Publishers Are Riding the ABM Wave With Quality Over Quantity
A year after launching comprehensive ABM solutions, Government Executive and SourceMedia share what they've learned.
Account-based marketing—as in, campaigns that target a specific client’s needs rather than catering to an industry- or sector-at-large—is hardly a new concept in B2B media. But armed with new technologies and deeper, data-laden insights about their audiences, ABM is now realizing revenue opportunities for publishers across the B2B space that exceed even the most bullish of expectations.
Take, for example, SourceMedia, a finance, technology, and healthcare publisher which first launched a formal ABM solution for its clients in August 2016. A little over a year later, the company has run more than 40 ABM programs which have driven more than seven figures in total revenue, and increased the average deal size in its demand-generation business by 40 percent.
“That’s pretty much all directly attributed to account-based marketing,” Marcus Witte, VP of integrated marketing and demand generation at SourceMedia, tells Folio:.
Similarly, Government Executive, the public-sector division of Atlantic Media, launched a new account-based marketing service (then-known as GovGPS), in the summer of 2016, as part of an effort to better leverage new data capabilities for clients in the public sector who were increasingly interested in targeting specific government agencies or job functions.
“ABM has been around a long time,” says Will Colston, SVP of strategic marketing and insights. “The reason it’s really hot right now is because the technology has progressed to the extent that anyone can do ABM. It used to be something that took a lot of resources and staffing, but now you have these technologies that are affordable and allow you to target your marketing better. Almost anyone can do it at scale.”
In the public sector space, specifically, there exists a uniquely rigid framework of rules and ethical guidelines that limit direct sales engagement with potential clients. ABM is the perfect tool to address this, Colston says, because it allows Gov Exec (and Studio 2G, its supportive in-house content studio, unveiled last Fall) to engage with its clients’ target decision-makers throughout the buying decision in ways otherwise impossible absent face-to-face meetings.
For SourceMedia, Witte says ABM has the added ability to bridge a perceived disconnect between its clients’ sales and marketing teams.
“In the past, we would give them 1,000 leads, the marketers would turn them over to the sales teams, and then the sales teams would start calling and saying the leads were no good,” Witte says. “Our goal when we built this solution was to say, we can give you 1,000 leads all you want, but what if we could give you the 30 or 40 leads that actually have the highest propensity to engage with your brand?”
That quality-over-quantity approach, both Colston and Witte agree, is the true value proposition for ABM campaigns—a degree of relevance and efficiency born out of first-party data and the supporting technology in which both companies have invested significantly in recent years. Just weeks ago, SourceMedia launched SourceSelect+, an extension of its ABM services that uses the company’s first-party data to identify prospects who are in-market for a client’s product.
That means the first step in any campaign is to understand exactly who the target audience is—not just the company (or in the case of Gov Exec, the agency), but the job titles or level of decision-making authority held by individuals within said organizations.
“A lot of what we’re doing is more audience-based,” says Witte. “We’re focusing on very specific titles because we’re B2B and we’re pretty niche in terms of our appeal. Nobody is coming in and just browsing Healthcare Management or Accounting Today for fun.”
Colston says it’s then a matter of identifying that target audience’s “up-at-night issues.”
“It’s about knowing which agencies they want to market to, but also—given the solution they’re marketing—knowing which functional areas are most relevant in the purchasing process for that solution.”
ABM campaigns run by both companies can include content that’s produced by the client itself, or by the companies’ own in-house teams. Often, it’s a mix of both, which requires close communication between marketing, sales, and content teams.
Witte says SourceMedia begins by performing a “content audit” to determine the degree to which the company’s own teams will have to produce content to distribute as part of the campaign. This has the added benefit of vetting the clients’ existing content, if there is any, and determining exactly where in the purchase funnel it belongs.
“We’re not only looking for whether they have content that can fit at the top of the funnel, but also for different types of content,” Witte adds. “I can’t stand white papers; I don’t know how people read them. But people love them in our accounting space and our financial space and our data management space. And some don’t. So we’ll see if we have infographics, videos, other types of content, too.”
For those clients, typically larger ones, who have rich existing content assets, Colston says his department’s role is to help that investment pay off by getting the content into the hands of the client’s target customers.
“As part of that ABM campaign, we might kind of deliver the content in a way that makes it more accessible to the audience, more web friendly,” he says. “Turning white papers into blog posts or infographics.”
A typical ABM campaign can range from just one-month to two or three years and ongoing—as in the case of Studio2G’s now-multi-year partnership with Booz Allen Hamilton—and can encompass everything from traditional email marketing campaigns and white papers to infographics, checklists, and lookalike campaigns on social media.
“One of the hottest formats right now is explainer videos,” Colston continues. “Often times project managers or executives in government will know they have an issue that has to be addressed, but don’t know enough about the emerging technology that’s out there. Short 90-second videos that explain a new technology, such as blockchain, help them understand what it is very quickly and how it’s applicable to their problem.”
Colston and Witte agree that performing ABM campaigns on behalf of clients is a necessarily consultative process, demanding both constant evaluation and the ability to quickly adapt when aspects of a campaign aren’t meeting expectations.
Despite the increasingly sophisticated technology and artificial intelligence behind ABM solutions, the fact that it is, in many ways uncharted territory means that the human element of managing a clients’ expectations remains vital.
“The client really has to understand that ABM requires some patience,” Colston says. “The best ABM campaigns are ones that are focusing on being useful to the target decision maker, providing them with that early stage content when they’re just trying to understand what’s going on, and holding back on the hard sell until you’ve got someone that is engaged and sees your company as a useful resource.”
Witte says a major lesson learned in that vein has meant a shift away from guaranteeing that a campaign will yield a client a specific number of leads. He likens it to going from simply delivering a volume of leads to actually developing a conversation with those leads and directing them through the sales funnel on the client’s behalf.
Both Colston and Witte say that this focus on quality over quantity will only grow stronger as both companies invest further in their first-party data—which they view as among the key differentiators from their competition.
“Now, what we’re doing is taking those [target audience] segments and splitting up them into things like influencers or decision-makers, by competitive set, you name it,” says Witte. “We’re going to get a lot more granular with those segments, and then we’re going to get very specific with our messaging and the content we’re delivering to those individuals.”