Publishers Move 'Beyond Listening to Co-creating the Solutions'

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"For us, customer intelligence became the new currency internally. So every team meeting would start with an insight from a customer conversation, and people learned very quickly that if they really weren't having regular contact with customers, they really weren't having say in those meetings."

That comes from Robin Crumby, co-founder and managing director, Kademy—and formerly the head of Melcrum—at a session at SIPA 2019 in June.  

"What we found was the higher the price point, the deeper the level of engagement that is required. [For a] $30,000 product, sometime the customer can't articulate the need or what a product should like. So we try to understand some of the challenges that they're facing, trying to understand their individual pain points and how can we pinpoint our individual products and services to address those. It went beyond listening to co-creating the solutions."

I really like that last phrase—beyond listening to co-creating the solutions. Here are five other examples of solutions created in the SIPA world.

A presentation center. "One thing we launched was a presentation center," said Kevin Turpin, National Journal president,, explaining that by talking to their customers they discovered that's what they needed help with. "They were being asked to explain Washington in more detail. They knew the content but needed a workable format. We're actually very good at that. Take what happened in midterm elections and create a 40-page slide deck out of it. We're still doing that for board meetings of Fortune 500 companies... Your customers have to feel like, 'I pay a premium price point [but] they're always there for me, they solve my problems, they ask to help.'"

A revised website. "Keywords are of the utmost importance" in your website, "but oftentimes we struggle with where to start..." said Ashlee Bovello, SEO and website marketing manager for OPIS by IHS Markit. "Work with the people who work with customers directly if you don't have that access—sales, customer service, editorial teams. Find out what kind of terms and words people who are really entrenched in your industry are using. Also run a lot of manual searches—it can be tedious... but running some of your core keywords manually and putting yourself in your customers' shoes is a great thing to do and could give you a lot of ideas through Google's autofill or related searched you might not have thought of before."

A new event. Search for a void in coverage and a popular locale. Esca Bona was created by Penton's New Hope Network to fill a void that they saw in the Natural Foods Conference segment. The 2019 editions—it has grown—is their fifth year. "Starting a new conference in an already crowded space is quite challenging not to mention the continued effort required to build a brand," said Melissa Dunn-Johnson, now digital marketing director at Informa Engage. From a start in Austin, Texas, they now have Esca Bona events in Boulder, Colo., Chicago, Baltimore and northern California. "Gone is the typical boring prose; in with messaging that takes on a conversational flair," Johnson said at the beginning. "A sense of community, of working together, and of doing good were all recurring themes."

A popular author. Look at what else your audience is following. Elizabeth Green, CEO of Brief Media, talked about the concept of the "one and only" being a key to renewals. When she saw how popular author Donald Plumb was in the industry and with her audience, she approached him and said that they could give him more exposure. That led to content that could be accessed daily—instead of a one-off book—plus the launching of a new app and a Q&A session at a popular conference. "No other conference has this amazing privilege," she could tell her audience.

A new service. In 2017, Columbia Books & Information Services developed GrantScape, "a new proprietary web-tracking system that notifies the staff whenever a grant-making entity updates their website with new grant opportunities." The price to use GrantScape remains relatively low compared to the competition. A GrantScape subscription can be purchased separately or bundled at several different tiered price points. Such bundles move customers up the subscription ladder.

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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…