Informa Markets

3 Ways B2B Giant Informa is Reinventing Lead Gen

With more than 500 trade shows and exhibitions that in a typical year generate more than 60 percent of its total revenue, few companies have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s impact on events more than Informa.

But the way forward is turning crisis into opportunity and Informa is aggressively creating new businesses out of its existing events model and the enormous cache of audience data those events create.

At our recent Business Information and Media Summit, Informa Markets chief digital officer Jason Brown, who leads a newly created group called Informa Markets DNA, showed how the company is finding new revenue by leveraging event audience data into a new take on lead gen that not only creates revenue in the interim but promises to elevate the value of Informa’s live events when they return (replays of that session are available in the BIMS archive and AM&P Network members can reach out to me at mkinsman@siia.net for a link).

“We were hit hard with corona, but on the back of that, we’re working hard to look at alternative ways we can generate revenue from a similar mix of audience,” says Brown. “We’re not seeking to replicate what a show would do but instead offer year-round engagement with buyers and sellers which will mold itself to physical trade shows when they come back over the next 12 months.”

Three-Part Combo: Online Marketplaces, Authenticated Data and Audience Extension

Informa’s new approach leverages three components—Online Marketplaces, Authenticated Data and Audience Extension—that work together to generate data, convert that data into highly detailed and actionable intelligence and ultimately leverage that intelligence and Informa’s scale in connecting buyers and sellers across its own properties and beyond.

Online Marketplaces are enhanced versions of the show directories that Informa produces for its live events. Customers can use the online marketplaces to search products and suppliers, discover new products via a recommendation engine, make connections, create a virtual “walking” or favorites list and register for other Informa physical and virtual events.

“We let attendees figure out what they want to do,” says Brown. “It’s not about driving traffic to physical shows but creating engagement for 52 weeks a year. We’re allowing buyers and sellers to connect now without the ultimate destination of a physical trade show.”

The online marketplaces also provide Informa with “zero party data” where users offer direct insight into their interests through their use of the marketplaces, which helps Informa create the next component—Authenticated Data.

Identity and Buying Intent

If the top of the buyer funnel is about generating awareness, the bottom of the funnel is about decision and action. Informa is offering its customers authenticated data that shows not only who a lead is but also their buying intent.

“We take our first party data, the third-party data that we can buy or borrow and the zero-party data given to us by visitors and our audience when they are specifically after something and combine that information together to create something called authenticated data,” says Brown.

Getting the data right is the most important part. Informa aggregates its full spectrum of audience data into a data lake, including event registrations, online behavior and third-party data from services such as Bombora. Informa then uses that information to build a picture of a user and create an intent score.

“If we do all of that correctly, our gray cloud of a data lake becomes a green cloud of known buyer status,” says Brown. “That’s where we can say who our buyer is and where they are in the funnel.”

“Right Person, Right Time, Right Message”

Audience extension—reaching customers not only on your own branded properties but beyond—is something Informa and other publishers have been doing for years (and it’s why social platforms have become such an existential threat to publishers). But the addition of highly targeted, highly accurate data makes Informa’s audience extension efforts even more powerful.

“We ask our clients what kind of customer they are looking for, then we work with several third-party companies to find that lookalike audience and present a marketing message,” says Brown.

This is something Informa has seen success with particularly in the ag vertical, where it runs events such as the Farm Progress Show. “We can take a farmer, find hundreds of thousands of other farmers just like them, find whatever device they are on and target them with a message,” says Brown. “Right person, right time, right message.”

“Giving You the Needle, Not the Haystack”

And while audience extension is about scale and Informa still sells many traditional lead gen projects (including CRM feeds, webinar series, email promotion, programmatic remarketing, geo fencing and market intelligence reports), providing access to qualified buyers is the ultimate goal.

“We don’t want to give you access to 9,000 people; we want to give you access to 12,” says Brown. “Customers say, ‘don’t give us the haystack, give us the needle inside it.’ If you do a webinar today, you might get between 200-500 attendees and that’s great, but you’re not sure how qualified they are. Here, we are talking about creating a qualified buyer and then working with clients to create a webinar for 20 people, but a very distilled audience of 20 people who have shared with us their intent.”

Changing the Ways Leads Are Sold

Traditionally, publishers sell a sponsor on a content-driven program such as a webinar, then hand over the audience list to that sponsor. That’s a risky and outdated approach for both publishers and sponsors, according to Brown.

“The current model in many places of giving away the crown jewels of our data is not a good business model,” says Brown. “The danger in handing over those leads is that they can be abused quickly. Files also start aging from day one—and not like fine wine but like moldy cheese. As soon as you hand it over to someone, their journey in that buyer funnel may have changed the next day.”

Informa is moving away from selling leads as part of a one-off sponsorship and instead offering an annual subscription, which includes,

  • continuous access to fresh data
  • ability to count, segment and modify criteria for best data selection
  • intent scoring
  • ability to create a sales pipeline that feeds directly into the customer’s CRM

Informa also enables subscribers to Bring You Own Data, in which customers can give the publisher their data and Informa will cleanse it, authenticate it and attach an intent score for the customer’s own audience.

