Northstar Travel Group’s Roberta Muller Offers A Clinic On Product Development

Jun 27, 2024

In B2B media, whether you’re a journalist covering the market or a conference programmer lining up speakers, you’re always looking for real experts. Esteemed specialists. Sometimes you want to look past the top executive and go to the people who get things done—the people with a specific portfolio, lots of direct reports, and P+L responsibility as well.

When you find those people, not only do they make your conference attendees or website visitors smarter about their businesses, they make you smarter about the business too. This is especially true in a fast-moving media market, one in which B2B media brands have great cache and market positions, but major challenges as well.

Roberta Muller.

One of those people is Roberta Muller, senior vice president for product development at Northstar Travel Group. Roberta is a veteran of Northstar, having been there 24 years, and she’s occupied a variety of positions, both in digital and print media. There’s no one better positioned to share what’s around the corner in B2B media. Our discussion follows. Read on. 

Fox Tales: What are your product-development priorities right now? Why?

Muller: Currently, under our new leadership [CEO Jason Young joined the company in January 2023], we are focusing our efforts on our audience. Understanding and growing our audience is crucial, because it directly impacts our market reach, makes our data more actionable, and provides revenue potential by creating more products that leverage our audience. In conjunction with this, we are rigorously evaluating our internal digital product offerings and workflow processes. Our objective is to accelerate revenue growth, and to do so, we need scalable digital products that facilitate rapid and efficient expansion.

This comprehensive review involves assessing the scalability of each product, refining our go-to-market strategies, and aligning our sales and customer packages across all brands. Additionally, we are reviewing our workflows from the sales process through to delivery and reporting, ensuring all metrics are effectively tied back to program performance. This exercise has been invaluable and is something every company should undertake to ensure their product line is optimized for growth and scalability.

Fox Tales: What would you say is the most game-changing product/initiative in media, created by you or elsewhere, in the last 10 years?
Muller: Looking at what we are focusing on, I would have to say that the integration of AI has been and will be a game-changer. For Northstar, our goal is to think about ways that we can use our existing, proprietary data along with AI, to transform our business. There is immense potential in applying AI technology to areas of our company to accelerate growth. The convergence of data and technology is paving the road to disruption, and AI is at the forefront of this transformation, so it is critical that we try to stay ahead of the curve.
One of the unique advantages of Northstar is our strategic position in the industry, because we act as the hub, connecting professionals (travel agents, meeting planners, corporate travel advisors) with suppliers and advertisers. AI propels our company forward by optimizing these connections, ensuring that advertisers reach their target audiences effectively.

This entire process relies on the flow of our audience data, its connection to our content, tracking the insights and engagement, finding ways to monetize the audience, then executing the delivery of programs on behalf of our advertisers. This all hinges on data flowing through the ecosystem. We want AI to enhance our ability to understand our audience, thereby fostering mutually advantageous relationships between our buyers and suppliers. AI enriches the overall experience by helping us identify topics, taxonomy, audience profiles, and create algorithms to score audience members, then putting the audience into meaningful cohorts and segments that our clients are looking to specifically reach.

Fox Tales: Within audience development—what has been a challenge?
Muller: Northstar has over 100 events in 13 countries, and we provide exceptional content to the markets we serve. Therefore, we recognize as an organization that audience engagement forms the cornerstone of our business. Collecting data is crucial, but the real value lies in reporting and analyzing that data to derive actionable insights. This warehouse should include not only our audience data, but information on our content, performance metrics, and attribution as well. Our goal is to have a robust data lake that offers self-service access and democratized data for all individuals. This will empower them to make informed decisions, optimize strategies, and drive growth by leveraging comprehensive, real-time insights. Our goal is a seamless data ecosystem where insights are readily accessible and usable by everyone across the organization.

Fox Tales: You have a background in digital operations—email, advertising, audience engagement. Which is most important? Which is least understood?
Muller: While all aspects of digital operations, email, advertising, and audience engagement are crucial, for me audience in general stands out as the most paramount. Maintaining continuous interaction with our audience allows us to understand their interests, engagement patterns, and intent signals. It is so challenging these days to find new audience members. Therefore, keeping existing audience members is key. We must nurture and be mindful of how we message and interact with each individual. Looking long term, by capturing data signals across our brands and investing in AI capabilities, we can create personalized content at greater scale.
I would also add that a topic of discussion these days among my peer group is the need to create a better connection between both the audience and content teams. After all, audience-engagement strategy is critical for all writers. Analyzing your web traffic or using a tool that showcases the social reach of an article is terrific, and it should be coupled with collaboration with the audience team to review the content performance holistically and by channel.

Fox Tales: You’re known as a mentor. What drives you to help less experienced colleagues?

Muller: I believe in the power of mentorship and its ability to foster growth and development. I find great enjoyment in sharing knowledge, insights, and experiences to support others on their professional journey. I’m working with two college interns right now, which is always a lot of fun. Mentorship is a way to contribute positively to the collective growth of our company, industry, and society. It’s a great way to give back.