We’ve been hearing statements about brands becoming publishers for several years. And it’s true: Many brands have taken on behaviors and practices that traditionally fall within the domain of publishing—but I’m more than a little concerned about just how low the bar has been set.
As someone who spent the better part of the past two decades with Time Inc. and who now helps brands get more from their content strategies, I can tell you that most brands are, in my observation, only about one-third of the way through their journeys to publishing proficiency.
Consider this: Successful, world-class publishers do many things well, but they do three critical things extremely well:
- Create outstanding content
- Develop engaged, valuable audiences
- Monetize their properties
While many brands have thrown their hats into the publishing ring, most of the emphasis so far has been on that first step—simply creating content. For brands to truly emulate world-class publishers, they’ll have to more fully develop some new media muscles that up to this point have been more or less overlooked.
Here is a closer look at what media-minded brands should be taking note of and planning for.
Creating Great Content
Many brands have mastered the art of creating engaging content. While some have merely honed their abilities to craft grabby headlines and accelerate the “listiclization” of the Web, others have taken a more thoughtful approach. The best of the bunch deliver value to that person on the other side of the screen—you know, the consumer. We’ve seen brands and their partners tapping into their institutional knowledge, ginning up editorial calendars, and reorganizing their marketing operations for brand storytelling. Several firms have kick-started “brand newsrooms” to keep their content creation efforts operating in real time and with pitch-perfect cultural relevance.
But for most content-conscious brands, producing the content is where the role of publisher starts and finishes. Not so for world-class publishers.
Developing Your Audience
Many brands are becoming increasingly aware of the need to distribute their content at scale and build meaningful audiences. This means expanding beyond an increasingly competitive SEO landscape and hope-it-goes-viral social promotion tactics.
For successful publishers, the practice of audience development involves all manner of marketing the property, promoting content, and acquiring the right users, readers, or viewers.
It’s also important to recognize that a one-and-done approach to audience building will get you only so far; brand storytelling is part of a long-term relationship, so it’s critical to get your audience to return and engage multiple times.
How do you know if you’re doing a good job? While size matters, engagement matters more. Don’t just measure impressions or visits; track the signals that show how deeply consumers are getting involved with your brand and content. In addition to basic audience-sizing measures, metrics such as repeat visit rate, scroll rate and multipage visits are good places to start understanding whether you’re getting in front of the right folks.
Monetizing Your Properties
Great publishers have sophisticated models for turning traffic into dollars. In some cases, certain online publishers have even made it a practice of predicting and measuring lifetime revenue of content right down to the title before they even create it. Some publishers monetize traffic directly via advertising or paid subscriptions. Others offer custom publishing or integrated sponsorship solutions. Regardless of their specific strategies, the best publishers unwaveringly strive to align content, channels, and revenue opportunities.
So what does monetization mean for brands for which content isn’t the actual product? It means using content as a mechanism to drive measurable business outcomes. For example, a food brand may have a vast recipe site as the centerpiece of its content marketing strategy. While clicks are great, product consideration or preference is better. As brand managers know, moving the needle on critical brand metrics is what moves products off shelves. For that reason, I would argue that measuring brand-level business results like the ones mentioned above are the brand equivalent to publisher monetization metrics.
In the end, brands know that acting like publishers can potentially provide a fast track to engagement and loyalty, which is an exciting opportunity—the audience is wide and the channels are many. But it takes more than just publishing content. By focusing on targeted audience development and optimizing for business outcomes, brands can start to make their content marketing efforts pay the freight.
When content marketing starts to take on more of the practices and characteristics embodied by the world’s most successful publishers, we’ll see brands really starting to reap the true business potential of content marketing.