Bobcat

Beyond Virtual Events: 3 Replacements for Live Events That Are Taking Center Stage in 2021

The cancellation of live events in 2020 (and for most, at least the first half of 2021) has forced publishers to find new ways to connect buyers and sellers, particularly as sponsors shifted ad dollars earmarked for events into all-digital channels.

Virtual events were the obvious answer but if you talk to most publishers and sponsors privately, they’ll admit they see “traditional” virtual facsimiles of live events as a stopgap to be abandoned as soon as the world goes back to normal.

Here we look at three solutions developed in response to the crisis that have performed so well that they will continue to be offered even as live events return.

1.  Social Simulcasts

AC Business Media (ACBM) covers markets ranging from heavy construction to manufacturing to supply chain and that means serving sponsors with heavy equipment to sell. As events canceled, giving customers a way to get products in front of potential buyers was critical.

“We were at CONEXPO last March just as the world started imploding,” says ACBM Chief Digital Officer Kris Heineman. “Big manufacturers had already paid millions to ship machines out to the show but they didn’t come themselves because they didn’t want their staffs exposed to COVID. When events go away they’re not going to stop producing products, they’ll start looking for other outlets.”

While many publishers produced virtual product showcases within proprietary digital platforms, ACMB created simulcasts—basically live streaming—that leveraged social media to expand the reach of its audience.

In one example, ACBM created a single livestream that played simultaneously across the seven different Facebook pages devoted to its Construction brands.

“When we first started doing this, we were concerned that the channels would start overlapping with each other but it’s actually a case of more is more—with each platform you get a certain percentage of your overall audience,” says Heineman. “Let’s say you have 1 million Facebook followers—Facebook won’t let you organically reach all those people. But if you stream to 10 different Facebook pages, maybe you reach 40,000 here and 60,000 there, so it’s all complementary.”

ACBM created a simulcast for equipment manufacturer Bobcat that drove more than 100,000 views and 800 interactions in the first few days.

“For B2B, those are high numbers,” says Heineman. “When most people in B2B say they put something on Facebook they’re usually getting two or three interactions. Not everyone thinks there’s opportunity in B2B for social media but this product proves that wrong.”

Customers continue to clamor for the live streams even as ACBM begins exploring the return of live events. “We can’t produce enough video,” says Heineman. “We’re already sold out on some channels through 2021.”

[Editor’s note: For more on how ACBM is creating social simulcasts, register for our upcoming webcast this Thursday, March 25 at 1pm ET on New Revenue From Social Media: How To Build a Live Product Showcase.]

2. Marketing Services

Marketing services have grown faster than digital display advertising in B2B media for several years now but prior to last year still took a backseat to events as an overall revenue producer for most publishers.

Marketing services has always been tied closely to events for Government Executive Media Group (GEMG) but in 2020 came to the forefront by helping customers meet their event objectives when live events came to a standstill (and finished the year with revenue up 43 percent as a group while helping to drive 20 percent topline growth for the overall company).

Frank Salatto, GEMG

“It wasn’t just about helping customers achieve their event objectives with us but their event objectives writ large,” says Frank Salatto, Vice President and General Manager of Marketing and Communications at GEMG. “Honestly, we were part of the conversation with clients like never before in how to rebuild their event programs.”

GEMG transitioned quickly to an all-digital environment by turning large live events into multi-part integrated digital programs, using content as the connector to drive audience from one touchpoint to another.

“Digital events were part of that but it’s a series of digital events that would allow you to recreate what you would get with a live event but in between those you need additive content that keeps the conversation going,” says Salatto.

Data collection and diverse capabilities helped GEMG keep revenue whole for all but one live event booked prior to the pandemic.

“There is opportunity in the data that you can collect,” says Salatto. “That’s always been a pain point for live events. But in digital we know what customers are interacting with across a much longer time-period and we know more about them including how interested they are and how ready they are to buy.”

Branded websites proved to be a winner for GEMG last year and will continue to be a key product in 2021. “That turned out to be a great vehicle for brands to tell their story and drive sustained engagement over time but also a way for us to have a center piece for really large, long term programs and have tack-on revenue beyond the initial build,” says Salatto.

GEMG expects a similar marketing environment in 2021 and is looking to capitalize on its stable which includes branded microsites, immersive articles, video and audio, digital event integration and data visualization.

“We believe this is sustainable and there’s room to grow,” says Salatto. “The net of this is that 14 out of our 15 top clients have marketing services central to the program they bought with us. We are not a huge piece of the revenue pie as an individual unit but we are a driver of topline revenue and a significant part of the pathway to bigger revenue programs.”

3. Attendee Data

You’ve likely heard of first party data and third-party data but how about zero party data?

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.

That includes creating online marketplaces that 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.

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 authenticated data that shows not only who a lead is 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 our audience when they are specifically after something and combine that information together to create something called authenticated data,” says Brown. “If we do all of that correctly, our gray cloud of a data lake becomes a green cloud of known buyer status. That’s where we can say who our buyer is and where they are in the funnel.”

In addition to the traditional model of offering leads as part of a one-off sponsorship, Informa is moving toward an annual subscription model that 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

“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.

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.”

