How RBI Has Used Marketing Technology to Transform Its Business

Over recent years RBI – the business publisher behind New Scientist, Farmer’s Weekly, Flight and many others – has undergone a period of considerable change.

We spoke to Lawrence Mitchell, Global Director of Marketing, about how marketing and marketing technology has helped the business evolve from a UK-based magazine publisher to an international online, data subscription business.

“RBI’s journey of transformation really started in 2009 when we were an advertising-led magazine publisher. Whilst today, we are still an information company, our model has now shifted to an online data subscription business with the lion’s share of revenues coming from recurring revenues.

Over this period of time, our product mix has changed significantly through the selling and acquiring of businesses, alongside the development of new own products through innovation.”

Lawrence explains how the innovation process is still the greatest challenge.

“If we are to get the product offering right, we need to understand our customers in a much deeper way than we did in the past. A way of doing this is speaking to customers to find out about their workflows in more detail and the problems they have.

Our goal then is to figure out which problems we’d like to solve through product creation.”

The need for marketing technology
This new mix of products meant the services that marketing offered the business needed to change.

The main shift has been working with large, information sales teams, which are now selling high value products into larger organisations around the world.

“Recurring revenues with higher sales values has required us to build a competency in demand generation.

We needed a machine which could generate demand using multiple channels, and invested in a digital infrastructure to enable us to do that.

Today, we have a technology stack, with marketing automation as the backbone, which gives us the tools to execute and nurture various programmes.”

Currently two different forms of marketing automation platforms are used by RBI, Eloqua and Exact Target, both with different purposes:

“We use Eloqua to deal with a smaller number of B2B customers. The platform allows us to be as targeted as we can, to deliver personalised content that aligns with sales nurturing.

Next is Exact Target which is for products which are more akin to consumer products with a large audience and lower price offerings.”

The full marketing stack is as follows:

  • Oracle Eloqua and Exact Target are used for Marketing Automation
  • Adobe Analytics for web analytics (we created a hub for info on this and other Adobe Marketing Cloud updates)
  • WordPress is their CMS (Content Management System) for websites
  • Spedfast is a social media tool RBI integrated last year to help be more strategic with social media distribution
  • Salesforce is the CRM which integrates with Eloqua
  • Qualtrics as a survey platform integrates with Saleforce
  • Underpinning all of this is a bespoke SQL data warehouse which sits at the heart of the setup and pulls in all the various sources.

With the exception of the data warehouse, all these tools are cloud based.

This technology stack underpins everything we do. It enables us to execute campaigns, get insights, work collaboratively across borders, plan resources effectively, communicate in real-time and allows us to operate in modern way.”

New skills

The investment in marketing technology meant that RBI needed to bring new skill sets into the marketing community:

“We needed to have a Head of Technology who understands the technical side and how different tools and data can integrate together. Reporting into both the marketing community and the Technology/IT leadership team, this role has helped marketing to see the bigger picture about how our technology architecture fits together, ensuring that we are tapping into all resources available to us.”

Another skill set that has been brought in are Marketing Analysts who work with the marketers to help them understand business performance.

“Our analysts create regular reports and deeper analysis, often using graphics to make it more digestible. They are always looking for trends, trying to think like Data Journalists to reveal stories to their marketing colleagues.

However, Lawrence warns that concentrating too much on the technology itself is missing the point.

“While it’s important that we exploit the new functionality that these tools offer, we don’t want the marketers to worry too much about the plumbing. There’s a danger that we talk about the technology so much that all the pipes become to visible to everybody and get in the way.

What we’re trying to do now is to push the technology into the background, which is easier said that done. For instance, instead of talking about an ‘Eloqua campaign’, we talk about marketing campaigns again – the message, the content, understanding the customers, so that we can connect with them better.”

The role of content

Lawrence describes content as being “the energy that fuels our whole pipeline”.

“A big challenge when we first implemented marketing automation, was that we completely underestimated the amount of content that was required to fuel these campaigns.

You can have every technology in the world, but if you’ve got no content you’ve got nothing to engage. It’s fundamental to success of any campaign obviously.”

In the old world, marketing’s content requirement was for brochures and ads. In the new world we have a much greater requirement for all types of content that align with the different stages of a buyer’s decision-making journey: videos, whitepapers, infographics, surveys, and someone has to create that.

“Initially we started thinking ‘do we need our own content team in the marketing team?’ but that didn’t seem like a good idea, given that we were working for a content company. Also, the markets we cater to are quite technical, so we needed to use our content team who have that technical expertise and know how to bring content to life.

Initially the editorial teams weren’t resourced to take on the additional work, so it put extra pressure on them. We’ve had to resource our editorial teams better and adapt their remit so that they see content – whether free or paid – as part of the same overall customer experience. For example, a webinar might be free content, but is very much a taster for what they get from the paid product.’

Lawrence has come to look at content in terms of ‘Content Creation’ which is the remit of RBI’s editorial teams and ‘Content Promotion’, which Marketing holds the responsibility for.

“Content promotion is about maximising the use of these content assets through digital channels and offline channels.”

Turning sales team into a distribution engine

An initiative Lawrence is currently working on is how to take social media to a new level, by focusing on using employee’s own Linkedin networks more effectively.

“We have been using social media for a long time, but we weren’t being systematic or able to prove impact as a marketing channel.

In our b2b markets, a goal is to mobile our sales army to share and promote our practical and thought leadership content to their networks to create a ripple effect.

We don’t see the customer journey for our sales prospects as a linear process, it’s a loopy process that goes backwards and forwards with different touchpoints reinforcing each other”

Along with in-house training, RBI evaluated a number of technology vendors and ended up buying Spreadfast as a tool to help.

