The Customer Effect

How Business Insider plans to expand its subscription-based research unit overseas

  • BI Intelligence has 5,000 paid subscribers globally across six verticals.
  • "London is the fintech capital of the world, and we have this great footprint with Business Insider here already."
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How Business Insider plans to expand its subscription-based research unit overseas

It’s been nearly two years since Business Insider burst into the U.K. and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Now BI is plotting the expansion of its paid research service, BI Intelligence. This started with its first London-first fintech vertical, launched in April. Next year that vertical will be exported to its Ignition conferences, with the first U.K. Fintech Ignition.

“London is the fintech capital of the world, and we have this great footprint with Business Insider here already. By covering global fintech from the perspective of London we saw an opportunity that’s exciting and novel for clients, which our competitors don’t offer,” said John Heggestuen, managing analyst of BI Intelligence.

The research unit, which launched in the U.S. in 2013, sells a mix of enterprise and individual subscriptions, ranging from $500 (£385) for an annual newsletter to $2,500 (£1,900) a year, as well as enterprise subscriptions which vary in cost and include newsletters and reports. It has 5,000 paid subscribers globally, and spans six verticals. Five are created by the U.S. BI Intelligence team: payments, apps and platforms, internet of things, e-commerce, digital media. The fintech vertical, set up in March, is the first to be driven from London (all are sold globally). Most verticals run around 24 reports a year, like the Fintech Ecosystem, which has had good pickup in London.

Heggestuen moved to the U.K. in February to launch BI Intelligence, and will soon move back Stateside having hired two staff to run the fintech subscription product. He hopes to have a third in place in London by the end of the year.

He declined to reveal subscriptions figures for the U.K. products, but said that conversion rates are a “lot higher than expected” and that’s meant their revenue targets are high.  More than half its entire subscriber base is from enterprise subscriptions.

“We’ve gone from a budget research product — a startup project with four people — to a mature, strong research product,” he said. “That’s why we’re attracting more enterprise clients. The model has shifted from the start when we just had a bunch of individual subscriptions.”

The U.K. is the logical next step for American companies pushing global expansion. But replicating successful U.S. models isn’t always easy. Business Insider has a particular American tone that differentiates in the U.K, but takes some time for local journalists and writers to adapt to, he said. “Writing in the BI style is a challenge in London. The tone is a very American way of speaking and more direct. But once people have it, it’s like riding a bike,” he added.

BI Intelligence also requires staff to be both great analysts and writers — two distinct skillsets — which calls for rigorous internal training, said Heggestuen.

“A big part of our proposition is not just to do really good market research, but communicate it well,” he said. “And we have global ambitions to reach that goal. The way to do it is to communicate it better than anyone. If you don’t speak French and your market research is in French, that’s not going to help you.”

That’s where being acquired by German digital media powerhouse Axel Springer comes in handy. BI has already launched a German site, making in-roads there that wouldn’t have been possible so quickly without its new parent. Axel Springer has a long history of smart digital acquisitions, lately having acquired market research firm eMarketer.

“Business Insider is an interesting model, that’s evolved well beyond its original tech roots. It seems like [CEO and editor] Henry Blodget is building an empire. Now it has the backing of Axel Springer, which with eMarketer too, looks to be making a play in this space,” said Ian Maude, BeHeard director and former media analyst.

BI Intelligence products get good visibility from the marketing power of the core Business Insider site, which has 5 million monthly users in the U.K. alone, according to comScore. Currently the pricing structure of the BI intelligence subscriptions are on the modest end of the spectrum, added Maude.

“With Axel Springer, it has deep pockets, syndicated research and lots of forecasts. They have all the pieces to turn it into something more substantial,” said Maude. “The question will be: Will they move up the value chain into more serious analysis and compete with some of the higher-end research coming from the likes of the FT, Informa or even Enders?”

This article first appeared on Digiday.

Image from Business Insider.

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