“My job is making sure the customer is at the heart of everything we’re doing across all our initiatives,” Robyn Duda, VP of brand strategy & experience design for event-giant UBM, told us Monday on Day 1 of SIIA’s Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS) here in warm and friendly Fort Lauderdale, where winds of change swirled outside and in. That means focusing on instant gratification, Duda said. “It’s the biggest disruptor we have in business now, especially in B2B.”
After describing her own such coming-out party with House of Cards—“The next one starts automatically in 20 seconds! I watched every episode in a week.”—Duda said, “that’s the expectation of society now. ‘I want it now. I can do it now. I can watch it now. I can eat it now.’ That has been B2C but it has transformed to the B2B side too now.”
In this cruise-ship driven locale, a few themes clearly floated to the top:
Be open to disruption. In a table-setting keynote, Debra Walton, global managing director, customer proposition, financial & risk, Thomson Reuters, said that just discovering disruptive technologies is not enough today. “It’s important for us to be open to be disrupted. We can’t hang on to outdated paradigms. We have to take the risk to disrupt ourselves.”
She posted a famous Albert Einstein quote: “We cannot solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Walton emphasized the innovation that can come with disruption, but that it must happen for the right reason. “What’s the business problem and what’s happening in our labs” should be related, she said. “But that’s not the way we were operating. We had great young people doing cool things. But the real magic is to get the business to drive the innovation… Has to also be about the services.”
It starts with the customer. Walton said that focusing on the customer has literally meant the world to them. (Walton is based in Switzerland for the global company.) “What we find from customer satisfaction ratings is that the ease of doing business is the greatest driver we have for their reasons to recommend us.”
For Duda and UBM, change came when they realized that the company still sat in silos, and people were building things that, while wonderful, just didn’t fit together. “So we took a step back and created a customer roadmap that any event will fit into.” They mapped out every action customers could have with the company. Next they “evangelized” through employee training, “making sure everyone in the company knows where we’re trying to go.”
And finally they activated. “The biggest piece of this is you need your entire company to commit… making [customers] feel things needs to be at the center,” Duda said.
Culture is huge. In telling her company’s success story during a second keynote, Elizabeth Green, CEO of Brief Media—a publisher in the veterinary medicine field—described a key moment. When the industry trend was to build an app, a young woman employee raised her hand and said, why do something that only 17% of their audience could access? Why not follow the Boston Globe’s lead and build a responsive-based website that 100% of their audience could access? It took their main competition six years to match them.
The reason, she said, was that they had built a challenge-based culture. Employees are encouraged to speak up. Similarly, another young employee asked Green to give her a go at social media. Some 5,000 Facebook friends and $10k of ad revenue later, and their $2,000 investment paid dividends. Trust is huge, said Green. “People have to know that they will not be reprimanded or ridiculed… Be willing to be vulnerable to establish trust in your organization.”
In an afternoon panel session, Sean Griffey, CEO of Industry Dive, talked about the importance of the culture that his 5½-year-old publishing company quickly established. “For the first couple months, there were just three of us working in an empty convenience store, so when we hired someone, you could know pretty quickly if there was buy-in or not. It was about finding how we were going to be different.”
He decided that they would commit to more designers and UX people—“it was a way for a company our size to punch above our weight.” Design that looked good enough for others was not good enough for Industry Dive. “We just have really talented people,” Griffey said, and that led to “clear design, beautiful and intuitive.”
“Everyone talks about strategy” said Tom Kemp, chairman and CEO of Northstar Travel Media, who moderated the panel. “But culture eats strategy every day.”
Green Tells a Winning Story
Giving a talk titled Disrupting Goliath: Tales of a Small Cap Media Innovator, Green said she learned from the big companies how to build a leading brand. One key was to think of their audience as "pet parents," not pet owners.
Another big moment came in 2009 when she fired a big client. “Steve Jobs said that sometimes it’s more important what you say no to than what you say yes to,” she recounted. “It was a tough time for us; we had to look at every process, every strategy. We had to figure out what we were getting a return on and what we weren’t.”
(Interestingly, Griffey was asked a question about what he has said no to. There were some revenue opportunities such as licensing and events that he decided would “take us away from our core, our real business. So we’re going to walk away. Events are huge, but I’m not good at them. They take so much time and energy from everyone. I don’t want to do that. We’re growing at a good clip, so I dont want to be distracted. Let’s keep going in one direction.”)
Green reacted to the tough times by raising the cost of print ads 20% in 2010. The strategy worked. Their print advertising dollars went up 40% the next year. “We went to see our clients to explain why,” she said. “The key was the exclusivity and valuing of our products. If you value them [your customers] will value them."
Going global provided a big step; they are now in 65 countries. Then Green found new sources of revenue. She pursued the author of a popular book to ask if they could distribute his content on a more frequent basis. That became a very profit-friendly app. “At 11 am this morning we had champagne glasses out as we hit the million dollar mark this year on revenue from that content. Renewal rates are 85-90%. It’s the fastest growing part of our business.”
She said that undervaluing their content led to being reluctant to ask for more than a name and email. That changed when an employee said that the names weren’t helping much, let’s put our entire subform on there. “We were getting 4,000 people before that,” Green said. “We then asked all the information and still got 4,000 a month. If you have great content, people are willing to give you all the information you want and need.”
Brief Media has now entered the events world. “We had a lot of encouragement,” Green said. “’I’m not going to speak to you until you launch an events business,’ a good friend [who was in the audience] told me.”
She sees more events in their future and more digital subscription and research products. She said that while Goliaths triumph over Davids 70% of the time, if you adapt and choose an unconventional strategy, the tables flip.
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