We explore six areas that management should focus on to ensure continuity and growth during the Covid era
Government responses to the Coronavirus pandemic are having a terrible impact on economic activity. Fortunately, unlike travel or hospitality, the B2B publishing sector is not in the immediate front line of the fallouts from government lockdowns. That said, as the economy rapidly weakens and confidence falls, there will be a longer-term impact on the sector and revenues will be bitten into.
Apart from live events, which are currently either cancelled or postponed to a future ‘normal’, not all is doom and gloom for publishers of high-value B2B information and data products. Aggregated visitor data to our publisher customers content platforms is showing no significant change in numbers since the crisis began. Perhaps we can conclude from this data that our publishers’ content and data (which covers many industries) is still valuable and needed by their corporate customers.
Further encouraging signals came from a recent survey by B2B media subscription consultancy Substribe, which indicated that over 80% of B2B publishers have seen an increase in customer engagement since mid-March. However, despite this robust percentage, only 40% are confident about growth from their subscriptions. Perhaps the survey question was incorrectly phrased – who apart from grocery stores and video conference tech providers are expecting growth?
So, what should B2B publishers and business information providers be doing to ensure they survive this economic crisis and come out the other side fitter and ready to take advantage of opportunities? I suggest six actions that all publishers should be considering right now.
1. Intensify focus on retaining your customers.
The old adage for choosing property (and name of a popular English television house hunting programme), location, location, location could be matched in the publishing world by retention, retention, retention. The winners will be companies that retain their customers through this crisis. Until now, churn is a way of life for subscription businesses. Acquiring new customers is going to be harder and unlikely to replace lost revenue. Think about it this way – zero churn is great for the bottom line because you are not having to replace lost revenue to stand still.
Holding onto a customer who is paying half of what they were pre-crisis is better than loosing them completely. So be nice, be smart and be proactive.
2. Understand the value of your content
As a first-year marketing student will tell you, value is not the same as price. In the intangible world of content and data the value of product is often very much in the eye of the beholder. Your data might be robust and your analysts’ opinion well regarded but understanding why your customers buy your product and what tasks they use it for is not easy. Start off by asking straight up why your customer values the content. Additionally, use analytics to see which content is being used. Be careful with popular content versus valuable content. Some subjects are popular (like articles on Tesla’s Elon Musk’s latest indiscretions!) but not necessarily useful in your customers’ tasks. In this crisis companies are looking for support to help with forecasting, understanding how competitors are responding and looking for competitive advantage to survive. It is important to convey that you are the trusted guide through this crisis in your messaging.
The old adage for choosing property (and name of a popular English television house hunting programme), location, location, location could be matched in the publishing world by retention, retention, retention. The winners will be companies that retain their customers through this crisis.
3. Invest in delivery platforms
The sudden move to homeworking has made access to paid content and data through the user’s browser an imperative. Companies still relying on terminals or IP-specific access will have to change. We live in an access-anywhere at anytime world and self-service content delivery platforms are a must.
In many cases your customers are performing tasks with your content and data. Will the “Zoom factor” change the way B2B information is packaged? Ask how you can help with their tasks and workflow and where they take place. This may open internal conversations about how the actual delivery of content could be improved.
4. Diversify your portfolio
Although virtually no sector is going to be left unscathed by the economic fallout from Coronavirus containment measures, some sectors are more badly affected than others. , while others such as transport or construction could suffer as companies in those sectors lose confidence and shed staff. Some information formats are suffering such as live events which are decimated, and advertising-driven publications are seeing sharp downturns. But, other forms such as news, market forecasts (however sketchy!) and peer advice are seeing upticks in engagement and readership.
This begs the following questions for a publishing company’s management. Should they:
- Specialise heavily in one sector or publish across industry verticals?
- Offer a range of formats with different type of revenue streams? and,
- Look to repackage their content for a different audience?
However, whatever the sector or format, I believe the companies that will prosper are those that have a range of offers, solid subscription revenues and, above all, are trusted and valued by their customers.
5. Accelerate product innovation
Anecdotally the crisis is accelerating the pace of innovation and change in companies. Decision making is quicker and projects that were scheduled to take months are now being completed in weeks. Whether this ‘war footing’ can continue indefinitely remains to be seen, but creativity will become increasingly essential in finding ways to adapt. Companies with high exposure in the live events sector or from advertising revenue will want to quickly rethink the future of their offer. Some ideas I have heard floated could include:
- Develop a freemium-type model to drive readership in the hope that a profitable percentage can be converted into customers when the economy recovers. For example, a regular, (sector specific) update summarising Coronavirus related news
- Repurpose old IP (after all its creation is a sunk cost) into a new product. This idea has relevance for conference companies who might have stacks of old presentations.
- There is a real sense that people are ‘lonely’ in business and want to be connected to those having similar experiences. Can this desire for social connectivity and community within the business world be an opportunity?
- Look how to double-down on subscription revenues. Can you communicate more value or transition to a membership model with a more personalised offer?
- Repackage content and sell at a different price bracket of to a different audience.
6. Prepare for a downturn and change in working patterns
Preparing for an economic downturn is gloomy but also pragmatic. Many sectors are and will experience a slump as the economy goes into recession. Instead of hoping that things will go back to normal (bit vague – what is normal?) all companies must prepare themselves for leaner times. Publishers will be exposed to the vagaries of their customers’ spend and will need to regularly reforecast, find efficiencies and reduce overheads. Additionally, in the short-to-medium term working patterns for staff will change with more homeworking and less face-to-face contact, which will change daily operations. On this point the future is unknown, but the successful companies will be those that develop new approaches rather than reacting with short-term solutions.
Looking to the future
In summary, I think the publishers and B2B info companies that will come through this crisis in good shape are those that work hard to:
- Build personal relationships with their key customers and empathises with their needs,
- Communicate the value of their product and reinforce why the content and data is trustworthy,
- Deliver products that help the users complete a task (particularly important as so many are working remotely),
- Develop a diversified product portfolio, by sector, usage and audience, and,
- Think creatively about how to turn a crisis into an opportunity.
The cliched saying that we are living in unprecedented times is of course a truism. We are living in challenging times and are having to rapidly change the way we work. Publishers which will be most successful are those that adapt to this huge challenge facing humanity – a new challenge for everyone involved.