“Instead of bundling and packaging programs, this is an annual program that you can subscribe to and we can present different layers and opportunities to you,” says Brown.

Not for Everyone

It’s an approach that requires a skillset and an infrastructure that not everyone—including both publishers and advertisers—can take advantage of. Informa has developed a criteria for assessing markets and clients that could benefit, which include,

  • an active digital market
  • a sophisticated digital sales team on the client side
  • market pricing
  • a client with existing audience data

“The markets need to be fairly advanced. We look at whether they are buying on social, on Google, how much are they spending with us and can we convert what they are spending elsewhere,” says Brown. “We’re not selling Webinars, we’re selling access to data. We need to work with really smart digital salespeople who we can train to cross-sell access to data.”

A Trend to Watch: HubSpot Acquires The Hustle

by Alex Ford

HubSpot announced this week that they are acquiring The Hustle for what Axios has reported to be $27 million. The Hustle is a 1.5 million reader strong e-newsletter business targeting entrepreneurs and business owners. In commenting on the acquisition, HubSpot highlighted the overlap between The Hustle’s readership and parallels with the resources and audience that HubSpot has been building on its blog as well as the overall fit with its customer base.

Anyone who has considered HubSpot is likely well aware of the amount of best practice content they offer their customers and prospects. Adding an engaged audience of potential HubSpot customers and a distribution channel for that content makes tactical sense.

So why does this matter beyond what seems like a smart – albeit expensive – marketing play? I’ve long been a proponent of pairing Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses with content. And it’s a trend to watch as SaaS businesses become more sophisticated in their customer acquisition and deepen their value proposition beyond simply offering a software toolset.

Combining SaaS and content means including content as an essential part of a software product or by adding digital media communities or conferences to the front end of a SaaS business model. It was a major factor in the acquisition of the company I founded – Praetorian Digital – and its merger with Lexipol in the public safety learning and compliance space. In this case, The Hustle offers HubSpot content, a conference footprint and a fledging subscription data product.

For SaaS Businesses

If you follow SaaS businesses or have operated one, you know that the beauty of a SaaS business is in its clear metrics such as such as LTV/CAC (ratio of lifetime customer value to customer acquisition cost), payback period, and net churn that supports rapid scaling. Done right, adding digital media decreases CAC by creating an ongoing channel to a captured audience to which you can market your solution and builds brand authority and thought leadership. It provides a warm list for your lead or sales development reps to call and allows you to map lead capture to relevant articles even gating content that closely correlates with purchase intent.

More importantly, it also allows you to map content to all stages of the customer lifecycle, which  improves core metrics like usage and net churn. Taking this one step further, content paired with a SaaS platform presents opportunities for new product features or add-ons. For HubSpot, this could be a premium subscription for customers either at an additional cost or as a value-add to support annual price increases. Learning management system businesses have long applied this strategy by offering course content along with their platform and authoring tools. Finally, the data from content engagement can create intriguing opportunities to pair software usage data with industry trends. In this case, the Hustle already offers a data product – Trends – that will only grow in value within the HubSpot ecosystem.

For Digital Media Operators

Digital media has largely been struggling to find its way over the past several years to compete with social media and the rapid changes in content consumption. For digital media businesses in or around verticals where workflow tools are important, there are important implications. SaaS businesses, who may be some of your larger customers, could be future acquirers or could begin to compete as they build their own blogs and newsletter lists. Think differently about the SaaS businesses you have as customers and look for partnerships and deeper relationships to test the waters.

Alternatively, digital media businesses are in a unique position to swim upstream and add SaaS or workflow solutions to their offerings as I did at Praetorian Digital when we built an enterprise learning platform for first responders to extend our digital media communities. That effort ended up generating nearly half of our annual revenue. Doing so is a heavy lift and requires a major shift in culture and different skillset but is well worth the effort when comparing relative valuations and the opportunity to embed your business within your audience. And with software becoming easier to build and manage, the deep domain experience, engaged potential customer base, brand trust and content resident in any digital media or traditional media business presents a set of competitive advantages that will only become more important as we’re seeing here with HubSpot.

 

Alex Ford is an accomplished entrepreneur, angel investor, public speaker and executive. He served as Chief Executive Officer of Lexipol in 2019 and 2020 following the merger of Lexipol and Praetorian Digital, which he founded in 1999. Alex led the company to become the leading learning and content platform for first responders and local government leaders, driving 15+ years of profitability and more than 15% growth per year. Currently, he is operating partner at North Equity and strategy advisor to multiple companies.

‘We Will Never Do a Virtual Event’ – Why Winsight Is Doubling Down on Sponsored Communities in 2021

Events are big business for Winsight, which pre-COVID 19 produced nearly 50 trade shows and conferences (including the 40,000-person National Restaurant Association Show).

