Media companies seeking to become more “customer driven” are adopting practices commonly used by consumer marketers, such as loyalty marketing or behavioral targeting. As publishers invest in these efforts, many are running into a barrier that most marketers can relate to: an unclear or incomplete view of who their customers actually are.
The problem stems from all the different ways multi-platform publishers collect and manage information about their audience, within and across publications and brands: through print subscriptions, web visits, email lists, event attendance, app downloads … the list goes on. Often, this information is collected by different tools, stored in different databases, and viewed by different groups.
That’s a challenge for any publisher looking to improve the way it serves its most valuable customers: regular visitor who consume multiple content assets and other products across different channels. This audience segment is far more valuable than fly-by web visitors or print-only subscribers, especially as publishers look to generate more customer revenue as a way to offset declining ad sales.
UBM TechWeb, publisher of technology brands such as InformationWeek, BYTE, Dr Dobb’s and BlackHat, has addressed this challenge from the inside out, building a consolidated customer database that serves as the core of the company’s multi-channel marketing approach, which it has dubbed “Curvonomics.”
Curvonomics is TechWeb’s way of measuring the value of its audience of IT professionals based on the content they consume. As a visitor digs more deeply into TechWeb content – viewing a page, downloading a white paper, attending a webinar or a live event – his or her value increases. The more TechWeb learns about each visitor’s engagement and activities, the better they can serve them, in order to increase their value further.
The “curve” represents a customer’s economic progression from low-CPM display advertising to high-end paid conferences, said Scott Vaughan, UBM TechWeb’s chief marketing officer. “A visitor can come in at any point on the curve, and we assign a value to each of those engagements,” he said. “The goal is to logically move the buyer up or down the curve, with a focus on ARPU [average revenue per user}. And the data tells us where to take them.”
Ah, the data. That brings us back to the consolidated database. Five years ago, UBM TechWeb had 24 databases storing various types of audience information across multiple brands. Now, it has one primary customer database.
It’s not quite a 360-degree view of the customer – but it’s getting there. UBM TechWeb has increased ARPU by 5 percent, and the number of active registered users (defined as users who have engaged over the last 12 months) has grown by 19 percent. Audience revenue now accounts for 45 percent of the company’s total revenues, with marketing services (including advertising) accounting for the rest.
At the beginning, Curvonomics was more theory than reality. To build out the concept, UBM TechWeb focused on four key areas:
The model: “We had to really think about the different components that we wanted to measure and understand,” said Vaughan. “Who are the customers, what are the segments, what products are they engaging with, and how should we measure those engagements?”
“We used to segment by things like title or size of company. Now, we can do it by behavior,” he said. “The ability to understand what a person is interested in allows you to do more effective targeting.”
The technology: TechWeb needed tools that would allow for continuously monitoring user engagement and interactions. A home-grown registration system was integrated with marketing automation software from Eloqua. A single sign-on system, which will enable users to keep their ID across all brands and assets, is under development.
The process. “Instead of looking at marketing automation for things like traditional lead generation, we flipped it to look at how users are engaging with specific content – from newsletter subscriptions to conference attendance,” Vaughan said. “That gave us a pretty good thumbprint of individual users.”
From there, data teams segmented users into behavioral groups, which are targeted in different ways. One segment, for example, is “lurkers,” the people who visit a website regularly, download an occasional white paper, but are not quite ready to “raise their hand” and fully engage.
“We continue to nurture this group with high-value content, to keep them engaged and to get them to share more information – on their terms, not ours,” Vaughan explained. “It takes tremendous discipline to deliver that information in the right way at the right time.”
The culture: The biggest challenge is getting everyone at the company comfortable with this new data-driven approach to publishing. Emphasis is placed on understanding how to use and act on the data – without becoming captive to it. “There’s so much data, it can freeze you if you let it,” said Vaughan. “Data will tell you a lot, but there’s still a lot of art in how you communicate with your audience.”
Vaughan’s advice for getting the workforce to buy into this type of strategic shift: “Don’t get bogged down in the way you’ve always done things. Start with aspiration, then move to inspiration, then motivation. You’ll quickly see the people who are excited by the challenge.”