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.”

Woman connecting with her computer at home and following online courses, distance learning concept

‘It Helps You Understand Your Audience’; the Data and Connectedness From Virtual Events Give Them Value

It has become a bit too easy to undersell the value of virtual events. People still want to be connected. One media company, Winsight, went as far as not doing them, turning instead to online sponsored communities. (Still emphasizing connection, however.) While it works for them, virtual events can still be successful with the right expectations—on both sides. And even when in-person comes back, virtual will remain vital because we will not want to lose that audience. So may be worth it to get them right.

In a recent webinar hosted by exhibitions association UFI, Liz Irving, EVP, head of marketing, technology and customer experience, Clarion North America said that the need for connection—yes, digitally—has never been stronger than it is now. Her company has spent a lot of time conversing with its markets.

“We found new ways to take our markets forward by helping them address their needs today and connect in new ways digitally,” she said. One virtual event they did offered a series of live product demonstrations from people’s homes. “It doesn’t replace face-to-face, but it allowed those connections to be made further upstream.”

Here are more reasons and ideas for keeping and boosting your virtual events:

Create sub-communities. Irving said you can really “home in on specific customers that sellers are looking for, “just on a smaller scale rather than one massive event every one or two years.

Be proactive about managing customer expectations. Emphasize the positive outcomes that attendees can expect—how-to lists, video examples immediate surveys and polls. “It’s really important to manage those expectations and show them that the value of virtual events lies in the reach of the data,” said Laura McCartney, head of exhibitor experience, EMEA, Informa Markets.

Consider the data you can collect virtually. “When you overlay it, every click, every video they watch, every interaction they have, it’s all trackable,” said John Capano, SVP at Impact XM, on an EventBuzz podcast last week. (There’s a transcript.) “And that really helps you understand your audience and develop your next meeting and prove your ROI to your bosses and all those things that you want to do with an event.” That’s a similar advantage to something in my article yesterday, where Sam Yagan who founded OKCupid wanted every interaction to happen on his site where they can track it.

Smaller audiences can reap bigger rewards. “The key is to really understand the different markets you serve and develop strategies specific to each of those markets, panelists agreed,” Sue Pelletier wrote in Trade Show Executive. “Also, digital events can extend the reach of those audiences beyond just the scheduled day of the show by keeping the community and connections going year-round.”

Look at your virtual attendees as an opportunity to market for future in-person. FOMO is a real thing. Capano offered the words you’re looking to hear: “Hey, I went last year online, and it was awesome and I saw how much fun people had on site, I gotta go this year.”

There is incentive to stay with virtual events in some form to stay connected. “I’m going to spend the extra time and effort to get through this year because there’s a lot of value in that live [aspect],” Capano said. “If you asked anyone about trade shows two years ago, or even some live events that weren’t highly engaging… everyone’s like, ‘oh, trade shows are so old school, nobody wants to go to them.’ And now all of a sudden, people are dying to get to trade shows, like ‘I miss it so much. I want to see my friends, I want to be there.’ So really it’s kind of a snap back to realize that virtual well done, and hybrid well done is going to drive the heck out of your success for live going forward.”

Sustainability is a thing—young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” Capano said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with. So this is really a ton of benefits there. Your cost per attendee, all that stuff is better when it’s hybrid over just live.”

As Irving said, “We do have to educate folks on the value of digital and how it looks different than face-to-face. But Clarion’s business model now will have digital, and it will have face-to-face. You can take some or all of it to help reach the suite of folks you want to find in your industry.“