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Incisive Media’s digital strategy

In the summer, Incisive Media won the AOP Digital Publisher of the Year Award (B2B). The award was recognition, says John Barnes, of the tremendous amount of work the company put into realigning its digital operations and strategy during 2012.

By John Barnes

Incisive Media is one of the world's leading business-to-business information providers, serving a wide range of financial, business technology and professional services markets globally. The company was founded in 1995 by its current CEO, Tim Weller, and has in the intervening years developed a reputation for delivering high-quality, timely information in whatever format best suits its customers.


Incisive Media’s portfolio spans magazines, newsletters, books, directories, events, exhibitions, conferences, websites, videos, business TV channels and the latest in cutting-edge mobile and tablet apps. In 2010 and 2013 we won the Association of Online Publishers’ award for Digital Publisher of the Year (B2B).

Digital revenue at Incisive Media accounts for over a third of our total revenue. It is at the core of everything we do. Incisive’s goal is to serve all our customers across multi-platforms and multi-devices, giving them business intelligence whenever and wherever they need it, on the device of their choice. Digital consumers are increasing accessing and interacting with content on multi screens and in many different combinations, often quite unique to them.

This presents an enormous challenge for Incisive, and all other media owners, as the proliferation of devices and screen sizes means that one size does not fit all, and that the user experience must be optimised to give the best presentation of content. This is critical to the commercial model, as more users access our services through the mobile web and on sub 10 inch screens such as the iPad Mini, and high-end smartphones like the iPhone 5, Samsung S4 and Blackberry Z10.

Digital publishing is all about the audience and content, not the technology. By concentrating on the technologies, publishers are over complicating the problem, so it is critical that they think much more about content and what works where, and much less about Android vs IoS, or tablet vs web.

Setting our priorities

With digital display revenues challenged in tough trading conditions, particularly UK financial services and international capital markets, we targeted and invested in four critical areas in 2012:

1. Corporate and digital subscription services: Moving from a traditional reliance on individual, high value subscriptions, Incisive has developed paid services across new platforms and most importantly developed its enterprise subscription solutions.

2. Lead generation platforms: Data and measurable response are vital to advertising clients. Incisive took the success of its IT lead gen platforms and cloned it across six sectors in less than twelve months.

3. Tablets editions: Incisive launched thirty B2B magazines into the Apple newsstand in under three months to offer a new channel to market for advertising clients, and to provide more value to corporate and individual subscribers.

4. Private advertising exchange: Using Google Doubleclick Dart for Publishers (DFP) and Admeld as our platform, Incisive built an ad exchange to maximise the value of its inventory and provide more opportunities to target specific user groups through the use of data and retargeting, across its network and the wider web.

Each of these areas had the same underlying strategic theme, ‘How should content and creative be produced for different screens and distribution channels, and how can this increase reach and revenue?’ The overarching objective was simply to create real value for the business by delivering a synchronous product strategy to build audiences by offering variety and value across screen sizes and devices.

Without the skill and determination of its teams to build new services across new platforms, Incisive would have had to rely on unrealistic increases across standard formats of onsite CPM and tenancy to maintain growth across the portfolio.

How we went about it

For each of the four main initiatives, the central digital and local brand teams created a project brief and worked within a new agile process to maintain momentum and ensure key benchmarks around cost, revenue and time were hit. Key to this approach was the concept of a Minimum Viable Product or MVP, where teams could produce the best solution with the minimum development and maximum viability. To this end, the idea of ‘marginal gain’ was embraced and time spent understanding, and addressing the many small things that could be tuned to create a combined maximum effect.

Starting with two day workshops, and adopting the idea of a press release description of the final desired result (an idea borrowed from the Amazon development approach), 2012 projects moved faster because mis-understanding and any differing interpretation of priorities between the technical and commercial teams were removed, and expectations of the final result totally aligned.

1. Corporate subscriptions: All IP access and corporate membership contracts follow the same technical deployment and are managed by a single technical project manager linking with teams across the business.

2. Lead Gen: The same technical stack was used to launch across six sectors, but for different groups, we were able to tweak the UX to emphasise each unique approach.

