Want to succeed in marketing services? Fix your database first.

Business-to-business media and information companies have always prided themselves on their market expertise to the point of being able to do what their readers do. The industry is filled with stories of editors becoming certified in the disciplines they cover (from farming to firefighting to hair dressing –Alison Shipley, editor of Vance’s salon trade publication First Chair, attended beauty school five nights a week from 4:30 to 10pm to obtain her certification).

The same applies to the marketing side — particularly in an industry where many advertiser-media partner relationships are one-one-one without an agency go-between. Advertisers are looking to us to create programs that they either don’t have the resources or sophistication to execute themselves.

That’s a huge opportunity in the days of content marketing and marketing services.  In the prospectus for a whitepaper, “Creating a Marketing Services Business,” from ABM’s Marketing Services Committee (which will be released at ABM’s Annual Conference in April), Eric Beiner, head of marketing services at ALM, says there are four reasons why media companies are poised to capitalize on marketing services:

  1. Domain expertise
  2. Ability to create rich content
  3. Audience databases(s)
  4. Diverse delivery channels

Most media companies are more than capable with at least three out of four of those bullets. “The quality and sheer volume of good content being produced by brands that are merely trying to be ‘thought leaders’ can look pretty intimidating to us real publishers who actually need to monetize what we publish,” wrote blogger D.Eadward Tree. “But their focus tends to be pretty narrow — brief SEO-friendly articles, shareable graphics and hope-to-be viral videos.”

However, it’s the third bullet, audience database, that’s the real concern. Database and audience understanding is what should propel media companies above the agencies and custom shops as the most valued marketing partner, but it’s an area that continues to be neglected. Integrating the wide variety of lists developed over the years is enough of a challenge, let alone developing the behavioral database and insight that many marketers are looking for.

However, some marketers are starting to outpace their media partners when it comes to database investment. In a recent blog, Matt Shanahan, senior vp of marketing and analytics at Scout Analytics, said that in an informal survey he conducted of a handful of b-to-b digital media brands (typically the bleeding edge of b-to-b), none had a behavioral database. “Marketers are constructing huge databases about their prospects and customers in order to assist in understanding buyer behavior, architect customer acquisition funnels and optimize spending and revenue,” wrote Shanahan. “Marketers are becoming hugely data-driven beyond single cost per lead metrics into areas such as revenue, attributing by funnel and market asset conversion rates at each step in the funnel and funnel performance over time.”

Are most b-to-b advertisers doing this today? Frankly, no. But staying ahead of the curve increases our value exponentially — and makes us the marketing experts they need.

It can be done — and monetized

Advanstar managed to consolidate six separate databases (publication, conference, e-newsletter, webinar, website and whitepaper) into a single system with audience members’ demographic, contextual and behavioral information that can be updated in real-time according to individual member reactions.

Partnering with Knowledge Marketing, Advanstar identified three revenue streams from the database, including retaining and growing the traditional client base; identifying new sources of advertising through greater collaboration with clients; and leveraging the consolidated database to grow marketing services revenues.  “We created a database that allowed our users to conduct highly detailed segmentation, permitting them to draw unique insight that could then be leveraged to clients regarding the value and opportunity within our audience,” Ronda Hughes, director of audience data at Advanstar, wrote in an ABM blog detailing their database fix. “After our initial presentations, clients internalized our information and concepts, and began to think through the various ways they could leverage the information we made available to them to drive an increase in results. Questions started to emerge such as ‘Can you get me a segment that specifically includes …?’ and ‘Can you include people that actually opened a specific e-mail and clicked a specific link?’”

Over and over, I keep hearing that the biggest obstacles to developing a successful marketing services business are internal rather than external: culture, compensation and process, particularly around the database. While determining who gets credit for selling an integrated package and how that person is compensated is a critical issue, it also feels a little bit like navel gazing to me; your advertisers (or exhibitors) don’t care who is getting paid or how much. They do care about what you can do for them and a streamlined, sophisticated database is the start of that conversation. Win the business first.

Shameless plug: At ABM’s upcoming Annual Conference, we will be offering actionable takeaways on the topic database management. “Taking Ownership of Your Database,” a part of a small operators pre-con, will show how to consolidate the variety of lists media companies have accumulated into a single, workable solution. A separate session, “Solving Three Critical Challenges of Marketing Services,” will focus on those internal challenges to marketing services, including developing a revenue-generating behavioral database. We hope to see you there.

By Matt Kinsman

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