The first AOP B2B conference took place last month prompting the industry to consider the future of digital publishing. So what are the implications for marketers? Gemma Huckle reports
Last month saw the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) hold its first B2B-focused event. Looking at the number of delegates networking, a wealth of prestigious speakers and lively debate, you wouldn’t have guessed that the convention, held in the very appropriate setting of London’s Millbank Media Centre, was the first.
Opening the talk, Michael Nutley, conference chairman and former editor of New Media Age said data was a key factor in the evolution of B2B publishing. “It’s a reconnection with the roots of B2B publishers, who invented the use of data through controlled circulation. For marketers it’s about trying to understand audience markets.”
Caroline Taylor, keynote speaker and IBM’s VP of marketing communications and citizenship for the UK and Ireland, revealed an interesting shift in how publishers, once the mediators, have now been disintermediated by the web. In other words, the different roles of clients, agencies and publishers are no longer clearly defined. She added big brands are developing their own advertising tools that cut out publishers, but said in spite of this, it is the publishers that now have the upper hand. She said, “All of a sudden the digital revolution is giving [publishers] access to more than ever before, and I want a piece of that action.”
Taylor also argued that the boundaries between B2C and B2B publishers are becoming increasingly blurred. She stressed, “I don’t think B2C or B2B is important anymore, I think it’s about B2P – business-to-person.” Her main assertion being that you have to stop trying to define by business and consumer, and at the end of the day, “We’re just people.”
Later in the day, a panel of agencies and media buyers discussed current trends and the changing B2B landscape. The group was unanimous that there is now more investment in branding activity than lead generation. Something Michael Wrigley, MD of Banner was particularly forthcoming about, “A number of companies have focused too much on demand generation, but sometimes leads don’t hit.” He suggested the recent blend of branding and demand generation has created a new term ‘brand-gen’. He concluded there’s a strong future for B2B publishers, as long as they keep moving with demand.
Businesses get social
Shining the spotlight on the socialisation of business, Joshua Graff, director of EMEA marketing solutions at LinkedIn, advocated its increasing role in business strategy. He wrapped up his 15-minute slot by identifying three trends only just entering the B2B arena:
- Relationships not transactions. It’s about who your audience is, and how they are engaged with your brand.
- Conversations not monologues. Make sure you are creating two-way interaction.
- Emotion is good for business. You have to strive to build a connection with your customer base.
As the only non-agency speaker on the panel, Graff was asked if LinkedIn was friend or foe to publishers, to which he carefully replied, “Our interaction with publishers drives traffic to their sites, we have the ability to partner with both publishers and agencies.”
Ironically for an event placing such precedence on all things digital, the second keynote session, entitled ‘Reinventing the business model’, got off to a shaky start when Chuck Richard’s, VP and lead analyst of Outsell, PowerPoint presentation went awry. Fortunately, Richard handled the small glitch with grace and humour, joking, “Who needs slides?”
Animated debate then ensued from a panel of CEOs from IDG, Incisive Media, Emap Inform and Centaur Media about the biggest emerging changes in business models and where businesses are finding global success and challenges from.
Natasha Christie-Miller, CEO at Emap Inform, said one of the biggest developments Emap has seen in the last 12 months is the number of subscribers highly engaged with digital products. “A high number of our subscribers are placing more value on some of our digital products over our traditional print media.”
Many would say this is a predictable change, but according to Christie-Miller the company has successfully monetised its use of Twitter by leveraging its 750,000 followers to break news and drive customer engagement. The result? Subscription renewal rates have increased three-fold.
But it was Incisive Media’s colourful group chief executive, Tim Weller, who effectively stole the show with a series of bold statements. Picking up on Christie-Miller’s point about digital products, Weller said he has witnessed a dramatic change in the way content is now being consumed, as more people access it on the move. On the subject of targeting, Weller shared the company’s tactics; “We have a simple strategy to get content onto the right platform for the right customer.” When asked if Incisive Media has taken a beating on its profit margins, Weller’s frank answer provided a breath of fresh air, “Very few businesses are holding up, we’ve taken a battering. In traditional trade markets, I think it’s tough to get back to high 20s [% profit margin]”. Perhaps the best comment from Weller sprung from a discussion on biggest business mistakes the panel had previously made. “A few years ago everyone was scrambling for hits, we were giving away our biggest asset – our data. That was a big mistake. Hits – stands for how idiots track success.”
Change or you’ll be gone
Following Weller’s insightful comments, Tim Potter, MD of B2B at Centaur Media told publishers they are mistaken if they think they can immediately turn a free product into a paid-for model. During the Q&A session, Weller was first to get his voice heard on the subject of the biggest challenges that B2B faces: “Actions speak louder than words. Unless you get to grips with change you’ll be gone.”
Closing the event, Bob Carrigan, CEO of IDG, said using social media is a great way to maintain customer and colleague contact, “It’s such an important part of the strategy to reach your audience, so you must be immersed in it to be successful.” When asked whether a free content model is a mistake, Carrigan emphasised the importance of building a database for lead generation and to capture more information. Carrigan certainly gave delegates food for thought with his concluding comment, “In the digital age the currency is information.”
It was encouraging to hear and see the signs of a prosperous B2B publishing industry, and if the AOP decide to continue this event, it will be interesting to see what developments will take place in this rapidly evolving area in the next 12 months.
The conference in tweets