There is a curious trend in the world of publishing today. Publishers are increasingly become brands, and brands are transforming themselves as publishers! Take Forbes for example. In the business of traditional publishing Forbes has diversified its product offering with the Forbes Wine Club and Forbes Elite Identity ProtectionServices. Simply as a means to use their brand credibility to sell products that are not related to the core business.
On the other hand, take the Amex Express Open Forum for example. With a mission to “connect small business owners to information, education and each other” the website acts as a great resource for people who are are looking for ways to improve their business and productivity. The site has insightful content in multiple formats like articles, videos, infographics, blogs and audio. From tips to tools, how to content, marketing tips and industry events and forecasts, American Express Open Forum has millions of visitors, hundreds of contributors and 200,000 Twitter followers who look up to the site for free and useful content.
So what does American Express get out of being a publisher? Its biggest strength lies in the fact that it doesn’t use its platform to promote their cards. Instead it gives people something that they don’t expect of Amex! It gives them a space to receive information vital to them and their business needs. However growing business will use Amex more often. The platform helps Amex to build a captive, loyal and engaged audience of current and future members.
The media landscape is changing, there is a whirlwind impact on how brands and consumers interact today. In a perpetually connected world, consumers expect brands to engage with them directly. Which is why, more and more brands today are choosing to turn content creators and publishers. Let’s look at REI as another example. As a chain of stores selling equipment for outdoor treks and travels, REI also gives it consumer resources to make the most of their expertise. REI Expert Advice gives its users ‘How-to articles and videos about outdoor gear and skills’. User generated and shareable content makes REI a hub for outdoor lovers to share their passion with like-minded people.
Lets look at some of the trends that are forcing brands to take publishing seriously and invest in owned and earned media assets like L’Oreal’s Makeup that talks about style and beauty without really pushing the company’s beauty range of products.
The Changing Face of Traditional Media
Paid media no longer has the novelty that it had and that is why advertising budgets have had a makeover. Today consumers Don’t Want Ads, They Want Conversations. Brands are increasingly using owned media to communicate. From blogs, to YouTube Channels, and newsletters there are several vehicles for sharing original content. The benefits of earned media additionally adds to the power of a content when it is constantly shared, mentioned, liked, commented upon or recommended by users and third party sites. In this churning of paid, owned and earned media, traditional media is somewhat losing its sparkle.
Consumers are found on Social Networks
Best-in-class organisations recognise that their prospects, leads, and customers are just a tweet, G+, like or comment away. The human race today connects to communicate and converse in the virtual world more actively than what it does in the real world! There is no way better than to use the power of virtual conversations to create brand awareness. From product recommendations, to complaints, user experience, feedback and infotainment, social media plays a multi-dimensional role today. Sometimes even the thin line between earned and paid media dissolves. Brands on Facebook now pay to be seen by users. Sites like Pinterest, Instagram have turned users into not just content consumers but also creators and curators. Fashion blogs, video blogs, Pinterest boards of original content there is a lot that users are creating influenced by their preferred brands.
Proliferation of consumer touch points
For any consumer to pick a product today, walking into the store is not a straightforward exercise. Before he even chooses to do his bit of walking chances are that he may already be half way through his buying journey. From using Google to find the best available price, to finding user reviews, watch a tutorial of the product and follow the social media footprint of the brand, a user today makes a much larger informed decision. With devices like the Google Glass, smartphones, tablets, interactive kiosks, the social network and gaming consoles there are many touch points that brands need to consider. Creating engaging content that spreads itself across different devices and platforms therefore requires a brand to constantly evolve its technology and game.
If Publishing is the new Marketing Paradigm, How Does a Brand Turn Into a Publisher?
Digital marketing is the holy grail, and good content drives engagement. People want good stories which have an emotional connection. Content creation is a specialised skill. Much deeper than creating a product actually. So what exactly should we be doing to make sure that our content marketing initiatives is as potent as we’d like it to be?
