans lists and then builds personas to market to, a common practice among speakers.
Naturally, the discussion led to the question of how to communicate with important advertisers who are used to seeing big list numbers. Even if the actual response rate is the same or slightly better with segmentation, how do B2B media tell them, “Good news; we are reducing our newsletter list from 50,000 to 30,000!”?
The general sentiment was that it is worth training your sales people to explain the benefits to advertisers, and the short-term pain from unknowledgeable ad buyers will be more than paid off by having more – and more responsive – segmented lists. To better guide ad buyers, EIQ established an internal certification program for the sales team called “Life of a Lead” to help encourage client buy-in of each step in the sale.
Data to Consider
OX3 may have accidentally become a leading conference in B2B media. About five dozen of us attended OX1 two years ago, when it was first launched by audience relationship management provider Omeda as a user group with conference attached. It doubled in size last year and this year they had to shut down registration at 200. This includes some publishers who are not clients of Omeda.
As a major vendor to the B2B industry, Omeda shared some data of its own from 2018 worth a thought. When one sends out 2.5 billion emails for B2B media publishers per year, there are interesting aggregated data points to consider.
- Across all types of outbound email, from audience promotion to events to research, the average open rate was 22%.
- The average CTR of was 12%, with digital magazines, readers service, and some others near 20%, dragged down by webinars and whitepapers scraping near 8%.
- The number of emails sent that makes an audience member more likely to unsubscribe: an average of 4/week or 14.6/month. (No absolutes here – some presenters successfully send 2 or more per day.)
- Third-party “advertiser promotion emails have an 11.5% unsubscription rate, almost double any other type.”
Omeda CRO James Capo reminded everyone to beware of “lies, damned lies, and statistics." He pointed out that there are too many different campaigns included in these numbers to draw firm conclusions about any one type of campaign. Still, to coin a phrase, they are damned interesting to consider.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.