Customization Well Worth the Commitment and Unsiloed Teamwork

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"People will pay for customization," said Elizabeth Petersen (pictured), executive vice president, Health Care, at Business and Legal Resources (BLR). Because of new strides in data and tools and it brings in revenue, customization is becoming much more frequent today. Here are three examples of successful customization initiatives in the member/subscriber world:

APICS, the association for supply chain management professionals, just announced a new education selector tool called "Which Program Is Right for Me?" The tool allows users to see the many types of education and certification offerings as well as the time and financial commitments that each requires.

Users can also compare offerings side by side. The site offers two choices—education of the individual or several colleagues and; group education for multiple people, a department or an organization. Click on the first and get four educational paths and a fifth that says, "Compare all." Click group education and get a large list of certifications and courses.

"We heard from our members and customers, and also our partners, that they were looking for an easier way in which individuals coming to our website could make a selection about what is the right offer for them," said APICS executive vice president of education and certification Dean Martinez. "...we cannot have our heads in the sand and assume that because we've always done it this way, we have to continue doing it. Frankly it's the opposite. We need to be challenging ourselves as often as anyone else."

Petersen told us at the Business Information & Media Summit in November 2015 about the success they are having with customized events. A typical event might be five days in a hospital classroom on medical coding where they can charge $25,000 for the week.

"We'll send an instructor there, so travel costs are low, especially if you have the experts on staff," she said. "Because it's all about the customer it can be your highest priced offering." To set this up, you'll need a sales team to conduct a consultative sales meeting. "Have a sales rep who will listen and knows what questions to ask. If you don't have the staff, you can make money on an 'ask the expert' feature. People would rather do that than look it up themselves."

Conduct a cost-benefit analysis, Petersen said, and don't be afraid to push on price. If you have a brand that is well respected, people will pay for it. And always have something next for them—even at this top level. Know what you're going to offer them next year.

The danger here is misaligned expectations. "Have a contract with the detailed scope of the work," she recommended. "Put down very detailed expectations with amount of time, number of people. And have a quality control system. You'll have to use per diems if they're not on staff, and that's more difficult to monitor."

You can also customize for different areas. SIIA member American City Business Journals, which operates 43 business publications, has an online feature that they started in Nashville called Crane Watch. It's an interactive map that shows the development going on in the city. "You can click on a part of the map and see a high-rise going up that connects with articles and information with events around there," said Whit Shaw, president of ACBJ.

He said that they are using data to collect "more information about our current customers—having them tell us what they're interested in so we can better meet their needs." When Crane Watch worked out so well—42,000 page views by the end of 2015 and a similar, also-popular feature in neighboring Williamson County—the editors shared it through the company newsletter Stuff to Steal. That led to the immediately successful Project Watch in Milwaukee—all three are sponsored.

"The development of [Crane Watch] included people from UX, sales, tech, marketing [and editorial]—I don't know if that would have been feasible a few years ago," said Shaw. "We've put a lot of emphasis on making sure that when product development group talks about something new, people from marketing, content, ad sales, tech are all in the room. It has become a much more collaborative effort."

That's probably a good last lesson for customization. BLR's customized events and APICS' Which Program Is Right for Me both also strike me as initiatives that would not have been accomplished without the unsiloed collaboration that Shaw talks about.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…