Slowly but surely there’s change afoot.
After years of hype, half-hearted attempts, toe dips, and a lot of discussion, more and more brands are finally investing in publishing – mainstream adoption is emerging. In the first phase, early-adopter brands focused on corporate blogging and some built small newsrooms with editors and writers – some even hired journalists. These efforts focused mostly on brand awareness, covering industry news, thought leadership, and lead generation. Many of the early adopters were B2B companies for whom content marketing has always been a core competency. These efforts enabled them to expand beyond product-driven content like whitepapers, datasheets, and webinars and play a broader role in the lives of customers and prospects.
In the past few years we’ve seen accelerated and broader adoption of traditional publishing models by B2B and B2C companies big and small. In fact, as publishers become more like marketers and marketers become more like publishers, both disciplines have grown. When we look beyond traditional print and news publications to the remarkable expansion of digital media platforms and formats, there’s more innovation and creativity today than ever before. With the rise of YouTube, Vine, and Instagram stars, Amazon, Red Bull, and Coca-Cola original content, the HBO Go/cable decoupling and Vice making moves into nightly news, the craft of storytelling – regardless of who’s creating it – is alive and well.
How publishers are becoming more like marketers is fascinating. The intersection of advertising and publishing, especially “native advertising,” is complicated and interesting, but for now, I’d prefer to focus on marketing content strategies and how marketers are becoming more like publishers. On a quick side note – if you haven’t read it, Jeff Jarvis, an outspoken critic of native advertising, has published his entire book Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News, chapter by chapter on Medium– it’s well-worth the read.
So, as brands seek to respond to expanding customer expectations and radical changes in behavior and media consumption, traditional publishing, honed over centuries and fundamentally built on credibility and trust, makes a lot of sense. Add the fact that content creation – from photography to video to copywriting – has become easier and cheaper and you have the perfect environment for the next phase of brand journalism.
In phase one brands blogged and it was good. We learned a lot about our voice, legal guidelines, what success looks like, and how much effort is required to create good content. We used lightweight publishing platforms like WordPress and we used familiar distribution channels like email and search to drive traffic. Then social and mobile came along and we pushed our posts out to Facebook and Twitter and redesigned onto responsive themes. Coming up with ideas and managing the editorial calendar was relatively straightforward.
But today, marketers face a world where constant change drives new levels of complexity requiring new expertise, tools, and partners seemingly weekly.
Ideas Come From Everywhere
Our access to information and insights continues to explode. Not only do we need to implement and manage systems to aggregate this data, but we need experts who can translate it into actionable insights that drive content creation and distribution strategies. While editors are still essential, an analysis and strategy layer is now required to provide editors with the ideas that have the best chance of resonating with different audiences across different channels.
Additionally, agility is no longer optional. Brands need to build teams and processes that take the best of 24-hour news organizations that are watching for real-time trends and conversations as well as daily, weekly, and even monthly publishing models that are able to investigate and develop stories and series over a variety of timelines.
Where ideas come from:
- Real-time monitoring and trendspotting
- Industry- and competitor-specific insights
- Customer-specific insights
- Story-mining from employees and partners
- Content performance
- New products, services, and solutions
Creative Goes Far Beyond Copywriting
Copywriting has been the foundation of both marketing and publishing for decades. While copywriting remains fundamental, marketing teams now need access to agile and low-cost expertise and tools for creating video, audio, photography, and digital experiences in many different multimedia formats. We need teams that can source and create Vines, podcasts, Instagram photos, websites, and mobile apps for example, for a single idea or across key audience segments. Brand newsrooms must transition to being agnostic to format and channel and be driven by story and key audience insights and behavior. We must now tell stories along the customer journey, understanding the context and value of each touch point. If your focus is driving Millennial women to retail, spending most of your marketing budge on TV doesn’t make sense. But understanding that they check email and Facebook on their phone before getting out of bed in the morning should impact where you reach them and what types of content will resonate.
Distribution Is Exploding
You can’t develop content without consideration of distribution. And as channels and formats multiply, marketers need help understanding how consumers engage in each and what tools are available for driving reach, engagement, and conversion. Marketing teams once included display, search, and email experts, but today, those roles have expanded to include mobile-specific tactics, and new talent has been added to handle multiple social disciplines including customer service, community management, and paid across an increasing set of diverse platforms from Tumblr to Pinterest to Meerkat. Your Facebook advertising toolset and superstar will likely have a lot to learn about advertising on LinkedIn, for example, and neither will be helpful in search or email. Not only do you need expertise in using the latest methods for reaching and engaging key audiences at scale, you also need those experts to help inform your content strategy as they will know best about community expectations, formats, and what works.
How to Succeed
In such a complex and dynamic environment, brands are unable to build in-house teams with enough agility and experience to stay on top of it all. As a result, I believe brands must integrate two essential pillars in to their content strategies – focus and partnerships.
You cannot possibly be the world’s best marketer across every established and emerging channel. Nor can you ignore new opportunities to reach, engage, and convert your key audiences. Marketers therefore require a proven way to mine and vet ideas, guide aggregation and production, and invest in paid, earned, and owned media strategies. While some companies focus on a specific problem or vertical, I believe these tend to be limiting and short-sighted. Did you notice that Domino’s Pizza recently dropped the “Pizza” from its name because it offers much more? I believe that brands that focus on one or two specific buyers both find success quicker and for the long term. It’s cliché but rarely truly obeyed: customer-centric companies are more likely to win.
Digital complexity requires focus and the deeper you understand your key buyers and who they are, how they live, the role of your brand in their lives, and how they consume media, the clearer your content strategy will be. Fight the traditional bias toward scale and inclusion and instead focus on your most important buyers – your buyers are your beat.
The world is changing too fast; only agencies, consultants, and tool vendors can go deep and broad enough on all the nooks and crannies. For larger brands that can afford it, large, ideally independent agencies are best equipped to provide a network of expertise, success stories, and POVs on emerging opportunities. Brands must constantly be looking to partner with the people that understand consumers and technology and are executing programs every day. Go ask your key buyers about their favorite YouTubers and then go speak to Miranda Sings, Bethany Mota, or Jamie Oliver. On every established platform there’s a rich ecosystem of users, influencers, and marketing tools. Once you determine where your key buyers go, then you can find your guides and partners. Thinking you can do it all with internal resources and an AOR is delusional – yes, you need a strong core team but you’ll also need to dedicate resources and dollars to new and innovative collaborations and partnerships.
Traditional publishers know that focus is key to success. For them it’s on specific beats where journalists and their editors build expertise, partnerships with sources and influencers, and an audience over time. The model works because they become trusted resources for news, entertainment, information, and stories that matter to their audience. Marketers must come to realize that they too need to and can develop a deeper, more trusted relationship with their customers using the very same methods.
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