Over the last few years, I've engaged in a number of conversations about the changing dynamic of the b-to-b publishing sector. Whether talking with our internal team at Edgell or with friends and colleagues in the industry, the discussion often focuses on how media companies are being challenged by the changing economic environment along with a dramatic shift in the business model of a modern b-to-b publisher.
In these discussions, common themes often arise about the transition to an online-centric business model and the impact that mobile platforms will have on the business going forward. But the one topic that we shouldn't lose sight of is the change in the relationship today's publishers need to have with their audience members.
Just look at our business 10 years ago. B-to-b publishing has always been about connecting buyers and sellers, and from an audience perspective, that used to mean a publisher ensured a magazine was delivered to a person's company—and hopefully his or her desk. At the time, we had some basic information about our audience and using annual surveys could garner some understanding of their media consumption and buying habits.
That dynamic has dramatically changed. For today's publishers, it's far more important to have a much closer relationship with the audience members in our print, online and event databases. We can no longer rely on the delivery of a magazine and collection of demographic information as the only tools we have for understanding our audience. We must now create more personal relationships, understanding not only what products audience members receive but also the types of content they want to consume and the topics that affect their work environment.
So what's sparking the change in audience engagement? First, as most publishers know, it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and grow their audience bases. Across the board, publishers are seeing mass consolidation of companies in their markets. At the same time, there is increasing turnover at the companies that remain. Both of these factors make it difficult to keep pace with the changes while simultaneously working to refresh and grow audience lists across print, online and event channels.
At the same time, audience members have at their disposal a multitude of content resources and networking events covering their particular market segment. Think back a decade ago, when media companies were still the main source for delivering content to our users. Now, we're in direct competition with pure-play online houses, blogs and even our customers to be premium content resources.
Changes at our marketing partners are also driving the push for a closer audience relationship. As most publishing executives know, the branding campaigns that populated our channels in the past are being replaced by lead-generation efforts. Meanwhile, lead generation itself has shifted dramatically. Several years ago, it was good enough to provide a list of names of people who downloaded a white paper or attended a webinar. Today, marketers not only want the names, they are turning to publishers to score leads and deliver more nurtured leads. This allows our marketing partners to more quickly move a lead down the conversion path to a sale; it also puts greater responsibility on publishers to have a deeper understanding of their audience.
The question that publishers have to ask is, how do I foster a closer relationship with my audience? Here are a few things to consider:
n First, it's critical for publishers to find ways to align their databases so they can draw insights about an audience member or group of audience members across channels. They have to create a mechanism to track and view the engagement of an audience member across channels.
n Second, publishers have to build or implement tools that will enable a better mining of audience data. We have a ton of intelligence in our databases. The key is taking action on that information. Customer relationship management solutions and business intelligence tools can help.
n Third, microsegmentation is key. B-to-b publishers have extremely targeted lists. But to succeed we have to segment our lists further so we can provide more-targeted content for the audience and, in turn, more-targeted leads for our customers.
n And, finally, don't lose sight of personal relationships. Our publishers and senior sales executives have very deep relationships with key executives within their respective audiences.
These are just a few of the ways a b-to-b publisher can enhance its audience relationship. Live events, custom content, social media and mobile also play key roles in building deeper connections. And the publishers that do the best job of building those relationships will be the ones that will thrive moving forward.
Gerald C. Ryerson is the president of Edgell Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.