You’re right. Brands have in fact been publishing content for years. So, what’s different now you say?
Simpy put, we’ve hit a new phase. Healthy marketing budgets have returned and brands have finally evolved beyond thinking that their dialogue and interaction with customers has to be constrained to just social media, e-newsletters or customer service calls. They’ve unearthed the fact that keyword analysis, competitive positioning and quick 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. It’s a new world order and brands are racing to nail down the proper approach and model to take their message to the masses…in a smart way.
Don’t get me wrong. Transforming your company from maintaining 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 of the time, money and effort you ask? 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. That being said, best practices are surfacing and I’ve put forth a few here to consider as you think about transforming your own organization.
1. Dare to Be Bold But Be Smart
Go pick up the latest issue of Fast Company and observe how many of the companies profiled are trying something that’s a slight variation or build off of a proven model. Iterating off successful models 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. Go find your niche.
2. Put a Priority on the Experience
Focus heavy on UX from the start. Chances are that you will be pressured to cave on a great brand publishing creative vision for a variety of reasons (ecommerce team insists on marketing team keeps the site on 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, remember, it’s 2013. 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
News flash – brand publishing sites are intended to slate into the “marathon” section of your strategy document. No 5k sprints here. 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. In fact, this should be the case most of the time.
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 (I’ll stop here) – are all at your fingertips. There is a time and place for traditional TV, radio and print advertising, but you will continue to pay a premium. Social advertising on the other hand? Well, it’s certainly not cheap but it’s your best bet for ensuring your content is getting 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 with the assumption that your target audience will haphazardly stumble upon your post? It’s high time to ensure that you’re not just delivering a solid platform and content strategy, but 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 a solid idea around benchmark metrics you are aiming to achieve. 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 5-6 months) to see your strategy through when launching a brand publishing site. It will take at least this long before you start to gain a baseline assessment around trends tied to return visitors, strong content themes, core referral traffic drivers, SEO traction and organic search resonance among other metrics.
Bonus: Structure for Success
Tacking on to the point above, our marketing world is continually changing at a dramatic pace. You need to react now and adjust in the form of ensuring that you’re building the right team of agile content creators. Brand publishing sites are scalable but the fact of the matter is that you’re running the equivalent of a news or online magazine operation. A model like this requires some serious staffing (managing editor, associate managing editor, copy editor, writers, art director, production coordinator, paid coordinator, analytics lead) and it can be a lift. 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.
Most of all – have fun. This is one of the most interesting and exciting times in my career 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 with the ability to connect directly with with their audience. Onwards!
Image courtesy of mediamolecule.