There was a time, about seven or eight years ago, when B2B media companies were clamoring to position themselves as “digital first.” The idea was that print was old school and declining, while digital represented the future and offered more ways to engage with audiences in more ways—all in real time.
But in 2017 that sounds like an artificial distinction. Everything’s digital—even print content.
It’s a reflection of the modern world of B2B that companies have forced themselves through various transformations in a compressed time period—all while facing unprecedented new forms of competition and macroeconomic challenges.
That’s what happened at Hanley Wood in the first years of the current decade. The epicenter of the Great Recession was financial services—mortgages, specifically—which hit the residential construction market as hard as any sector of the economy.
In 2012 current CEO Peter Goldstone came back to Hanley Wood. He had been the longtime president there, but spent two intervening years at Government Executive Media (both companies are based in Washington, D.C.).
Since then, Goldstone relates, the company has been through a series of transformations, arriving, finally, at what he thinks is where all future-oriented media companies should be: customer first. Goldstone’s perspective—whether you agree with him or favor a different approach—is a valuable lesson in approach and context for any media executive. Here’s a synopsis.
“The progression of Hanley Wood has produced a different go-to-market strategy,” Goldstone says. “In 2012 when I came back, we implanted a full-blown digital-first transformation. In 2013 we bought Metrostudy, and became powered by data, essentially data first,” he says. (Metro Study is a research and business-intelligence company focused on the residential housing market.)
“The third stage,” Goldstone says, “was to become customer first. Now we leverage digital and data to really get into the workflow of our customers. Those are the three steps in the transformation of our company.”
What that means practically, according to Goldstone, is that now the company’s most important asset is its database, not its individual brands. Brands offer credibility and access to audiences, and produce content that drives engagement. But the database is the core. Customers can select names across the database, and that—not isolated verticals—is what they want, Goldstone says. “If you want to brand yourself, that’s how you do it. If you want insights, that’s where you find them. And if you want to generate leads, you leverage our database,” he adds.
Metrostudy is at the heart of the data operation at HW, Goldstone says, but it’s not nearly the whole thing. “Every quarter we track 95 percent of all the available lots and land people are building new communities on,” he says. “That’s 36,000 existing developments and 11,000 future housing developments.”
Metrostudy tracks everything from population movement to demographic changes, plus land availability, absorption rates, sale processes, vacancy rates, and the types of products that are going into new housing properties. It tracks deeds, permits and mortgages—publicly recorded data. Essentially, Metrostudy provides builders with intelligence on where to build and what to build based on population and demographic demand.
But as valuable as the Metrostudy data is, says Goldstone, without the HW customer list it’s incomplete. “The database would be a fraction of what it is with just Metrostudy—the media assets make it what is,” he says. “Media gets you much deeper within the firms. The media gives you much more depth and engagement.”
Which leads, says Goldstone, to the customer-first part. If you’re a supplier serving the housing market, all this information is at your fingertips, but Hanley Wood can do more: It can help you sell and help you produce qualified leads.
“We don’t participate in just one piece of the funnel activity—like advertising,” Goldstone says. “We can participate in every stage—right through to purchase. We don’t have to stop at advertising, we don’t have to stop at leads. We can actually serve as a call center for our customer.”
As this part of the Hanley Wood business reaches major scale, Hanley Wood had to restructure its sales operation. Two years ago, Goldstone says, Hanley Wood had four customers spending in excess of $1 million. This year, there are 12. And there are 100 customers in what the company calls its corporate list, big enough to qualify for central management.
Also added was a point person for these mega accounts—someone to represent all the media brands, plus coordinate all marketing-service and data efforts. “You need one big corporate representative for the whole company to manage the relationship,” Goldstone says. “This is where the integration of the company is playing out. A media salesperson couldn’t do this. A lead-gen person couldn’t do it. A marketing-services person couldn’t do it. You need an integrated approach.”
The company has a database management product called DataScale, which, among other things, allows marketers to outsource their data operations. “They’re turning to us to manage their databases for them,” Goldstone says. “Why? Because they’ve invested millions in tech, most notably a CRM platform, and sometimes they find that they don’t have the resources to do it well. So they outsource the management of their CRMs to us, and we counsel them on how to leverage their databases for advertising, lead gen and marketing services.”
So the skeptic might say, that’s terrific, sounds great, but what’s “customer first” really mean?
Goldstone's response: “This has dramatically transformed our company and our customer interactions. Our content teams have overhauled how they approach their work. Our relationships with marketers are stronger and deeper, as we are now in their work flow. Our own knowledge and insights of our markets is second to none. And we’ve grown by more than $35 million directly as a consequence of being customer-focused, digitally driven and powered by data.”