Create Meaningful Content – Not every customer has the same needs. Neither is every customer coming with the same baggage of product understanding. Content therefore has to be meaningful enough and consider all kinds of consumers helping them find assistance at each stage of their buying journey.
Quick and Accurate – Content has to be consistent. Users need to know that they will receive something new every now and then. It works quite like appointment viewing; the sentiment should be to expect great content from you!
Hire Content Ninjas – Great content needs a great team! A brand looking at publishing riveting content requires a team of specialised writers, design experts, data visualisation and multimedia production experts. Sometimes having an in-house creative team helps, at others outsourcing these functions also works for companies.
Test, Learn, Repeat – Content strategies work like business strategies. They have to be tested, verified, altered if required and repeated. A steady constant flow from a brand should be positioned like a service. Creating viral content is unpredictable, but creating a culture where content is steady in terms of quality should be a given.
Content Strategy To Follow Overall Mission – The decision to turn content producers remains within the ambit of an organisation that has a mission of its own. Content strategies therefore must align themselves with the mission of the organisation. Some of the broad questions that need to be answered are:
- Is the objective to create brand awareness?
- To sell products?
- Or to build a captive and loyal audience?
Pick Accurate Measurement Tools – Publishing endeavours require different measurement tools than traditional advertising. Publishing metrics such as page views, unique visitors, new visitors, time spent etc. compliment other social metrics such as likes, shares, comments, volume of traffic via social media, help in judging the efficacy of the content.
Content is an Asset and Not A Liability – If done right content adds tangible value to a brand and its organisation. Like with every asset, it has to be maintained and reviewed.
Great! So Now What Should We Invest In?
Like with every new function, there needs to be a consistent process established. Content creation is never singular and therefore there needs to have multiple work streams that work simultaneously. With a distinct long term goals, more definitive short term milestones to be reached and a roadmap, content should follow a structure. When working with content, creating an editorial calendar, establishing a sustainable workflow and content parameters is a must.
For any brand the building blocks towards success begins with three basic steps – creating a visual identity, piecing together a strategy and then finding a brand tone. If a brand is treading into the digital space for the first time, then a careful rethinking of their existing framework is a good start. Not everything that works in traditional media works online! An audience is not a homogenous group. They have different likes and dislikes. They also assemble and disperse at different times online. Content therefore has to carefully ‘find, follow and adapt’ as per the audience’s expectations.
One of the biggest trends I am seeing involves brands acting as producers – going even beyond the publisher mentality and setting up newsrooms and production studios. Netflix (“House of Cards”), Red Bull (Media House) and Amazon (Alpha House) are just the first wave of this emerging trend.
Content is no good if it doesn’t reach its audience. Therefore despite having owned media channels, a brand has to amplify content via earned and paid media. Branded stories, promoted tweets, sponsored posts have to be used to reach those pockets of users who are reluctant to use new media.
Anything related to digital and content needs a robust system in place – a Content Management System. As content is created, over a period of time there needs to be tools to document and track stories. The future of Content Application Programming Interface (APIs) is here to stay. And while its development and application remains tricky business, it is something that will have to be carried along the way.
Content creation requires nothing less than a dedicated set of people. Marketers are not specialised content creators. And neither should an organisation expect its overworked staff to take on the additional task of creating niche content. Therefore having a dedicated team of advisors who approve critical content must be put in place. People work best with timelines and defined objectives. Therefore having different teams for separate work streams increase productivity and quality.
The Final Takeaway
- The production and distribution of content is increasingly becoming democratised. This gives brands a huge opportunity to engage with consumers across proliferating channels through original, authentic content.
- The social networks have created an expectation among consumers that brands will engage with them directly. To compete in the market, brands must create content for multiple touch points.
- For a brand to succeed as a publisher, it needs to invest in process, content, technology and people.
There is no recipe for creating viral content. But at least if one get the ingredients in place…it’s how much you add, stir, simmer and serve that makes the difference!Remember; as a marketer, are you renting attention? Beware rising rents and evictions. Think owned and earned media. As brands, we need to kill promotional marketing messages and start providing customer-centric information that is helpful to our target customers.