Penton's analytics strategy introduces science to art

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Penton Media has spent the past year focusing intensely on online data and analytics, and those efforts are paying off with a better understanding of its audience. The company switched to an enterprise-class email system that allows it to target audience members based on their engagement with website and email newsletter content. At the same time, it has changed its corporate culture and processes, creating the role of digital content strategist for each brand, said Brad Mehl, VP-audience development and research at Penton Media. These employees identify trends in newsletter and website activity—analyzing metrics such as email open and click rates, as well as repeat traffic and duration of visit on the website—and work with editorial and audience development to shape content based on the information, Mehl said. “Previously, we had very good editors with a very good command of their markets, but now we're quantifying the audience engagement with what they write,” he said. The digital content strategists are editorial-facing, Mehl said, but have an online background and are familiar with Web metrics. “It's taking editorial, which was previously mostly an art form, and bringing more science to it,” he said. Penton has used the analytics and its enhanced under-standing of its audience to launch new email newsletters, including “ATW Skypaths” for its Air Transport World brand. “We noticed in a redesign of our website that there was a real need for airline professionals to get information on airplane routes,” Mehl said. “We identified the people who had read articles about airplane routes on the website and sent out an introductory email to those people. It was a blockbuster success.” Open rates for the new newsletter were twice the Penton average, and the size of the email's list has tripled since the initial launch. “We have a highly focused, highly targeted, highly engaged audience on a topic that really resonates with those people,” Mehl said. The biggest challenge Mehl and his team have had to overcome is the change in processes, he said. “Once you get the technology in place, [the challenge is] establishing a process for who does what and how people's roles are going to change based on the new capabilities,” he said. To address that challenge, Penton has hosted dedicated training sessions for the audience development group and has assigned an employee to handle professional develop-ment for the group. At the training sessions, the group learned about the new capabilities and performed scenario planning, identifying solutions for different business challenges—for example, how to increase attendance for a particular event based on specific background information about the audience. “It's about getting people to think about how they can solve business challenges leveraging the new targeting capabilities,” Mehl said. He offered the following advice for media companies on a similar mission: “Success in b-to-b media is rooted in understanding the audience,” he said. “Put some processes and capabilities in place to understand the audience, and make that part of your culture. Make it part of the day-to-day knitting. That goes from the ways in which the audience engages with the content, the challenges the audience has in their day-to-day jobs, how that content fits into their work life and their work flow, and the messaging you use in positioning the brand.” —M.E.M.
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