However, unlike many of its peers in B2B media, Winsight has not jumped on the virtual event bandwagon. “We will never do a virtual event,” says Amanda Buehner, Executive Vice President of Convenience Media and Events. “They don’t work. In our space, we have restaurant owners and operators who can’t spend a couple hours away from their jobs. Webinar attendance and engagement were going down even before the pandemic. We knew we needed to do something different.”

Instead, Winsight is focused on producing online communities offering participants unique content and interaction and sponsors direct contact with highly qualified prospects.

Last year, Winsight tested the model with the launch of three online groups (Outlook Leadership, Restaurant Technology and Restaurant Recovery) and last week announced the upcoming debuts of three more, including Restaurant Community (which goes live Jan. 28), CRU Community (which builds off Winsight’s Convenience Retail University conference and launches Feb. 23) and FSD Community (which serves food service directors and launches March 23). A fourth, FSTEC, will roll out this summer.

Each community is built around three pillars—community, content, connection. “The community part is about the audience,” says Buehner. “Our live events can draw a couple hundred to several thousand attendees. With a virtual platform, we can reach more than that and knew we wanted two-way discussions instead of webinars just speaking at you.”

Content, Connections and VIP Access

The communities produce new content each week that Buehner describes as “raw and real,” including “Talks from the Top” interviews with C-suite executives, Origin Stories on how industry figures got their start and By the Numbers, featuring industry metrics and analytics supplied by Winsight’s data and research arm, Technomic.

Within the communities, Winsight handpicks 20 VIP members to be part of Share Groups that have direct conversations around topics such as workforce, technology and more.

There is no fee for participants but members must provide registration information as well as answer drill-down questions on their qualifications, budget authority, need and timing. Each sponsor gets to meet these qualified retailers/operators one-to-one.

“If you can connect me, as a supplier, with people who are not only registered but also have the excitement, the need, the budget and the authority to purchase say, open air refrigerators for restaurants, that’s cool,” says Buehner.

Building Communities

The Communities are built on a proprietary platform that Winsight developed in-house that locks into a user’s single Winsight sign-on, while discussion boards run on Vanilla Forums.

Every week, a dedicated e-newsletter for each community targets between 40,000 and 80,000 uniques touting new content and upcoming programs.

“E-newsletters are the biggest push,” says Buehner. “We’re also doing social media for branding and air coverage and using every tactic possible within our own sites, including interstitials and chat bots. For Restaurant Community, we have more than 2 million impressions within the Winsight platforms and social media.”

Buehner expects thousands to register for Restaurant Community over the next few months. While the initial three communities launched last year had lower user targets (due to only being live for three months), each exceeded their goal, she adds.

Sponsorships and Sales-Qualified Leads

The communities are monetized exclusively via sponsorships, which command between $7,500 and $50,000 and offer three components:

  • One-to-one meetings with qualified buyers. “Every one of our sponsors can join a Share Group, listen and learn, and have one-to-one meetings with qualified buyers,” says Buehner. “We are giving our sponsors the opportunity to engage with sales-qualified leads—to date we have only seen marketing-qualified leads.”
  • Speaking opportunities, ranging from leading educational sessions to aligning with thought leadership by introducing CEO speakers.
  • Air coverage (branding) that includes the sponsor’s logo in the weekly e-newsletter, logos within the communities, the chance to include branded collateral in sample boxes sent to the members of each Share Group and dedicated microsites. “Notice we are not using the term ‘virtual booth’ – that doesn’t work,” says Buehner. “We have heard so many key sponsors say, ‘I don’t want to talk about a virtual booth.’ People purchase through the meetings we concierge for them.”

Retraining Events Staff for New Roles

While most event professionals lucky enough to retain their jobs pivoted to producing virtual events last year, Winsight retrained its events teams to produce communities.

“This is all-hands-on-deck,” says Buehner. “We told people across the company that we needed between 20 percent and 80 percent of their time to get this up and running.  We all learned new jobs in the last six months–marketing teams that were doing live events previously are now doing communities. We had to retrain our sales team to sell communities and convey value.”

Fifteen different areas within Winsight collaborate on the communities, including Content, which manages speaker topics and recruitment; Platforms, which vet the technology and manage logins and registration; Sponsor Relations, an existing team that now pivoted to selling community sponsorships rather than booths; Editorial, which runs discussion boards and moderation; and Recruiting, an essential component of building and maintaining the communities.

“You can put out two million impressions promoting these communities but it’s those personal relationships that get these owners and operators to register,” says Buehner. “We have a whole team that’s constantly sharing the story of the value of our communities.”

When Events Return

With most of the industry hopeful for the return of live events in the second half of 2021 (Informa recently saw a stock jump when it announced plans to resume live events in the U.S. in June), digital communities will continue to play a major role going forward, according to Buehner.

“This is another touch point for our audience and sponsors,” she adds. “We will continue the communities since not everyone can attend every live event, but they can always make it to a community. For sponsors, this is a great complement to our live event—they can meet with potential partners then see them at the live event. We set goals internally for these communities and three weeks into 2021, we’re halfway there already.”