Audience databases brighten media outlook

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Like many b-to-b media companies, Canon Communications is creating a unified audience database of its magazines, trade shows and online properties. In building this database, Los Angeles-based Canon, which serves the medical device market, has found something surprising. There is very little overlap between its magazine subscribers, event attendees and Web site users. “The overlap, for example, between trade shows and magazines tends to run from about 20% to 30%,” said Charles McCurdy, Canon's CEO. Other b-to-b media companies are finding the same thing. “We've gone through a similar process,” said Kerry Gumas, president-CEO of Questex Media, which publishes Travel Agent. “We've previously seen [this lack of overlap] anecdotally, and now we have the real numbers and real percentages to prove it.” Companies like Questex and Canon are discovering that their audiences are significantly larger than the subscriber lists of their controlled-circulation magazines. They are also seeing the value that these larger audiences bring to integrated media programs of b-to-b marketers. And led by publishers such as Tech- Target and IDG, b-to-b media companies are aiming to sell valuable slices of these databases to marketers by identifying high-value segments based on online behaviors. Industry observers believe these audience databases are the future of b-to-b media. “I think this is really good news. I think there's a lot of potential here,” said Chuck Richard, VP-analyst at Outsell, a research firm. As print revenues continue in free fall, b-to-b media companies must figure out how to make money from these databases. “I would say that's the only way they're going to survive, by using their ability to aggregate a large audience across multiple touch points,” said Tom Stein, president of advertising agency Stein Rogan+Partners. By reaching larger audiences, b-to-b media companies can more credibly make the claim that they reach most of the key influencers of purchasing decisions in a particular sector. “In the dialogue between b-to-b media companies and b-to-b marketers over the years, the implicit assumption in the conversation with publishers or trade show operators has always been that by participating in my media, you've reached the market,” McCurdy said. “To actually have the data that shows the potential prospect universe is quite distinct in each of these media, that's a very new take on this.” The audience in a specific sector has always been bigger, for example, than a magazine's controlled-circulation subscriber list. Reaching that audience has been a different story. For instance, the economics of publishing have limited the number of prospects a magazine could reach efficiently. Trade publications have traditionally focused on reaching a core group of purchasing decision-makers. Now, through the Internet and a growing selection of events, from trade shows to conferences to virtual events, b-to-b media companies can help marketers reach a broader array of influencers. “In tech, people are not surprised to hear numbers like 4 million and 5 million in a database, when a single magazine might have 400,000-plus subscribers,” said Steve Weitzner, CEO of Ziff Davis Enterprise. The small overlap between print, online and events also seems to suggest the wisdom of integrated marketing. Only by using a variety of media can a b-to-b marketer reach the full scope of the potential purchase influencers. A recent Outsell study indicated that the return on marketing campaigns that used cross-media platforms increased lead-generation effectiveness by 28%. “We are big believers in multiple touch point marketing,” Stein said. “We think you need to touch a potential customer a number of times in this day and age.” Rick Segal, CEO of GyroHSR North America, agreed that integrated marketing makes sense, although he has his doubts about the enduring value of print in the model. “Clearly, there are business-influencer and decision-maker eyeballs focused on media other than print, if they're focused on print at all,” he said. “I think there are several things going on here. So-called "first-read' trade and business publications still have good readership among senior management and management climb-ers, less among middle management "careerists.' Middle managers are going to spend more time kicking tires at trade shows and exhibits than their senior managers, though there will be some crossover.” Segal argues that online is where b-to-b marketers—and therefore, b-to-b media companies—will need to communicate with their audiences. “The holy grail remains the digital consumer of business information,” he said. “Period.” It is by taking advantage of their audience databases online and targeting prospects when they're looking to buy that b-to-b media companies will find their larger audience to be of the most value. Currently, online display advertising is viewed as a commodity. Many industry observers believe that b-to-b media companies can use their audience databases to begin demonstrating that the leads they generate via the management of their online content deserve more than commodity pricing. TechTarget and IDG Connect are two pioneers in targeting online users for b-to-b marketers. Frank Cutitta, IDG Connect's general manager, said his business has developed an “engagement intensity index” that analyzes editorial, white papers and other content viewed by users to help identify those interested in certain products and services. “That's the holy grail,” Mike Paradiso, VP-global media director at CA, said of matching the right pros-pects to the right marketers. “What b-to-b marketers want is for publishing companies to make their databases as transparent as they can.” “It enables b-to-b media companies to move from being a seller of booths, and pages and advertising to understanding the terrain of the market and matching those who are potential buyers with our marketing customers in the most efficient way possible,” McCurdy said. By identifying high-value prospects in their databases, b-to-b media companies hope to charge more for connecting buyers and sellers—and to break the trend of print advertising dollars becoming digital dollars. Many b-to-b media companies see themselves offering more marketing services to help their marketing customers reach buyers. “We're beginning to give the marketer a more analytical view of how ultimately to allocate his marketing dollar to achieve results,” Gumas said. But it's tempting for b-to-b media companies to become overly concerned with the audience database, industry observers say. They still must supply the content that attracts the audience, whether that's in print, in person or the ever-expanding world of online, which now includes peer-to-peer social networking platforms. “The ability to aggregate this large audience comes down to content, the quality of the content at the end of day,” Stein said. “If that's not there, it's something that will negatively impact lead capture. It will impact a lot of what we're trying to achieve with our media partners.” M
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