You’re right. Brands have been publishing content for years. But we’ve definitely hit a new phase.
Healthy marketing budgets have returned, and brands have finally evolved beyond thinking that their interaction with customers has to be limited to social media, e-newsletters or customer service calls. They’ve realized that keyword analysis, competitive positioning and content insights are a quick click away.
Google has turned a new corner and has their eyes set on elevating all-star brands that are publishing and spreading great content. Newsrooms have shrunk, journalists are porting over to PR agencies and media outlets are recognizing that brands have the ability and budgets to do some darn good storytelling.
Brand publishing may be bigger — and smarter — than ever, but transforming a loose blog into a true brand publishing model is no small feat. It’s a significant shift in brand storytelling, market strategy, budget allocation and staffing. Is it worth all the time, money and effort?
Yes. A million times over. But it won’t come easy, and we’re still in the early days of seeing brands run on truly advanced publishing models.
Within these early says, best practices are surfacing, and I’ve put forth a few here for you to consider as you think about transforming your own organization.
1. Dare to Be Bold But Be Smart
Pick up the latest issue of Fast Company and see how many stories are about companies trying a slight variation or twist on a proven model. Do that yourself by finding your niche in the marketplace. For every successful product positioning or approach, there is an array of alternate models that can succeed if approached with the right lens. Find your niche.
2. Put a Priority on the Experience
Obsess over UX from the start. Chances are you’ll be pressured to cave on a great creative vision for a variety of reasons (ecommerce team insists on keeping the site on flagship domain, concerns over conflicting SEO focus, another site to maintain, etc.). Unless you’re Red Bull, Pepsi or a handful of other brands that have centralized brand storytelling, there is likely still an uphill battle to be fought around corporate site priorities.
But this is the social-media-infused internet. Unless you deliver a superb user experience and deliver content in a clean, highly visual format that tees up quick social sharing, you risk becoming another buried, uninteresting blog. Get inspired and deliver an experience your readers will want to interact with repeatedly.
3. Focus Your Content Strategy for the Long Haul
Brand publishing is no 5k sprints. These sites belong in the “marathon” section of your strategy.
As with any strong content marketing strategy, you’re working to build the base for a long-term audience relationship. This will be a challenge to sell in.
It’s hard for many brands to be comfortable with the fact that not every content piece or audience interaction is about the brand itself, but instead focused on the interests, passions and values of your target audience. But that’s the name of the new brand publishing game.
4. Syndicate or Sink
If this is the first time you’re ever reading about “paid syndication” or “social advertising,” you’ve got some catching up to do. Vendors such as Outbrain, Taboola, Sharethrough, Adaptly and more are all at your fingertips.
There is a time and place for traditional TV, radio and print advertising, all of which come at a premium price. Social advertising certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s your best bet for ensuring your content is positioned in front of the right audience, in the right channel, at the right time. Why invest all those dollars on planning and producing great content to then leave it out on the web just hoping your target audience will stumble across it? It’s high time to ensure that you’re not just delivering a solid platform and content strategy but also allocating proper budget to get your content in front of your audience.
5. Keep on Tracking
Memorize that process.
From audience mapping and discovery research in your site build process, you should have solid benchmark metrics defining your goals. The day you start publishing, you’ll be able to track deep on Google Analytics (or your tracking tool of choice) to watch user interactions and assess what content is resonating best with your readers. Layer on targeted social advertising, and your ability to test, optimize and adjust content becomes even more effective.
Fair warning: Don’t allow analytics to dominate or deter your vision. Commit yourself to a set period (at least five to six months) to see your strategy through when launching a brand publishing site. It will take at least this long before your data gives you insights — about strong content themes, core referral traffic drivers, SEO traction, organic search resonance — you can trust and act on.
Bonus: Structure for Success
Tacking on to the point above, our marketing world is only going to keep changing. You need to plan for change by building the right team of agile content creators.
Even a small brand publishing site operates like a news or online magazine operation. This requires some serious staffing — managing editor, associate managing editor, copy editor, writers, art director, production coordinator, paid coordinator, analytics lead, etc. Don’t shortchange yourself on thinking just one or two members of your team can run the full deal effectively. Staff properly from the start to set yourself up for success.
And at the end of all – have fun. This is one of the most interesting and exciting times in our careers as marketers, and a lot of that stems from helping brands bring to a life a vision that they’ve had for quite some time: to finally become media outlets themselves, telling their stories on their terms and connecting directly with their audience.
Image courtesy of Keith Williamson