Selling audience over product: How Advanstar solved the database riddle to drive new revenue

by Ronda Hughes, director of Audience Data, Advanstar Communications Inc.12-10-02_RondaHughes

Close to a year ago, our leadership team gathered to try to understand how to become more efficient and effective internal marketers and how to obtain more revenue from our audience databases.  It was with great excitement (and fear) that we realized we had two issues on our hands: 1) We needed to figure out how to consolidate our disparate databases into a single consensus file, and 2) Once we had a single consensus file, we had to actually use all the data to grow internal leads and at the same time grow revenue!

It didn’t take long before we discovered that our audience databases were all over the place. We had six separate databases housing our publication, conference, e-newsletter, webinar, website and whitepaper customers. From a data management perspective, we didn’t have the internal technical resources available to pull this all together. On the sales side, our message was very “product-centric” as opposed to being “audience- or brand-centric,” so there was a learning curve we needed to climb if we wanted to grow a new revenue stream once this system was up and running. After a review of third-party solutions, we chose to partner with Knowledge Marketing and leverage their Audience Management System to tackle our database problems head on.

Challenge #1: Consolidate our disparate databases into a single useful system

Our vision was that the consensus database would integrate all of our audience members’ demographic, contextual and behavioral information into a single record that would be updated in real time according to individual member interactions. The database would contain unlimited details of individual member dimensions, and incorporate the millions of touch points across all channels of engagement where data is available (such as print, website, digital, e-products, events, social media and email). Equally as important, the database needed to be structured in a way that would allow for real time, detailed segmentation, delivering “merge/purge on the fly,” in collaboration between sales and select clients. It needed to be very user friendly with a clean user interface, NOT an application built for programmers and analysts only. Additionally, I must add that time was of the essence as I was only given 90 days to have this database up and operational.

Result: Fully operational in two months!

Fortunately for us, Knowledge Marketing didn’t run when they heard our timeline was only 90 days. The key to our success was thoughtful planning and organization around which data elements were important, and how we would plan to monetize them in the future.  Leveraging Knowledge Marketing’s expertise on underlying data consolidation allowed us to concentrate our efforts on how we could best use the information as opposed to how to actually build it. Our senior executives expected us to execute this project without creating any significant disruptions to internal processes or draining precious resources away from existing initiatives. We gathered together numerous stakeholders and collaborated with key clients to determine the most appropriate dimensions demographics we would use when creating the individual member records.


With our end vision in hand, Knowledge Marketing uploaded 3.6 million records from six databases and integrated significant amounts of content into a single, Web-based solution. Our platform not only has this information consolidated in one location with a simple user interface, it additionally allows us to execute all the necessary marketing campaigns directly from the same system. Believe it or not, with careful planning and good execution, we completed the implementation, start to finish, in only 60 days!

So, now what …

Challenge #2: Create a new revenue stream

During evaluation and peer research, we ran across many publishers who claimed to have built a consolidated audience database, yet lack the ability to articulate their strategy of leveraging data and driving revenue.

With Knowledge Marketing we identified three primary angles on how to drive additional revenue from our new consolidated audience database:

  1. Retain and grow our traditional client base;
  2. Identify new sources of advertising through greater collaboration with clients; and
  3. Leverage our consolidated database to grow marketing services revenues.

Executing on these objectives meant overcoming both operational and cultural issues. Operationally, we solved many of the issues (bringing together multiple lists, de-duping and then segmenting and filtering could often take days, if not weeks, for just one campaign)during the construction of our database and were pleased with the simplicity of the user interface. 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. Ironically, however, the real challenge was not operationally but rather culturally — how we were going to make the change.

The first paradigm I encountered was transitioning from selling “products” to selling “our audience.” Our new database provides a real-time view of individual audience members across our print, digital, e-newsletter, events, etc. and incorporates demographic, contextual and behavioral data at the individual level. While powerful, if not presented properly, it would come across as confusing to our legacy sales people and traditional customers. Second, we wanted to send a clear signal to both our internal constituents and external clients that there was something unique and powerful about our audience.  Lastly, we wanted to “lift the veil of secrecy” that many traditional publishers have around the specific details of their audience; thus we created CAST.

12-10-02_CAST2CAST is an acronym for our Custom Audience Segmentation Tool, which represents our unique, private-label view into our proprietary audience database. CAST allows us to sit side-by-side with our key clients and conduct detailed queries in real time that highlight the depth and strength of our audience. Whereas in the past we defended our database quality through BPA statements, today we demonstrate our data in a real-time collaborative manner. Historically, when we wanted to do advanced database segmentation and targeting, it was a manual effort that took significant time and resources to conduct. What took weeks in the past and had only minimal results, now takes seconds with maximum impact.

Result: Real financial impact!

As we expected, the initial sales calls were tough because it seemed like we were speaking a foreign language. It was clear we were ushering in a new era of collaboration and a new way of selling and buying in the publisher/advertiser relationship. After our first blitz of 80 sales calls we stepped back and assessed our results only to realize we were doing a lot more educating than selling. 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?”

As time went on and we re-visited our initial prospects, we started to see amazing results. Our most recent success was a client e-mail that offered several entry points (such as links to their website) with different benefits (roundtable invite, top 10 reasons to do XYZ, sign up for a whitepaper, etc.). This promotion went to a very niched and e-centric/engaged list. The result was 15 percent better than average open rate and 4 percent better than average click through rate.

Initially, we had set an aggressive goal in incremental revenue through the sales of CAST. This was in the form of special projects and other marketing services. After a few months, we were already approaching our annual goal. What sprung from this concept were a whole new set of marketing services available to our key clients, and a whole new level of collaboration around a private audience database. As time goes on, we continue to build more packages and ancillary services to our core data offering, and we expand the number of people within Advanstar that can speak to the value of CAST. By creating new revenue streams AND by growing our current business by smarter internal marketing of our webinars, print and e-products, CAST is a proven success.

Summary: How to make it happen

I am not alone in this initiative, as my peers at UBM Canon, Watt Publishing and others are conducting similar initiatives and seeing similar results. For those of you interested, this video link demonstrates the value of our CAST solution. To be honest, like many of you, we needed to launch this project on a limited budget with limited resources. Together with our partner, Knowledge Marketing, we were able to do so on both fronts.

Of course, we still leverage our consensus database for our own direct marketing efforts to increase subscribers, attendees and overall audience engagement.  My advice to all the companies that are just starting this initiative is to: 1) choose the right partner with experience, 2) get support from across your organization and key clients and 3) be patient as your first round of selling may be more educational. Of course, most importantly, stick with it as the results will be amazing once you start collaborating more closely with your advertisers.

If you want to learn more about what we did and hear our results, feel free to connect with me anytime on LinkedIn or via email at


One comment

  1. Pingback: Want to succeed in marketing services? Fix your database first. « MediaPace

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