Successfully Combining Content with Commerce

A FIPP interview with David Nussbaum, CEO of F+W.

David Nussbaums credited with transforming the former print-focused niche publisher into a digital-first company that combines content and e-commerce like few others. Prior to F+W, David spent more than 8 years at Penton in senior management positions, including as the CEO of Penton Media.

In this interview David shares some insights into and key factors for F+W’s successful transformation. He will be speaking more about F+W’s transformation, business models and specifically its approach to e-commerce at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin on 23-24 March.

For our readers who don’t know that much about F+W: Tell us a bit about the company, the audiences served and the products and services offered

F+W is a Content + eCommerce Company serving enthusiasts in core vertical communities including crafts, art, writing, design, knitting, quilting, and more. We provide inspiration, instruction, and exclusive products and services for these enthusiasts through our diverse and growing portfolio. We offer Online Education – self-directed and instructor-led – print and digital books and magazines, subscription video sites, consumer and trade events, and more than 30 highly-curated ecommerce stores. F+W is also the largest craft-focused company in the U.S. with a market opportunity of more than 63M self-identified enthusiasts.

You changed F+W from a primarily print business to one focused on digital and e-commerce. What were some of the key things in the company that you had to change for the transformation?

First and foremost, we needed to take a radical shift within F+W to a digital-first philosophy. Which may be easier said than done for a Century-old print publisher. We did it by staying true to our core tenets serving our vertical markets, while reinventing our core strategy and moving away from antiquated businesses no longer valued by our consumers. We also reorganized our entire employee base from product silos, books, magazines, other media, to Communities within the Company – art, craft, quilting, writing. In fact, F+W was the first media Company to organize in this way, which seemed radical then. We also added new talent throughout the organization from outside the industry and created a focused digital media team – everyone from programmers and developers, to marketers, SEO and SEM experts, ecommerce and email specialists.

Your audiences are enthusiasts. How has the usage of media for this audience changed over time?

The great thing about serving enthusiast audiences is they are just that, enthusiastic about their hobbies and pursuits. Thus, there is a robust need for information, new projects, new designs, new artists — and we try to be there for them 24×7. Of course there has been change — online video is more important as a teaching tool and more products are purchased through online venues. In each of our leading enthusiast categories we take a 360-degree approach for our content offerings in video, TV, print, digital – and whatever comes next.

How do you stay close to your audience?

Our passionate, talented employees are the leaders in the communities they serve. They, too, are writers, artists, designers, crafters. They live the lives of our consumers and know what it takes to profit from their passion, get information, get inspired, and learn. We are in daily communication with our customers via social, email, or in person- and online- events.

E-Commerce is an important part of your business. What is F+W’s approach and what drives its success?

Our success in ecommerce really developed from delivering content; and curation is our differentiator. There are pure ecommerce companies in the enthusiast markets and there are pure content companies.  We are one of the few who deliver both.  This enables us to support our ecommerce offerings with more than just good pricing — but the bonus of great content and information. We guide consumers through the selection of the right products and services at the right price.

Another part of our success is exclusivity: exclusive products and services, kits and bundles – that can’t be found anywhere else, and are not available to our vendor partners for resale. Kits and bundles, special offers, targeted by niche, skill level, or area of focus. We offer value-added VIP and Loyalty Programs for our best consumers and a friction-free satisfaction guaranteed return policy. We strive to be the one-stop shop for the niche products and services our enthusiasts demand. And a large part of our success lies in our metrics and data. We hold a significant database with demographics and purchasing history and employ the same best-in-class email marketing and remarketing strategies as the biggest dot coms.

At F+W, what are your main challenges for the future? 

Like any business, our key challenges are the fast pace of change in digital markets, the increasing need to compete globally, and the importance of driving innovation in our company every day. Creative destruction is part of our operating philosophy as change is constant and we’d rather poke holes in our own story, than have others do it.

David will be one of the many speakers at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin from 23-24 March 2015. You can register for the summit by clicking here.

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