What do we do now that "readers" have become "users?"

In the last two months, I have attended B2B media industry gatherings as varied as an American Business Media meeting in New York, a CEO conference of UFI (the international trade fair operators group) in Geneva and the FIPP Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin.

Different segments to be sure, but what was the chatter in the halls? Just this: we live in a world where people who used to be our readers are simply looking to find the best market intelligence available, however they can find it. Those who used to be "our" advertisers view their job as driving qualified leads to their companies’ websites to support sales and customer relationship efforts, rather than spending a media budget. People who used to just have a booth at our shows are looking at direct or digital contacts to replace our value.

So, how do we remain relevant – no, crucial – in this environment?

First, let’s look at our strengths. One of the advantages of B2B media, in contrast to consumer publishing, is the wide range of information we can obtain about our audiences – much more than simply name, address, and expiration date.

When I became CEO of Canon Communications five years ago, I learned that we had as many as 74 discrete audience files across trade shows, publications, and digital media – this for a company 100 percent focused on the advanced manufacturing and design engineering market. Canon’s mission was to be the most effective B2B media company covering the advanced manufacturing market worldwide. Having the most comprehensive, robust database of design engineers and manufacturing managers was central to that mission.

The Canon database gave us a comprehensive view of 1.2 million key players in advanced manufacturing worldwide, including a valid e-mail capture rate of over 90 percent. All of our customers – advertisers, sponsors, exhibitors – were trying to develop their own client and prospect databases, but none of them could hope to be as comprehensive as ours.

In the print media segment alone, there were over 700,000 unique records, and almost as many in digital media, while our tradeshow division had 360,000 unique records. There were some surprises. Only a third of our magazine subscribers attended our trade shows or subscribed to our e-newsletters. About 30 percent of individual records showed up in more than one medium. That means that 70 percent of names appeared in only one category. Even though the company focused only on advanced manufacturing and design across all media, covering the entire market required us to have a presence online, in print, and in person.

Perhaps even more important was our ability to segment. Last year, Canon launched two orthopedic trade shows and began delivering e-newsletters to this market, under the new Orthotec brand name. That brought substantial, profitable revenue with healthy expansion ahead, and we couldn’t have delivered this without at the insight provided by of our audience database.

The lesson: Imagine the competitive advantage and barriers to entry that a company can build if it adopts, to use a medical device analogy, MRI-quality detailed imaging of the communities of buyers that its customers want so keenly to reach.

One under-recognized fact is that B2B digital media is often more about digital outreach than it is about attracting website visitors. Revenues from e-newsletters, webcasts, etc. often equals or exceeds website ad revenue, and typically a large minority of website traffic comes from e-newsletter click-throughs. Increasingly, our marketing customers were willing to pay a lot to reach just the right people. Publishing and trade show brands were still important, but audience segmentation was becoming the key to happy customers, better ROI and expanded margins. Further, because our competitors couldn’t begin to match these services, we could price based on value rather than cost.

In a world where disintermediation-the process of bypassing media companies– is becoming the norm, a unique, proprietary audience database is a very valuable tool. Audience information, advertiser information, and content can all be structured into databases and linked in order to provide ever more valuable services. Having more detail allows forward-thinking B2B media companies to target pertinent, actionable content and bring greater efficiency and ROI to their customers – as long as they know their behaviors well enough to offer the right services.

Looking at it this way, one of digital media’s greatest values is the structured data it provides about content, customer and audience, and how those can all work together.

Looking at the Canon model, I am confident that the future of B2B media is very bright for those who can succeed in creating – and leveraging – robust, interlinked data-fields in all dimensions for the industries they serve.

Charlie McCurdy is CEO of Apprise Media.

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