Lessons from BIMS 2016: Acquisitions, AI on the Rise
B2B Media Value Rising, Disruption on Horizon
It is becoming a year-end ritual, the gathering of some of the largest B2B media companies at The Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS). Many C-level execs, heavy on CEOs, along with technology thought leaders, share ideas, successes, and cocktails on the beach. BIMS, now in its third year, brings together both media and data companies from the SIPA, Connectiv, and InfoCommerce Group within SIIA. (Glossary sold separately.) There are worse places to be than Fort Lauderdale in November.
Was there a main take-away? The value of B2B media companies is rising. When I read about billions of dollars in transactions, it feels theoretical. Spending time with so many B2B publishers tells me more. Everybody was buying or selling some of their brands, or their entire company. Okay, not everyone; but at least two-thirds of the many publishers I spoke with were.
I found out one of my clients just sold to a major European publisher a few weeks prior. “We rejected their first two offers,” he said. An information company I used to be president of was part of one mega deal. I asked a friend in the M&A side of things if this was my imagination. “It’s been crazy,” he said.
What is causing all this buying and selling in B2B publishing? Perceived opportunity. So if you are not involved in this scrum, it may be worth asking before the new year if you are seeing as much opportunity ahead as everyone else.
Machine Learning and AI to Deepen Customer Ties
The challenge Rajeev Kapur gave in one of the excellent keynotes may be representative of where the industry is headed. He is CEO of 1105 Media, having accepted his job at BIMS exactly two years ago. A favorite saying of his is worth repeating:
“Most companies are challenged not because they do the wrong thing. They are challenged because they do the right thing too long.”
Kapur recommended B2B companies get deeply involved with customers' sales cycle. I was about to call them “advertisers,” because that is what this particular group has always been referred to; but if you take your relationship with them to the next level, perhaps that will no longer be the correct term. Kapur reminds us traditional B2B advertising offers “the awareness stage” of the sales cycle to marketers. He advocates publishers “better leverage our assets” and says that our challenge is to seek “how much deeper we can go in that funnel.”
The keynoter announced a new product 1105 will unveil soon called BOLD. 1105 has this in beta now, an algorithm which tracks what individuals in 1.5 million companies are reading and reacting to online. They score the activities. Machine learning software uses this data to predict what companies are looking to buy. They claim to be tracking more than 10 billion interactions per day. They expect the number of companies and transactions tracked to rise.
As you have guessed, Kapur predicts initiatives like BOLD will be employing artificial intelligence soon, a step further than machine learning. Only a limited number of deep-pocketed companies, more likely those with PE bankrolls, can truly afford to create anything like this. You are already competing with Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook. With more money being invested in B2B media, watch out for competitors coming at you with their own AI products. I must assume these kinds of technology investments will accelerate the M&A activity which is already so pronounced.
Kapur said “If we are to achieve success as an industry, all boats need to rise.” He said when he was at Dell, if IBM had a success, Dell stock rose. If HP had a problem, Dell stock fell. He talks about fostering industry “coopetition.” I hope that is true.
This brings up a great question: does it even make sense for every media company to build their own machine learning and ultimately AI platform? How can that possibly be cost effective? Ironically, I see this in my day job with far more ubiquitous technology -- publishers wanting to invest full time IT staff maintaining mundanity like online platforms. Kapur recommends leveraging the technology that is available, and to focus on your own internal technology to “find better ways to nurture your community.”
Mr. Kapur is clearly a technologist in background and point of view. I must admit a personal (curmudgeonly?) sadness to hear anyone suggest technology replace content as the end-all of our efforts, that content “will be replaced with . . . [sales funnel] nurturing solutions.” I guess he takes content for granted, because I know 1105 does good journalism. “In the future our [industry] content quality can be average, but if we have strong influence and a good way to market that, we think that will solve the problem.”
Are we to become pipes between buyers and sellers, with content a mere lubricant? Maybe so; some might argue that is all we have ever been, though they won’t convince me. I know I was not the only one in attendance to believe (hope?) we will always need the art with the science.
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.