3. Tablet deployment: Once the optimal process had been defined, a central team of three people co-ordinated and trained editors, sales and production to build all our apps to a 100 day scheduled plan.

4. Audience extension: DFP Audience Extension was used to identify site visitors who have previously expressed interest in specific content areas and reach them elsewhere on sites across the Incisive portfolio. In this way, the value of previously undifferentiated inventory can be maximised, contributing to higher advertising rates.

What we did

No new staff were employed to deliver these initiatives. It was a change in approach and an emphasis on the best ideas executed efficiently. It is what Antonio Carluccio defines as ‘minimum ingredients – maximum flavour’ or what Incisive dubbed MVP!

1. Corporate subscriptions

* A central sales team was created to double average corporate order value.

* Improved tracking of users across sites and products using Scout Analytics.

* Support and customer service materials available to customers, based on the improved tracking, included internal email bulletins and unique company portals.

* A dedicated UX research project reviewed all customer journeys.

2. Lead Gen

* New platforms for Post, Accountancy Age, Legal Week, IFA Online, and ClickZ were launched by the digital team.

* a central product exec created to share the best technical and commercial approaches.

* over 1200 white papers and associated materials were launched in less than six months.

3. Tablet editions

* After launching magazines with three separate vendors Incisive selected its preferred supplier, App Studio.

* A central team from across the business was set up to create and deliver all core brands into iTunes within 100 days.

* By December 2012, there were 25 magazines launched in the iTunes store available to corporate subs and registered individuals.

4. Private Advertising Exchange

* One product stack was built with DFP, Google and the DoubleClick Ad Exchange (AdX) so that the integration was completely seamless and worked with the standard DFP tags that were on the sites already.

* This made it much easier to create profiles of audiences, content or behaviour, which we can then use to build an audience pool to target against on AdX.

* Site visitors are continuously segmented as they browse, quickly building inventory against newly defined segments.

* This approach produced significant uplifts in several areas, most significantly as much as 200% on CTRs on specific campaigns.

* Incisive now operates as a buyer and a seller within AdX which gives us visibility on the value of our audience across third party sites and the insight to manage yield and margin when selling directly and indirectly.

The results

In 2012, overall revenue growth for the Incisive Media digital portfolio was 10%. But within the four areas we focused, there was outstanding success.

1. Corporate and digital subscription services: 17% year-on-year growth.

2. Lead generation platforms: 33% year-on-year growth.

3. Tablet editions: 84% year-on-year growth in advertising and sponsorship.

4. Private Advertising Exchange: Audience extension has given Incisive 300% more available inventory on and offsite to sell against a hard to reach and highly valuable audience.

The experience and insight gained from this approach has been enormous, and has shaped strategic thinking about the assumptions being made about the future of media and business models. What is clear is that B2B publishers will increasingly require a deeper intelligence about user preferences and needs as well as the ability to track behaviour, consumption and habits. In effect, this focus will transform Incisive’s B2B model into a B2P (Business to Person) one, the ultimate buyer-meets-seller marketplace.

This makes the focus on corporate and digital subscription services critical to Incisive’s future success, as more reach within key client sites gives Incisive much more data and intelligence about who is doing what, where and when. This is essential to maintain Incisive’s position in the markets it serves as reach and unique insight to our users is the primary commercial advantage Incisive has over its competitors and is what will drive growth in all areas of the business.

It is also clear that the depth and quality of data will become a key asset in building more sophisticated lead generation and marketing services offerings for advertisers. As more advertisers move towards more engaging and integrated advertising formats, Incisive must demonstrate its unquestionable expertise in effectiveness, engagement, performance, and scale, and it will be valued totally on customer insight.

The quality and value of the unique business intelligence created every day remains constant.

Incisive stands out as the best B2B digital publisher because it has created a culture within its organisation that works with the best new ideas and opportunities digital technology creates to add value for its customers, partners and staff in the simplest – and the most profitable – way possible.

To quote Incisive Media’s CEO, Tim Weller, from an article on Wired UK published in November 2012: "Technology is an enabler. We don't think about it, we just use it as an enabler to deliver the stuff we want to deliver in the way it should be delivered."