Media Fortune Fame & Folly

How B2C brands can go B2B

In 2007, The Business of Fashion (BoF) launched into a fashion B2B world still largely dominated by trade journals Drapers (in the UK) and Women’s Wear Daily (in the US). Trend forecaster WGSN had recently sold to then-Emap (now Ascential) for £140m. But, in those days, there was still a line in the sand between B2C magazines and B2B information. As traditional revenue strands dried up for magazines and digital began to blur the lines between B2B and B2C, a whole new revenue seam began to emerge.

At the time, few people paid much attention to an online magazine founded and, largely, staffed by Imran Amed. Back then, B2B was the lucrative but less glamorous sibling of its glossy consumer cousin, but McKinsey-trained Amed sought to blend the two and soon gained a global following of fashion executives, creatives and entrepreneurs. (In short, the people who tell the rest of us what to think, wear and do.)

In 2013, BoF raised its first seed funding, swiftly followed in 2015 by a £12.5m series A led by the London-based Felix Capital (which also has a significant holding in Goop, the wellness and lifestyle brand founded by Gwyneth Paltrow). The investments led to the launch of BoFCareers (2014) and to paid subscriptions (2016), as well as sought-after global events (BoFVoices), and a biannual print product for luxury advertisers. 

Since BoF competes with everyone from WWD to The Economist, it’s scarcely surprising that its series B funding round was led by the Financial Times, which bought a 7.9% stake for £4.4m in 2019. For both partners, the synergy was undeniable: it bolstered the FT’s luxury and fashion business credentials, and gave BoF investor credibility and the funds to grow globally and diversify into beauty, watches and jewellery.

Now, the former one-man-band boasts annual membership fees of £258, an international audience of 5m and 35,000 paying members. The free newsletter goes out six days a week, to approximately 600,000 subscribers. BoF revenue may have reached some £100m. But a total of £3m of losses (reported for the years 2017 and 2018) implies it is breaking even at best – but still has no trouble attracting the investment needed to maintain the global growth.

We don’t know whether the ultimate, glamorous B2B brand was afflicted by the 90% profit decline that its own State of Fashion Report predicted for the fashion industry in pandemic-hit 2020.

But BoFCareers, its education department, and events wing BoFVoices is what really captures the imagination. Presumably, that’s what also caught the attention of Condé Nast, which realised it had not only allowed Amed to get a foot in the door, but had dithered while he repainted it.

In January 2019, Condé Nast announced the launch of Vogue Business – a standalone digital fashion industry brand which shared the Vogue name, caché, industry intelligence (and mailing list), but not the staff.

Initially free, Vogue Business (VB) soon launched a membership program. It now charges $220 for a standard annual membership and a hefty $1,575 for advanced membership, which is basically C-suite access to the Vogue Business index, long-view trend reporting and top level forums and summits, as well as standard membership benefits. It, too, has launched a careers platform – Vogue Business Talent – described by Digiday as “somewhere between a careers site and a place for brands to promote their culture and ethos”. A talent matchmaker.

Eighteen months after launch, VB claimed 340k readers, with a stated aim of 1m subscribers by the end of 2021. But It’s not clear how many of these are paying. It’s still far behind the Business of Fashion in terms of revenue (estimates of VB are some $8-9m) and social media followings (its Instagram following is 180k compared to BoF’s 2.1m. But, all in all, the picture is positive for Vogue.

Of course, BoF and VB are far from alone in the B2B fashion space. In 2001, French entrepreneur Jean-Philippe Boudy launched Fashion Network – until a 2016 rebrand – which now claims a not-to-be-sniffed-at (but difficult to verify) global audience of 4m, 850k newsletter subscribers and is produced in 10 languages; monetising via digital and job ads.

As both Vogue Business and Business of Fashion spread their tentacles, what is the potential for other luxury adjacent sectors like tech, travel and motors? And, indeed, non-luxury adjacent sectors. WGSN and Future Laboratory – while more in the business of “change forecasting” than reporting on the industries they serve – have proved there’s potential in food and drink, interiors, travel, lifestyle, hospitality, tech and more. Not to mention consumer analysis. WGSN, for one, is still in rude health, reporting revenue growth of 9% to £86.5m in 2019, with the first six months of 2020 up to £45.2m from £41.6m the previous year.

B2C publishers looking for somewhere profitable to go shouldn’t get too excited though. As an industry fashion bible – not simply a high-end consumer magazine – Vogue is in a unique space enjoyed by few consumer magazine brands. “Vogue is a great example of a brand that hangs very lucratively between B2C and B2B,” Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis, told Digiday. “Its circulation has never been huge, but its target buyer is extraordinarily attractive for advertisers, who are speaking to wealthy consumers of course, but they are also creatively and forcefully messaging each other and the industry as a whole.”

Does it mean, though, there’s a B2B opportunity for yet more general B2C brands to pivot into recruitment, conferences, trend forecasting, consulting and more?

Might Hearst’s Elle Decoration have a trend forecasting arm in its future? Looking at the careers of past editors and now tastemakers and trendsetters Ilse Crawford and Michele Ogundehin, you would certainly think so. Or is this a logical extension for the venerable Good Housekeeping Institute (Hearst too) – already a well respected resource for consumers and marketers? Yes and yes again. The same goes for Allure – well-respected in the beauty world, although perhaps without the necessary global reach – and Wired (Condé Nast again) which has long had a consultancy business and might seem like the natural home for a competitor to Jessica Lessin’s tech industry newsletter upstart, The Information (that the Financial Times has tried to acquire).

But it’s worth remembering that, while pivoting your B2C media brand to a B2B audience and tapping into new revenue opportunities sounds highly desirable, it will not always be a viable option. The questions that consumer publishers must ask themselves are:

  • Does your brand have credibility that stretches beyond its audience to an industry?
  • Do you have a global network of sources/journalists to support a potential B2B strategy?
  • Does your existing audience have a subscriptions habit?
  • Is your brand truly global?

Answer ‘yes’ to all those questions and you could well be in the sweet spot between B2B and B2C. The potential rewards (and risks) are high.