People with different skills connecting together online and working on the same project, remote working and freelancing concept

Meet the New Guard: How FreightWaves Is Driving 250% Growth in Both Its Media and Data Businesses

Editor’s Note: Meet FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller at the upcoming virtual 2020 Business Information & Media Summit, Dec. 2-Dec. 4 for a session on “How FreightWaves Created a One-Two Punch with Marketing Services and Subscription Data.” Register here.  

For much of the media and information industry, 2020 has eclipsed the 2008 recession as the new standard for hard times.

But that’s certainly not the case for all, particularly those B2B information companies in the right markets with the right product mix.

Enter FreightWaves, which serves the $9.6 trillion business of freight logistics—including trucking, shipping, railway, warehousing and even digital on-demand and emerging mobility subjects such as Instacart—with a media business and a SaaS-based subscription data product that’s earned it the nickname “the Bloomberg of Freight.”

Through the first half of 2020, FreightWaves drove 250 percent growth in both its media and data businesses (with media growing even faster than data with similar margins—more on that in a bit), generating about $15 million in gross revenue and on track to do a run rate of more than $20 million by the end of the year.

From Commodities to Futures to Media

Ironically, FreightWaves’ origins had nothing to do with media. After selling his fleet payment processor business to U.S. Bank in 2012, FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller (who comes from a long line of trucking entrepreneurs) found himself dabbling in day trading commodities and exploring the idea of creating a futures market for the trucking industry.

“But as we started to go to market, we realized that every successful futures market has an ecosystem of news and data and that didn’t exist with freight logistics,” says Fuller. “FreightWaves was started to evangelize and inform how futures work but we also knew that if it was just about trucking futures, no one would read it. We started writing about things like Tesla, Amazon, the impact of hurricanes, Trump’s tweets when he shuts the borders and it just kind of built on itself.”

Launched in 2016, FreightWaves today includes digital media with FreightWaves.com and AmericanShipper.com, FreightWaves TV and FreightWaves Radio, which appears on SirusXM satellite radio, and SONAR, a SaaS-based subscription research and data service.

Selling Data in the COVID Era

FreightWaves sells SONAR to clients ranging from owner/operators of a single truck to airlines to some of the largest big box retailers.

“Logistics is 12 percent of the global GDP and it’s bigger than the financial and insurance industries combined,” says Fuller. “There’s millions of companies in this space and something like FedEx handles just 1 percent of the business. Companies use our data to make real time pricing and capacity decisions.”

The data business generates $7.5 million in annual revenue with a typical subscription at $25,000 per year but that rate can range up into the high six and seven figures for larger customers. “In the COVID era, the old data models have broken down and historic data is of no use,” says Fuller. “We’re looking at new data sets that haven’t been created before.”

While some B2B companies are starting to prioritize data over content (looking at you, Hanley Wood), Fuller sees the two as an essential combination.

“We’re creating all these new indexes and data types, but if you don’t have a way to contextualize those data sets, it can be difficult for customers to understand what that data means,” says Fuller. “We created the media business to do that.”

On the media side, FreightWaves drives one million uniques and about 2.5 million pageviews per month, with $8 million in annual revenue, driven by advertising and marketing services.

“This is a $9.6 trillion industry but the amount spent on advertising is actually fairly small,” says Fuller. “This is an environment focused on relationship-based sales but that’s gone away in a COVID world. Companies in this space typically aren’t going through agencies and they’re now trying to figure out how to get their story out and find new customers. They’re turning to us to develop their story and help their marketing.”

Fuller is quick to point out that the emphasis on content marketing doesn’t prevent FreightWaves from covering stories that matter, even with some of the biggest players in the space.

“We wrote a story about a company that was making its employees come in when they were sick until they were proven to have COVID-19,” he says. “It’s a $1 billion company and we were telling the story about it. We wrote about another company that went into bankruptcy and their truckers were calling into our XM radio show talking about how their cards were being cut off.  Those are the things people care about.”

Editor’s note: The bankruptcy story, about the collapse of Celadon, earned FreightWaves a 2020 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best News Coverage. FreightWaves.com also won best website for its revenue category. 

Fuller says he is bullish on both sides of the business. “Data is the most investable asset but media is easier to sell because the market is massive, and companies are trying to figure it out,” he adds. “The media business has margins that match the data business—70 percent gross and contribution in the 90 percent range—because frankly, there isn’t a ton of competition. We’re competing with a lot of print publishers and traditional B2B outlets that grew up in print world with a print cadence. There’s a thinking that in B2B it’s hard to do news and I don’t agree with that.”

Early Indicators of a Recovery?

Last week, FreightWaves announced that it had secured $37 million in new minority investment, putting its total capital at $75 million. Fuller says the investment will all be focused on growth, including M&A, organic product development and marketing.

While Fuller acknowledges that much of FreightWaves’ success is due to being in the right place at the right time, he says covering the freight industry gives him some insight to be optimistic about the general state of the economy.

“We happen to be far more bullish on the economy because we see the physical economy in real time and we’re seeing record activity in freight,” he adds. “Before something sells, the manufacturer is moving those raw goods and we see those goods in the market weeks before the consumer buys something. The economy is actually better than what most people think.”