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Selling Ideas Is Different Than Selling Products

Editor’s note: Join GovExec’s Frank Salatto and ACS’ Stephanie Holland for a webcast on Thursday, June 24 at 1pm ET as they share How to Build a Scalable Content Marketing Studio.  Free for AM&P Network members, register here.

“I’m looking for ideas. Every time I call a publisher, I hear about their rate card—that’s not what I want. I will never read your rate card.”

That’s a direct quote from Jason Abbate, VP of Strategic Accounts at B2B agency Stein IAS, at a joint publisher/marketer event hosted by AM&P Network and ANA Business Marketing shortly before the pandemic turned the world upside down.

Abbate summarized both the opportunity and the challenge facing B2B media and association publishers. Marketing services revenue—including content marketing, native advertising, advanced lead gen­—has grown faster than digital display advertising for several years now but jumped to the forefront last year as advertisers shifted budgets away from canceled live events to digital solutions.

Now, as events start to return, publishers need to keep the momentum they’ve developed with digital solutions and solve the biggest challenge with building a robust marketing services and content marketing business—the shift from selling products and placements to selling ideas while creating a model that scales profitably.

Strategy Before Story

American Chemical Society (ACS) created a content marketing lab several years ago, which positioned the association well for the pandemic.

Stephanie Holland

“Because events went away, how do our advertisers get revenue and leads?” said Stephanie Holland, ACS Director of Advertising Sales and Marketing, at the recent Reset, Reinvent, Revenue conference. “A lot of our advertisers became publishers on their own. We had to contend with that. With our publishing studio we could partner with them to recoup some marketing dollars.“

When it comes to selling ideas, not products, Holland and her team prioritize four points in making a pitch:

  • Strategy before story
  • Solution-based selling, not tactics
  • Understanding the advertiser’s goal
  • Know what success means to your client

Because costs can quickly spiral out of control, ACS keeps a close eye on project margins, including the development of pricing tools to determine the level of effort required before a proposal is issued and mapping to that document throughout the project execution.

A successful marketing service business requires publishers to break out of the siloes in which they may normally operate. “The projects transcend groups internally,” says Holland. “Our goal is to ensure the scope is clearly communicated before the project begins.”

Marketing Services Driving Overall Growth

Marketing services has always been tied closely to events for GovExec (which recently rebranded from Government Executive Media) 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

“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 GovExec. “Honestly, we were part of the conversation with clients like never before in how to rebuild their event programs.”

GovExec transitioned quickly to an all-digital environment by turning large live events into multi-part integrated digital programs and 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 GovExec 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 GovExec last year and 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.

GovExec 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.”

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.

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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.”

SourceMedia Rebrands as Arizent, Preps Launch of New Membership Business

Eighteen months after SourceMedia named Gemma Postlethwaite its new CEO, the financial information company today unveils a new name: Arizent.

The new brand is intended to convey the company mission of helping to raise up and advance the financial industry as well as professional services such as accounting and HR.

“We’ve been bringing employees and customers along on our journey for the past 18 months,” Postlethwaite tells Connectiv. “We asked, what do we look like on our best day? How do we unlock our value? There is no sense in changing the name just for the sake of it. The essence of our value proposition is how we unlock actionable insights and analysis for our communities, business growth for our customers and personal growth for our employees.”

Like many of its peers in B2B media and information, the former Source has long contended it’s no longer just a media company and the new name helps emphasize its focus on delivering interlocking content, research, networking and more to its audiences, while selling integrated programs across the collective DNA of its more than 40 brands that span live events, peer-to-peer-networks, subscription services and media.

“The term ‘media’ is no longer adequate to describe the breadth of our value proposition,” says chief strategy officer Jeff Mancini. “Our communities are no longer content to be just passive consumers of content. They are looking for a broad range of insights and analysis that spans research, live events and peer interaction. The same is true for our marketing clients. In order to sell integrated programs, you need to talk about what you do differently. The value we bring today is not just through an IAB standard banner or a 10×10 exhibit at an event.”

As part of the rebranding strategy, the team broke down the three pillars that defined the company, including,

Transformative Ideas. “SourceMedia’s editorial brands have always stood out – and won awards for – their independent authoritative journalism. By investing more in original research and analysis, we can go really deep into coverage of ideas that are disruptive and transformative, such as AI and technology, that are moving the financial services sector forward,” says Mancini.

Community. “We then rally leaders around those ideas,” says Mancini. “We have over 20 live events plus new peer-to-peer networks.”

Redefining Industry Standards. A roll-up of Arizent’s benchmark products, such The Most Powerful Women in Banking, Best Banks to Work For, Best Fintechs to Work For and Rising Stars. “All these programs are research-backed and represent what we believe is redefining the industry standard,” says Mancini.

Arizent to Launch New Leader Membership Network in March

One of the most significant new initiatives for Arizent will be the launch in March of a new leadership network that will build off the framework of the company’s 17-year-old Most Powerful Women in Banking Awards as well as other gender inclusion programs.

But rather than just offer networking opportunities for a single demographic, the new program will include leaders throughout the financial services industry and offer members access to exclusive content and research, as the group collectively advances a common goal, like greater gender diversity.

The network features a corporate membership structure that enables members to participate in year-round programming, which will culminate in the latter part of the year with the Most Powerful Women in Banking Awards as well as the launch of a new summit (the name will be announced later in the year).

