Scaling the Maturity Model: B2B media’s innovation imperative

Scaling the Maturity Model: B2B media's innovation imperative

Despite nuggets of resilience within B2B media, failure to adopt innovative digital marketing strategies poses a serious risk of being left behind, co-author of The Marketing Services Maturity Model, Fergus Gregory, tells Piet van Niekerk . There’s an exercise Collingwood, a global advisory and corporate finance firm for independent media, often executes with clients. They give them one simple task: “Imagine a world with zero Google referral traffic. What will you do? Go!” It’s a challenge that resonates in the current media environment, says Fergus Gregory, managing director of Scaleup at Collingwood Advisory. Having kicked off the New Year by diving into the challenges of 2024 at the Media Growth Executive Summit in Florida, Fergus says major fears around search traffic and referral were probably “front of mind” for many people at the event, which attracted C-suite and senior management from B2B media across the globe. Going cold turkey on the Google referral drug Going cold turkey on the Google referral drug

“What we could see was that many people were not maximising available opportunities because they are hooked on the Google referral drug. If over-reliant on a single channel, especially one they don’t control, publishers are in trouble,” warns Fergus. “Even with the spectre of zero-click search, that channel is of course likely to remain important, but we see so many publishers missing the opportunity to maximise acquisition and re-engagement of first-party data through email newsletters, lead arbitrage services and other direct channels.” But some are getting it right. Fergus references a media company reporting on financial markets that has aligned data, content strategy and technology to deliver a truly personalised email newsletter service. “The first three stories in every news alert are personalised to each user’s preferences. And, as you can imagine, they cite a significant increase in engagement as a direct result.” Amid the slew of layoffs and near-extinction events in publishing, Fergus finds these nuggets of relative resilience within B2B media encouraging. Returning from the Media Growth Summit, he is quite upbeat about B2B media’s ability to adapt and overcome challenges. And he was surprised to witness how diverse and strong niche publications have become. Amongst attendees at the Summit were brands as varied as Foundry, Semiconductor Digest, Access Intelligence, and KHL, which serves the global construction equipment markets. Add Farm Journal, International Sanitary Supply Association, and even a prosperous media company with a brand dedicated to the restoration of church organs, and you start to understand how these media groups “represent media from leading-edge technology to the most traditional you can get.” The Marketing Services Maturity Model The Marketing Services Maturity Model

Despite these upbeat moments, he warns there is no room for complacency. In an era marked by digital disruption and shifting audience and client behaviour, the landscape of digital publishing stands at a crossroads. Traditional revenue models no longer suffice, and publishers grapple with declining ad revenues and the formidable dominance of tech giants like Google. In the face of these challenges, Fergus warns: “Change can’t wait.” Hence, he recently co-authored – with colleague John Webb – a report titled ‘The Marketing Services Maturity Model’, driving a powerful argument about why and how advertising-funded media businesses should seek to move up a maturity curve to become a revenue partner for their clients. This means more sophisticated marketing solutions that deliver the measurable outcomes that clients increasingly demand to create higher value, more repeatable sales and a stickier relationship with more stakeholders (read: budget holders). As we have heard multiple times in the past decade, the solutions lie in innovative approaches grounded in audience engagement, strategic partnerships, and data-driven insights. But in this report, Fergus and John go much further and dive deeper. The report is a detailed roadmap out of the media wasteland, offering publishers a strategy toward sustainable growth. Caught between the unyielding grip of Google and social media giants on the one side, and the desperate need to innovate and leverage data and Al on the other, traditional media is caught in a middle-ground where competition is fierce and survival is no given, the report warns. The only way out, say Fergus and John, is a structured framework – an evolution of commercial propositions, digital marketing services, methodologies and strategies over five distinct stages – to understand and navigate the progression of marketing services as B2B media transforms. “These stages represent layers of the marketing services business models. Once your business reaches the next step, you do not abandon the previous step. It is a progression of building on your existing business model. Most advertising-driven media will start out as an advertising channel because that’s where most media evolved from. Many already have progressed to content partner, which goes beyond syndicated content and includes developing commercial content on behalf of customers and putting those messages in front of their audience,” they explain. Nurturing buying intent Nurturing buying intent

Progressively, this relationship between media and content partner must intensify and become more complex. As the focus expands to multi-channel marketing solutions targeting specific audience segments, the media company becomes an integrated solutions partner. This involves a cohesive approach that combines various digital marketing channels, from social media to email marketing. These channels will be tailored to different audience segments’ unique needs and preferences. Further up the maturity ladder, the need will arise for nurturing buying intent across the customer journey. The media company will become a demand generator, using data and analytics to understand and influence the buyer’s journey and guide customers from awareness to conversion and beyond. “Demand generation is more than just providing sales leads,” caution Fergus and John. “It’s about being able to consistently deliver intent signals and touch points with the audience to help them move through their purchase journey.” The final stage represents an evolution into a comprehensive marketing revenue platform. A media business that reaches this level will be integrated with its clients and offer strategic planning and execution across channels and platforms to the level where they can directly impact commercial outcomes at scale. “Companies that reach the marketing revenue platform stage will already be fully integrated into their partners’ budgets, they will be directly feeding their CRM systems with intent signals, and their entire organisation is focused on creating the context and environment to deliver the campaigns and feed outcomes that directly influence their client’s revenue.” Going beyond first-party data Most that reach this stage will directly influence their client’s commercial strategies. “These companies can take their aggregate intent signals, package them up and sell them back to the client. That will help the client to plan their future go-to-market strategies.” Ferugus and John’s message to everyone who fears the future and the perceived encroaching media “wasteland” is that those at the top of the maturity ladder will be “very difficult to switch off”. When you consistently connect the audience with the client, it goes well beyond first-party data, they emphasise. “It’s data and insight signals that work for clients in a meaningful way. This works for buyers because they need vendors on their terms. If you can bridge the gap between those who need to sell and those who want to buy, on their terms, you have a smart platform and strong proposition.”