In the “which came first?” game of the chicken and the egg, the explosion of audience data would seem to be the direct result of the ever-accelerating pace of change in information technology. While IT plays an important role, it’s the data that is driving publishers’ initiatives and strategies. “The data is driving these decisions. IT is just facilitating it,” says Eric Kammerzelt, VP of technology at Cygnus Business Media. “We’re becoming smarter about our audience and our content.”

Internally, good data analytics drives marketing, advertising and editorial initiatives. Most companies rely on the popular open-source application, Google Analytics, together with other third-party programs from companies such as Omniture. External database vendors offer a range of capabilities, such as automating the process of turning data streams into dashboards or merging social media behavior with user profiles.

Externally, advertisers are asking for more than just leads. They want publishers to provide more insight into their potential customers’ behavior. That means delivering better targeting solutions, such as tagging content in order to serve the right contextual ads to the right users.
IT managers have their hands full balancing their organization’s scale and expertise with outside vendors whose systems must communicate seamlessly with their own.

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate

Before data can generate effective analytics and dashboards, IT managers must first identify all the different types of data, where they are located, and pull them together in a central database.

Summit Business Media is still in the planning stages of this process, with the recent arrivals of CIO Brian Magnotta and chief audience officer Peter Westerman from Ziff Davis Enterprise. “A lot of good work has been done so far,” Magnotta says. “The blueprint shows what we need to do from the standpoint of gathering the data, cleansing it, and then making it available for marketing purposes,” he adds. That process will take until the fall, he estimates, while the fully integrated and functional database will be up and running in the first quarter of 2013.

Besides its branded media assets—magazines, Web sites and events—Summit has data product groups that sell data on a subscription or one-off basis, making the integration process even more complex. Notes Westerman, “A lot of business rules need to be put in place to make sure those two very different kinds of data can play nicely together.”

Internal Versus External Resources

Given the broad scale of these companies, it’s not surprising that each has partnered with outside vendors to support their efforts and bring in needed expertise.

The ratio of internal-to-external resources at Cygnus is about 50-50, according to Kammerzelt. “It’s a partnership. We have built our own data systems and database technologies to work with Omeda’s API [application programming interfaces]. Our systems communicate.”

In July, Cygnus signed an agreement with Gigya to handle social media sign-ons to its Web sites. Although Cygnus collected some social information internally, Kammerzelt says, “We’re partnering with Gigya because we feel they can do a better job.”

UBM Technology partners with many companies, including marketing automation vendor Eloqua, according to Amandeep Sandhu, director of audience engagement and analytics. “If there’s a good product that’s available external to the organization, there’s no need to build it from scratch,” he says.

Summit’s Magnotta says the final database solution will combine internal and external capabilities. “Some of it will be open source, some of it will be proprietary,” he says. “As far as the resources, my best guess would be 50-50.”

Not all of Summit’s solutions involve database technologies, however. “We’re also starting to look at search technology as a way to do some kinds of data extractions,” says Westerman. “In a way, a search index is just a super-optimized database.”

Mining Social Media

Social media profiles are filled with personal data that b-to-b publishers are beginning to tap, allowing log-ins via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others. The benefit to publishers goes beyond just giving users a shorter path through the registration walls around premium content, it adds to the user’s internal profile. Qualification cards may give a user’s age, but Facebook can add a birth date—and another marketing opportunity.

Cygnus began offering users the option of social log-ins a year ago, Kammerzelt says. Now, the data received from Gigya will be matched with internal audience data and sent to Omeda to be aggregated into a “behavioral roll-up,” Kammerzelt says, that includes subscriber data, events data, email data and more.

For internal purposes, the behavioral roll-ups inform publishers, marketers and editors about the most popular events, content and media platforms, for example. Externally, Kammerzelt says the data is shared with Cygnus’ best advertisers, as the Engagement Report. “We’re also doing the contextual and behavioral advertising, which does command premium dollar,” he adds.

UBM Technology is looking beyond social log-ins to capture even more data from its users. “We want to look at social media channels and interpret that unstructured data to tell us something meaningful,” says Sandhu. “Right now, tweets don’t tell us much, they’re just pieces of text. But there are certain applications out there like IBM’s SPSS Modeler, which can interpret those tweets in a positive or negative fashion. Using natural language processing can turn that unstructured data into information which is actionable.”

Costs Go Down, But Spending Continues

Looking at the cost of IT projects, business technologies tend to follow the consumer technology curve. Hardware and software-as-a-service are becoming cheaper, but to stay in the game, spending levels will probably not drop very much in the foreseeable future.

Notes Summit’s Westerman: “The data storage and the actual horsepower required to process it has become relatively inexpensive, whether to buy it outright or use all the various kinds of cloud services that are available to turn on more storage or turn on more processing power when you need it. That’s a relatively straightforward task.”

Sandhu agrees, but notes the investment must continue. “The current spending will increase because of these new suites and applications that bring tremendous capabilities. But after a few years, spending will stay at a certain level. Right now it’s an investment for us and we are more than willing to invest in the right products and services.”

Even after years of database consolidation, Kammerzelt doesn’t see an end to spending. “We’re just getting started. We’re seeing the need for the dashboards to grow. We’re seeing the need for our data systems to grow. We’re looking into database technologies that will scale and carry us into larger and larger data sets.”

What is the expected return on investment? “The leads. Or the ad performing the way it needs to,” says Kammerzelt. “There’s a strong trend, a move away from just blanket, run-of-site ads. Advertisers are looking for a better return and we want to be able to show that their efforts are being rewarded, whether it’s a click-through or a lead. The ad is being seen, not just being run.”