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Three challenges facing B2B publishers in 2021 and beyond

Published: 21 Apr 2021

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. While the past twelve months have challenged us like never before, they’ve also driven us to innovate, to create, to find new ways of collaborating. And in a year of health, social, and environmental crises, B2B publishers have risen to the challenge and proven themselves to be remarkably resilient.


“Many publishers have expertly pivoted and refined their digital offerings to better serve the changing needs of audiences and advertisers,” shared Luke Nicholls, Content Director at Faversham House, “while editorial teams have embraced innovative new formats, launched purpose-driven content campaigns, and expanded multimedia offerings to empower readers, watchers, and listeners in their respective industries.”


We reached out to some of our AOP Awards Judges to understand just what it was that had driven B2B success in 2020 – and what will be the factors that determine who the long-term winners will be.


Leveraging the momentum in subscriptions growth

According to the AOP’s most recent DPRI report, overall revenue in the B2B sector experienced an increase of 4.1% in Q3 2020 compared to Q3 2019 – largely driven by an increase in display advertising and in subscription revenues. And subscription models have been a large part of success for the B2B sector, growing 51.3% compared to the same period last year. Research suggests that our average content consumption doubled across 2020: with more people working from home, we could speculate that the appetite for keeping up with your industry sector through trade press has increased. This has provided a huge opportunity for B2B publishers to drive subscriptions, but the key now will be ensuring these new habits last beyond lockdown.  With lockdown slowly easing, it seems likely that there will be more competition for reader’s time and attention. Those B2B publishers which will be most successful and resilient in the long-term will be those who are able to ensure that their subscription model provides a quality, engaging experience that can stand out from the crowd.


Diversifying content platforms to build first party data

The increase in mobile usage has also created new opportunities for B2B publishers to expand their audience base – particularly those looking to gain access to international demand, suggested Jacqueline Boakye, Regional VP, Customer Success EMEA at PubMatic: “Online publishers with their own mobile app will be able to take advantage of first-party data, leveraging it to build audiences.”


With the future of audience data management still uncertain in the imminent post-cookie world, finding new first-party data sources is key and with average content consumption still high, it’s a great opportunity for B2B to engage with new audiences on new platforms. As Jacqueline stated to us, “Publishers have an opportunity to adapt their delivery of content whilst maintaining integrity with their audiences.”


Diversifying your content platforms also provides new revenue potential, with new avenues to connect advertisers to engaged audiences. As millennials – and eventually Gen Z – step in to key decision making roles, there may also be new opportunities for B2B publishers to innovate in their use of platforms. Certainly the last year has seen a surge in the ease with which we connect online, so perhaps the future of B2B publishing will find a home on platforms such as Clubhouse, Slack, or even TikTok – after all, Snapchat has just launched their own B2B marketing campaign aimed at the ‘Snapchat Generation.’ The possibilities are endless for those who are bold enough to take the risks.


Innovating in B2B events

“The most significant change has been the transition from physical to digital events,” mused Robin Shute, Operations Director at Incisive Media, and one of our co-chairs for the AOP Awards. “At Incisive Media, more than 50% of our revenue comes from events, so this change was significant because we lost revenue lines like Awards table sales.”


In response to lockdown, many B2B events reinvented themselves for a virtual world. And for all that was lost on the virtual space, there were a number of benefits: B2B events instantly expanded their pool of attendees; you’re not limited by venue capacity; and – critically – your audience data goes through the roof.


“We very much see the hybrid event model as the future for our events. It allows us to deliver larger audiences and gives us access to a wider pool of speakers – it’s easier to book a heavyweight US tech speaker if they can present from home on the West Coast,” explained Robin. “And digital will underpin both events and video, which is why we are also investing in our digital products, so we are match fit for 2021 and onwards.”


Hybrid certainly seems like it’s here to stay. B2B events – particularly those with an international audience – will likely find that hybrid events allow their delegates to join them in whatever manner they’re most comfortable with while we’re still grappling with the impact of COVID-19. But if hybrid events are here to stay, then B2B publishers will need to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical experience to be truly successful – how can you more fully engage a virtual audience? Can you integrate the digital and physical experience seamlessly? How do you create spaces where virtual audiences can interact with each other as they would in person?


The virtual event space has come on in leaps and bounds since last April – we ourselves hosted the 2020 AOP Awards ceremony as a live stream from a studio in Oxford Street. However, there are still questions that we need to answer if B2B publishers are to continue to leverage events successfully in the future.


Celebrating the success of B2B Publishers

As Co-chair of the AOP Awards jury, Robin Shute shared a few top tips with us for what he would be looking for in a winning entry. “Two key things,” he outlined. “That the entrant realises the judges have a stack of entries to sift through, so keep it simple. Second, include financial and actual performance figures – percentages just don’t cut the mustard. And, to state the obvious, read the entry criteria and make sure you answer them.”


The AOP Awards close for entry on May 6 – have a look at our categories here to see where you can shine best!