Q&A 

5 minutes with… Cornelius Conlon

Over in London for the launch of Merit’s latest research project, we grab five minutes with Cornelius Conlon, CEO of data and coding specialists Merit.

By Cornelius Conlon

5 minutes with… Cornelius Conlon

Q: What were the key takeaways from ‘The Future of Growth in B2B Media 2017’ research project?

A: One of the areas that really jumped out was the strong belief in the sector in the growth of data and intelligent products as core revenue streams. At present, only 34% of respondents work in an organisation where data products are a key revenue, yet 74% expect these products to be critical within the next three years.

The survey also gave confirmation that the industry is facing a real skill shortage. This is something we keep hearing from CTOs and is more than just media headlines. The survey showed a genuine concern across the board in a lack of technical and analytical skills.

The other major takeaway was that international expansion is a significant ambition for over half of the sector, with Asia and North America seen as the most fertile areas for growth.

Q: What’s next for established successful B2B intelligence-led products? How will they evolve?

A: If someone has a good product already, it’s about constantly engaging with the customer and seeing what the gaps and opportunities are and acting on them.

Whether it’s identifying and addressing weaknesses or trying new things, you cannot beat good old-fashioned customer engagement. Part of that is product owners talking to the customers about what else is possible now in terms of analytics and data gathering and how new tools and technology can help increase the value of their data. Creative dialogue between product owner and end user is central to success.

Q: What is the future of AI within B2B media?

A: I think it’s very positive and it was good to see in our survey how many people are actively working on it or planning for it. People are understandably a little hesitant about how everything will play out, but that is healthy.

We expect that machine learning will have a huge role to play, especially in the analysis of unstructured data – that will be a major contribution to many B2B media businesses. We are going to see more and more insight being drawn from subscriber behaviour, building on some good work already going on.

Voice is continuing to evolve and will offer new opportunities for making brands’ services more interactive. We are also seeing rapid progress in language translation AI and in the coming years, this will offer huge opportunities to the publishing sector.

Q: What tips do you have for anyone thinking of launching an intelligence-led product?

A: My advice is to go ahead and do it! With technology advances, these days, it is far cheaper to do than it used to be. Time and time again, we are seeing success stories, with data and intelligence products rapidly becoming major sources of revenue, often with margins up to 50%.

There is always a degree of risk, but if you are an established brand in a niche area, know your sector and audience, then be bold and make it happen. You can refine it as you go, it doesn’t have to be perfect from launch.

Q: What’s coming next from Merit?

A: Firstly, a key objective is our growth in software development services - offering small, flexible teams on relatively small engagements to help B2B companies. We believe the experience we get in this area will really help our existing clients too.

Our new R&D incubator, Merit LABS, is allowing us to delve deeper into areas like AI and use that knowledge to benefit our clients and help them understand what technology and tools they should be adapting.

Finally, marketing automation is a big area of focus for us in 2018 and an increasingly important part of how organisations connect with their audiences.

Q: What content do you relax with at home?

A: I’m a big newspaper person with the New York Times a favourite read. I also read The Economist, TechCrunch and The Information. To relax, I enjoy reading fiction, particularly thrillers. Phillip Kerr is a favourite.

Founded in 2004 with nine people, Merit now employs over 900 employees and has offices in Chennai, Mumbai and London. The company provides data and coding services to some of the world’s leading B2B information and media businesses including Dow Jones, Informa and Ascential. To help B2B brands embrace the future, Merit has created Merit LABS, an incubator to build artificial intelligence into its clients’ products and processes.

Email: enquiries@meritgroup.co.uk

Web: www.meritgroup.co.uk

Tel: +44 (0)845 226 0631