SIPA 2017 Keynote Speaker Desai Knows Where Revenue Streams Flow - Thru Data

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Nikesh Desai is co-founder and CEO of InvestingChannel, an innovative and scalable financial marketing platform reaching more than 25 million readers each month. They are an exclusive publisher group utilizing data, technology, creative and content to connect brands and the right people in the financial ecosystem: investors, traders and financial professionals.

On Wednesday morning, June 7, at the  SIPA Annual 2017: Growth Now Conference in Washington, D.C., Desai will deliver a keynote on Using Data to Drive Your Content and Marketing Strategy. We caught up with him to get a preview and learn about his company.

SIPA: Can you tell me about InvestingChannel?
NIKESH DESAI: We're a financial marketing platform, so we focus a lot on innovation, and being scalable for that vertical––reaching more than 25 million people each month. We leverage data, technology and content to help marketers [from near 200 sites] engage their audience. We can bring a brand closer to its audience—anyone in that financial ecosystem, from investors to financial professionals. 

So you need to find really good content then?
Yes, I'm out there scouring the internet for the best of investment content. That could be a site that writes just about silver and precious metals, or on macroeconomic trends affecting the market. They're really niche sites––might be an ex-hedge fund manager-turned-blogger, an engineer-turned-finance guy, even a research house. [Our publishers] don't have the time, expertise or size to effectively sell or monetize their audience through advertising. On behalf of them, we leverage our resources to distinctly understand and break down their audience, and package those up for advertisers––all digital. 

Big advertisers may not know about some of these niche sites.
That's right. Advertisers like BlackRock and Vanguard are getting in front of niche sites they don't even know about or have time to find. [Our numbers] tell them they're missing a massive potential set of customers by not spending with us and only spending mainstream. Plenty of statistics say that the people reading these niche sites are really the more valuable customers––that they are much more engaged with the sites they visit.

That will be music to our members' ears.
Any one of the sites we represent typically wouldn't have enough scale to monetize [advertising]. Some have subscription or license revenue. Advertising in some cases is tertiary. Individually, they would not have been able to monetize at the same level that we are capable of doing. 

What kind of lessons will you impart to the SIPA audience?
Number one, data. How you can leverage data? The biggest thing that publishers need to do more of is to understand their audience and customer. I feel strongly that you do that not by general demographic overlay and old school print marketing tactics, but by gathering all the sources of first-party data and marrying that with third-party data to figure out, "who is my audience, who is my customer?" Then you can develop different revenue streams and products. 

That can also help publishers shape their content.
Yes, we know what hedge fund folks are reading, for example. And there are themes in that. We're studying traffic patterns of audiences across networks to create the best content—free or paid, doesn't matter. Content people should want to know about their data; there's a lot of value there to build the right content strategy. Google Analytics helps as well. You see patterns of placement on a page that indicates how people are engaging. There are so many data points that impact content and product strategy. 

I would guess paid subscriptions would come under that.
We can see conversions happening on paid subscription, then score that on what [the profile of] that person looks like, and what other people similarly would look like. Say we got 10 people who converted—the demographic, psycho-graphic all defined them. We'll spit them out to a lookalike model that gets me access to 10,000 people who look similar. I can plug those cookies into multiple places to buy marketing and media across native, sponsored, video, social on Facebook. It goes back to knowing your audience. 

Ah yes, Facebook.
There's a reason why Facebook has grown as much as they have. The amount of data they have is kind of crazy. [But that gives them] the ability to target effectively. You can really grow a business with the right data. Right now a majority of marketing spend goes to Facebook—they're winning based on data. 

What's your advice on social media? It takes time but it's hard to ignore.
It's a huge channel to drive traffic. But there are distinct ways to do that. There's a reason why major media companies have teams focused on social content marketing. It's also a huge marketing channel—people talk about social like they did search marketing more than 15 years ago. Social marketing is still in its infancy, but they have a ton of data and it's a way to grow your audience. We're dipping our toes into it, but a lot of our brands spend a lot of time and money on social. 

How about video?
I would like it to be a much bigger part of what we do. There's a huge demand for video inventory from sponsors. Even though we're in the niche of finance and investing, we see demand from users themselves. But I'm trying to create a strategy to build more video and traffic. As things go more and more mobile, the user consumption of video will continue to grow. My mobile traffic growth has gone from 10% to 35% across our network of sites. People like to consume snackable content in a handheld environment—that means short form articles and video. 

SIPA 2017 attendees have a lot to look forward to. Your experience will translate very well to t hose looking for revenue ideas.
Many SIPA publishers have [diversified] from subscriptions revenue to webinars and events, but the scale isn't huge for digital sponsorships and is tough. There are networks that can help build those revenue streams if it seems too daunting. There are also new ways to think about how to create more scale, like using social to drive traffic. Publishers may also want to look again at where their paywall is—make it more of a freemium model to drive more traffic [and monetize in other ways].

And that takes us back to data.
Yes. Not just providing more content up front, but providing the right content up front. Once you have a system in place that can analyze what people are're good. You might see four of your authors behind a wall, but only two are being read. That can help dictate where that paywall is––beyond the other things you can take away from it. Knowing your audience via data can drive your content and marketing strategy. 

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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…