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How Aller Media Finland unlocked the value of data-for-profit

In less than three years, Aller Media Finland has become the leading company in Finland to harvest consumer data as an income asset. Sami Lahtinen, director, data and digital solutions, and Sini Kervinen, head of business operations, data and digital solutions, explain how the establishment of the Aller Refinery data unit managed to place data at the heart of their business’s growth.

Aller Media Finland, part of the larger family-owned Nordic Aller Holdings, has been publishing magazines in Finland since 1992, establishing itself as market leader with brands such as Elle, Koti ja keittiö (Home and Kitchen), Katso (Look TV magazine) and Seiska (Seven), the largest social entertainment weekly magazine in the country.

Brand-related websites comprise an important part of its business with www.seiska.fi the leading magazine site and Suomi24, Finland’s largest social networking web community followed by 1.4 million weekly users.

Yet, in recent years Aller Finland has found a valuable niche, one that has propelled the company not only into unchartered territory but also into the position of leading the charge in turning consumer data into big business.

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Building a data refinery

Sami Lahtinen, director, data and digital solutions, says Aller’s data business arose organically from a market situation that was forced on them just over three years ago. At the time, Aller’s senior management found themselves conducting some serious introspection. “There were difficult questions to be answered - like where are we going with our magazine business and how can we unlock new opportunities from what we are doing?”

He continues: “We also realised that our subscription database was of great value. In Finland most magazine sales are dispatched as a result of subscriptions and not from kiosk sales. Across our titles, we had a database of 3 million subscribers. With the total population of Finland being 5.5 million, the natural question was: ‘what can we do with this data?’”

Similarly, Aller was wondering what they could learn from their online traffic and online subscribers. “The idea arose that if we combined the print magazine subscriber data with the online data it could become a marketplace in itself.”

Sami Lahtinen Aller Media ()

Sami Lahtinen

The group embarked on a one-year technical project to establish the processes they would need to combine and analyse data. This lead to the birth of the Aller Refinery, a concerted effort to provide a comprehensive combination of data and target groups and a better understanding of consumer behaviour by combining nationally significant offline and online data that will be of value to businesses.

From the very start, it proved to be a successful line of new business. Companies not only wanted to buy data, but also wanted to measure their customer behaviour in real time to derive more detailed consumer data profiles from the processes being developed.

One of the initial spin-offs was to share techniques and best practice via the establishment of a think tank, Data Masters, comprised of the most experienced business leaders in Finland. The aim: to find solutions to some of the data recovery hurdles and also study new opportunities that can be created by data analysis. “Data Masters wants to share information and help Finnish companies to find new competitive advantages in data,” explains Lahtinen.

To be successful in changing from a purely creative media company to one in which data analysis became crucial, called for a complete change of mindset. They started by placing a startup company within the larger Aller company structure. This startup was what has now become a business unit lead by Sini Kervinen, head of business operations, data and digital solutions.

Sini Kervinen Aller Media ()

Sini Kervinen

Kervinen says the Refinery’s data innovation was developed from within Aller by “a small group of innovative and data driven people taken from various backgrounds and organisations. The group was building and developing the data innovation with a lean service creation model and with huge enthusiasm.”

The team had to innovate and learn in real time. “Their humble and open attitude made it possible to build a valuable and high-quality unit in a short time. Something that would normally have taken years happened fast because we combined knowledge acquired from different area experts,” continues Kervinen. 

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Data as a value asset  

The company now envisages a future in which data will be on the balance sheets of all large companies - like any other value assets. But not just any data, warns Lahtinen. It will be data derived from multiple sources, which have already been combined and properly analysed and packaged. He references the distinction that is being made between online data and subscriber data, as an example. Online data becomes more valuable after it’s been integrated with subscriber data and specific behavioural patterns have been extracted from it.

Add to this data that’s been obtained via artificial intelligence tools from online discussion forums and comments and the data becomes even more valuable. 

One of Aller’s most popular online social media sites is Suomi24. Through artificial machine learning Aller can obtain valuable information from online user comments, whether this be comments on the performance of a new vehicle or the popularity of cat food.

“We use combined data from online forum comments to pick out relevant trends in consumer behaviour. Anything people are discussing online is of value to retailers, especially when people go online to ask for information about products from people who have already purchased similar products. The discussion history is of value and we can use the data to identify key target groups.”

The moment consumer data is properly sourced, it becomes valuable, explains Lahtinen. It has added a new dynamic to Aller’s business model. Today they not only sell magazines, advertising and other creative media solutions but also data in the form of email lists or direct marketing lists. In the online world, data is of huge value to agencies in finding new target groups and focusing their programmatic media buying, marketing and identify advertising trends.

More about Sami Lahtinen and Sini Kervinen

Sami Lahtinen, director, data and digital solutions, has worked with data and analytics for more than 15 years. He also have years of management experience within big Finnish companies such as Business Unit Director at Fonecta, a large Finnish media company. He is a member of Aller Media Finland´s management board.

Sini Kervinen, head of business operations, data and digital solution, is one of the Refinery eco-system founders. She has 10 years experience in online and data advertising solutions, ad management technologies and different media environments. Sini is also Chairman of the Board IAB Finland.

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