Like all of the nominees for our Media Company of the Year award, Incisive Media hasn’t had a free ride over the past few years. The B2B information and events company is about as exposed to the ongoing pressures facing media companies as any, but it has proven to be extremely resilient. Incisive’s chief digital officer John Barnes says that’s down to its “guerrilla warfare” approach to facing those pressures:

“We’d like to think that some of those disadvantages can become advantages if you think about them in the right way.

“I’ve always got in mind the idea of guerrilla warfare; when you’re doing guerrilla warfare all the disadvantages can become advantages. You can hide in the woods, you can be a small force taking on a big force. B2B, in that regard, is a bit like that.”

Barnes isn’t downplaying the relative advantages Incisive has as a B2B player, though. He acknowledges that, because of the nature of their audiences, B2B brands are often exposed to challenges like adblocking and issues around brand safety earlier than their B2C counterparts, but that they’re also better-placed than consumer-facing brands to deal with those challenges.

The strength of good B2B brands has always lied in their accurate user data, that those users tend to cluster in highly-specific verticals where there are fewer competitors trying to sell them services, and that they tend to be more focused on subscriptions than B2C publishers (at least historically).

 But Incisive isn’t complacent about those strengths. Barnes explains:

“We definitely see users are getting more sophisticated, and sometimes people, particularly in B2B, say “what’s happening in B2C is never going to happen with us, because our guys are bankers or insurance people”. We don’t believe that.”

That’s led Incisive to reconsider some of its habits, particularly with regards to how it monetises. Barnes says that the group is looking at reducing the overall number of ads on a page, or shifting to a time-based model of advertising, but more widely is also looking at making events and subscriptions a more integral part of the mix.

The value of longform

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Incisive is jettisoning everything that has made it successful to date. In fact, Barnes is keen to note that while Incisive does produce ‘news’, its real value is in the longform analysis and services that its customers rely upon day-to-day, like its new foreign exchange services. Barnes explains:

“Obviously the subscription business is really central to what we’re trying to do, because we think getting people to pay for high-quality content is essential. You’re seeing that happen absolutely everywhere, whether that’s the Guardian trying to get people to become members or paywalls going up at the Telegraph, the FT, the Economist, everywhere.”

Consequently Incisive has been reconsidering how it gets its content in front of users, with the goal of reducing friction as much as possible. For instance, while a number of its apps used to employ an edition-based publishing strategy, Barnes estimates that less than a third of its brands have an edition-based app any more. Instead, it’s focusing on live apps, which have the benefit of being much more convenient for users:

“The reason is, there’s quite a lot of movement onto mobile and we felt the live app solution is quite a nice one, because it allows you to in effect have a live version of the website in your pocket on your phone so that when you’re offline [you’re] able to use all the services they were used to online from their pockets on their tablet or phone. Our objective is to make sure the users we’ve got are more engaged; they’re using the services as they’d like to use them.

“The more features you can give people in a kind of digital world where everybody’s got a kind of different viewing profile [the better]. We see all these distribution platforms like live apps are a means of covering the basics so the user can assemble different combinations of products. That’s certainly helped with subscriptions.”

Those apps, in addition to the books, journals and events that Incisive counts among its portfolio of products, are all in service of refining the ways by which Incisive interacts with its audience.

While B2B companies might well be in a better place overall than their B2C counterparts, continued success is no guarantee. But as Incisive demonstrates, constantly refreshing your focus on your audience is a great way to bulwark against the threats that face the whole industry. 


The British Media Awards – for which Incisive Media is nominated in a number of categories – take place on May 3rd in London. For more information or to book your table for the night, click here.