This was one of the topics considered at the recent PPA Subscriptions 2005 Conference. Organised and run for the PPA by the Business Circulation Management Association (BCMA), the session examined the opportunities and challenges of taking existing brands online – giving delegates an insight into the approaches and strategies of both large and small publishers. Charles Arthur moderated the session and, here, outlines its main themes.
Although the products discussed were poles apart in every aspect, from frequency and type of publication (controlled circulation or subscription) through to price level and target market, there was a remarkable degree of commonality in the lessons learnt, the pitfalls to avoid and the actions needed to achieve and then sustain success.
All speakers hammered home the same key messages; that no matter how strong the existing brand, the online product must exploit fully the technical capabilities of the online delivery channel, have genuine added value, be customer centric and be totally dynamic. Mark Parker, publishing director of Emap Media, when considering how best to take BRAD (British Rates and Data) online, was under no illusions as to the challenge he faced. As he stated, BRAD’s print publishing model, which generates 85% of its revenues from circulation, had remained constant since the 1950’s. Having conducted an exhaustive review of his customers’ expectations, it was clear that the current three-tiered product offering was far too complicated. The research highlighted the need to change the product configuration to fit more closely with the market profile and to what users wanted. By redefining the BRAD market segments and adapting the product accordingly, Mark opened up a greater volume of sales opportunities for the high value / high end product; similarly he was able to increase sales of the lower priced, standard product across a much broader market.
Music Week presented many challenges to Ajax Scott, publishing director of CMPi’s Music Division. In an industry that demands up-to-the-minute information, packaging and positioning a print and online brand correctly was going to be tough. With a great deal of time and resources invested in analysing customer requirements, Music Week embarked on a major marketing initiative that both re-branded the print product and re-launched the website. By taking a very straightforward and uncomplicated approach, it was easy for users to understand how to access the online service, so, very quickly, they were reading the newly packaged mix of free daily headline news items and additional online subscriber-only editorial content. Even though demanding a much higher price, new subscriber acquisition and renewal rates rose sharply. Also, taking advantage of increased reader demographic data analysis, an additional pool of over seven thousand prospects has been identified. Despite the initial success, Ajax recognised that, to maintain this momentum, Music Week must keep on reinventing itself, renewing and refreshing the online offering – finding ways to increase traffic and subscriber usage.
For KHL, an independent publishing company that specialises in the international construction market, going digital was not about making money. With a number of controlled circulation titles, trade shows and directories, the objective was to add value to the advertiser proposition and to extend their market reach. Peter Watkinson, business development director of KHL, has ambitious goals; 25% of his readers are already receiving digital editions and he expects this to rise to 50% by the end of 2006. With a near total international readership, KHL can look forward to ever greater savings from its print/production bill!
Unlike many of the bigger publishers, KHL have developed their digital offering in-house. Starting out in 2003, they are now, probably, one of the most experienced B2B digital publishers in the UK. Peter gave telling examples of how KHL are taking advantage of the technology to change the way they interact with their readers. For example, as an international trade show is being held in China, the editorial team are, via streaming video, providing on-the-spot comment of show highlights and interviews with exhibitors and industry figures that KHL readers worldwide can view.
Advertisers are able to gain increased impact by developing microsites that are directly linked to the advertisement featured. With one click, the reader could be viewing a video demonstration of the product advertised, with both the advertiser and the publisher being able to track and analyse click through patterns. KHL are already selling a range of virtual advertisements, from CD cover mounts, outside covers and belly bands.
Clearly, digital can offer fantastic opportunities, but Peter made it very clear that, before success can be fully realised the advertising buyers, especially the agencies, need to be educated; this, he contends, will still take some time to achieve.
Simplicity, customer centric, real difference, constant development, growing yield, new market segments; these were some of the words I used to sum up this BCMA session. And, with the not too distant memories of the dot.com fiasco still in my mind, the speakers had each demonstrated how far we have come in a very short time. We are just scratching at the surface of a whole range of revenue and profit opportunities; ones that are beginning to revolutionise the way business publishers deliver information and interact with their customers.