“We will be working on tangible things, such as getting more women on boards, helping to solve the pipeline problem of getting new talent into financial services and the summit will be the moment when we bring the most senior members together to report on how we are doing,” says Postlethwaite.

Marketers will also be able to participate in the network, not to be in sell mode but to be “champions of change” by offering resources such as data and training to the group, according to Postlethwaite. “For example, an executive search firm can sponsor one of the board events but their duties will not just be to thank everyone for coming but to make sure that every woman leaves that meeting with her resume done,” she adds. “Those are the very practical, tangible deliverables that we are looking for.”

While Postlethwaite won’t reveal pricing for the new network, she says the program represents a completely new business for Arizent at a totally different price point than traditional B2B subscriptions or media. “This starts to deliver on the promise of a community,” says Postlethwaite. “If you actually look at what it takes to build a community, not everyone is doing that. This is what we stand for and why we matter.”

More Growth, Less Niche

Overall, Arizent is seeing significant growth in its subscriptions and events businesses. “We’re fortunate that we have sizeable subscription asset, we have a sizeable events business and we have a great media business,” says Postlethwaite. “Over the course of the last 18 months, the team has been elevating the conversation with our media clients and turning them into true solutions clients.”

Postlethwaite says Arizent will see significant revenue growth in 2020 and that growth will stem from a focus on a community-first approach. Where page views once ruled Arizent now expects to grow subscriptions, events and new community plays like the networks. From there, marketing services becomes more effective due to a quality over quantity engagement strategy.

“You can now show up in a newly defined community that’s much broader and less niche,” adds Postlethwaite. “If you’re in banking, you shouldn’t just be in American Banker, you should be in all our brands. That’s where the growth is on the media side.”

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How OPIS Used Video – and Story – to Sell Their RetailSuite

“Gas station owner Mike is struggling to keep up with the times, and not just in his wardrobe.”

Thus begins one of the many OPIS animated videos featuring Mike, here wearing a psychedelic shirt and headband. “Because Mike is comfortable doing things the way he’s always done them, he’s falling behind retail fuel price trends… Mike needs to understand how his direct competitors and the stations with the top brands in his region change their prices. Then use that data to capture market share during periods of price volatility.

“That’s when Mike’s assistant manager Mary had a suggestion. She recommended AnalyticsPro, one of the five components of the OPIS Retail Suite.”

OPISMike.png

This 98-second marketing video is one of many in the OPIS RetailSuite Video Series starring the buyer persona (but not Oscar-nominated) “Mike the station manager.” Joining Mike on his journeys toward discovery are Bob his boss, rival station manager Matt (boo) and assistant manager Mary. It took all of about 20 seconds for me to fall in deep like with Mike and Mary, and apparently OPIS customers felt the same. This campaign helped produce 600+ closed sales in 2018, and drove a 17% YOY increase in sales revenue for the retail segment of OPIS business.

The video series also won a 2019 SIPAward for Best Use of Video in Marketing.

“In late 2017, OPIS (Oil Price Information Service) launched RetailSuite, an online platform with five tools to help convenience store operators and gas station owners sell more fuel and increase profits,” wrote Rick Wilkes, executive director of marketing for OPIS, in their winning entry. “To introduce this breakthrough product to the retail fuel market, we implemented a multi-channel marketing campaign to establish a product brand, build awareness of it and generate demo requests.

Video proved pivotal to the success of this campaign, and provided inspiration for spin-off activity in other channels. They created a series six “explainer” videos, including one overview and separate versions for each product module or tool.

“We used animation as the format, with ‘Mike the station manager’ as the main character and continuing thread connecting the series,” Wilkes wrote. “Each video showed in just 1-2 minutes how the individual components of RetailSuite helped Mike improve his business in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way.”

OPISMike2.png

In another video, Mike trains for a marathon and starts thinking about competition. That leads to “How to Grade Your Gas Station’s Profit Margin Performance With OPIS MarginPro. In another, Mike wants to expand his business and looks to “How to Increase Your Retail Gas Station’s Market Share With OPIS MarketShare Pro.”

“We posted these videos on the OPIS YouTube channel, and on the OPIS website (both product pages and the video library),” Wilkes continued.  “We promoted them via email (8 blasts) and social media (48 posts on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). All of this activity combined to generate 5K+ views.”

In an age where all the editorial and marketing experts promote storytelling, Mike’s adventures and travails resonate strongly. In fact, in a previous talk at a SIPA conference, Wilkes spoke about where their authenticity comes from.

“We talked to our sales director and asked, ‘When one of your customers comes to our site, what are they going to want to know right away?’ ” he said. “What commodities we cover? Are they going to want to know about our market segments? He said, ‘No, they’re going to look for who they are. They’re going to say, I’m a retailer, I sell gas. What do you have for me?’ So what we tried to do is immediately show buyer personas, and a who-we-help section. You can see all these fuel chain personas and there are a lot of them.”

OPIS also showcased video in what Wilkes called “the single most offbeat—and lucrative—effort of the RetailSuite campaign”: a printed brochure with the overview video embedded inside. They mailed this piece to 91 high-potential prospects chosen by sales, providing reps with a memorable context for follow-up calls and emails. Early last year, that promotion had already generated 15 leads and four conversions with very little expense.

I can’t wait to see what Mike is up to next.