“It’s early days but the harder we work at collaboration the more joined up it becomes and the greater the impact we have in the marketplace.

The impact I’m seeing after training our sales people is positive. For instance, we can measure the number of shares on Linkedin and the resulting reach which is going up. As with any initiative, some people are naturally responding well to it, while others are less engaged, so we go where the interest is. We want to keep developing services to support sales teams on Linkedin, encouraging them to update their profiles and share content.”

The merging of marketing, ecommerce and customer service

For RBI’s magazine business, ecommerce is a driver of revenue.

“Without question the lines between the online ecommerce, customer service and marketing all really come together to create an overall blended experience.

We are much more integrated than we’ve ever been to make sure that the brand experience is maintained as much as possible.”

RBI has delegated much of the day-to-day customer contact and specialist ecommerce functionality by outsourcing it to their magazine fulfilment bureau.

“It is a key relationship that is managed by our marketing teams and we really consider them to be part of our extended marketing group.

We have regular meetings and calls with them and work together on a joint roadmap for how we can improve the ecommerce and customer service.

A good example of that is Live Chat which has been recently been rolled out across our platforms so that we can respond to customers 24/7. It’s a tool which was driven by marketing on our ecommerce platforms, but ultimately the customer service team manage it.”

A global marketing community

“The whole community looks very different to how it did seven years ago, but it’s been an evolution rather than a single massive change – I don’t think we ever threw it all in the air and started again.

In 2009 we were a centralised UK-based marketing team that serviced a magazine business, but today we are a global marketing community with hubs in Central London, Sutton, Chicago, New York, Singapore, Amsterdam, China, Japan and Paris.”

It’s has become a matrix structure made up of:

  • Core marketing teams which work deep within each business unit. Their roles have had to become strategic as a higher level of customer and product knowledge is required because our product mix has become much more complicated. These marketers are like the glue between product and sales.
  • Extended marketing team which is made up of specialist strategic and operational skills in areas such as customer insight, marketing automation, data and analytics. These extended team are also aligned to the business units.

“It is a structure where we try to get the best of both worlds: The best of a de-centralisation world where the marketers are part of the business units and are close to market, and the best centralisation with good processes, competencies and best practices that scale.”

Moving to a globally dispersed structure has made internal communications more challenging, as Lawrence explains:

“We have had to be more structured about how we try to share and flow information around the marketing community and have tried to bring communications to life with more innovative techniques.

For example, we used to always have monthly face to face meetings when we were in just one or two locations, but increasingly we had more people phoning in and less in the room, so we’ve just piloted a monthly TV Show as a shorter, more innovative way of sharing information.

The first episode was last week. It looked a bit rough but we’ve had some good feedback and pointers to feed into episode two. We’ll see how it goes”

Monitoring performance

Lawrence explains how the report he relies on to stay up-to-date with such a diverse, globally dispersed business

“As the community has got bigger, I’ve been much more reliant on data points to help me understand what the going on in the business and to help me focus as you can’t focus on everything.

I’ve become a lot more structured and systematic in how I work, to make sure that there’s the right balance between what’s happening now and planning for the future.”

Key performance indicators which Lawrence regularly monitors include:

  • Resources and costs. “A large part of my role as a leader is looking ahead, and thinking about how we budget resources for the future”
  • Revenue performance. “We measure a KPI around Marketing’s contribution to Sales. It’s not 100% accurate but it illustrates trends well and gives us a good indicator. We also look at qualified leads in the pipeline to help understand how healthy it looks’
  • Net Promoter Scores (internal and external). “Having a large community of people, I am always interested how we can monitor happiness and engagement of staff. Measuring the engagement of staff with ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) and on the other side is Customer Satisfaction with NPS (Net Promoter Score) – and the two are linked”

Beyond the reports, Lawrence also values getting hands-on with a particular market.

“While I head up the global community, I like to get deep into one particularly business unit for a period as it gives me a perspective on the whole. By working deeply in one business unit you see the world differently and that helps me feed into the overall picture.”

As if all the above was not enough, Lawrence is a great champion for wellbeing, which he describes as “his other hobby” – and has even written a book on the subject. He started the “Living Well” programme at RBI about a year ago and has had two big in-person events since, as well as the company-wide Living Well weeks.

“Living Well has seen a lot of activity and engagement, which has been great.

It’s fast becoming a pillar of our culture and we have a full week of activities planned for the beginning of October aligned to the Living Well Philosophy which aims to balance physical and psychological wellbeing’ .

‘As the pace of change continues to speed up, we recognise that we need to support our people to be more resilient and that a big aim of the Living Well Programme’

Advice for leading marketing transformation

Here are some of the key lessons Lawrence has learned whilst steering the team through this transition period:

  1. Really focus on the people and their skills. Try to inspire people. When going through a massive change it is the people that make those changes. People build things, people change things and it is the people that make the tools and technology work. Make sure your team is strong, resilient, skilled and capable of doing the job.
  2. Understanding your ideal customers. Understand who you’re trying to serve – they may look quite different to what you think. Make sure you get out to meet with customers. Talk to them and combine this insight with other knowledge, to build up a full picture. Personas help to consolidate some of that insight.
  3. Enjoy the journey as it always feels as though there is something better around the corner, you can easily end up living in the future and not enjoying the now, seeking perfection. Focus more on progress rather than perfection.
  4. Have a commercial mindset. I’d encourage marketers to think and express themselves in business terms rather than marketing jargon. If you can’t demonstrate your contribution to revenue and sales then you lose credibility. We love our buzzwords, but I’ve come to realise they hold us back. Instead try to simplify things. Talk in practical terms about how marketing improves things for the customers or business.”