Let’s be honest. Brands have been strategically publishing content and using blogs as core tactical marketing tools for quite a few years now. So, what exactly has changed as “brand publishing” models have come to dominate the focus of digital marketers in the past couple years? Like any good marketing strategy, the proof points have arrived. Brands now recognize the critical role a smart publishing operation can fulfill in helping:
- Deliver key messages and desired storylines direct to a target audience
- Drive brand awareness and transform suspects into prospects within a sales cycle
- Increase organic search traffic to a brand’s domain
- Prompt story ideas for journalists to fuel media relations efforts
- Engage influencers
- Fuel paid content syndication outlets
- Acquire actionable real-time insights from content engagement
But, it has to be done right. So, how do brand publishing models fail? Let’s take a look at six trigger areas where issues are most likely to arise:
1. Audience Mapping
Marketers have a horrible tendency to make assumptions about target audiences. While building target personas is a logical first step, it’s essential to verify inclinations with proper research. These days, brands can take advantage of real-time insights mined across social channels as well as gather insights internally (sales, customer service, marketing, comms, etc.) and externally (customer surveys, focus groups, etc.) to help sharpen your personas. This groundwork is necessary to help ensure that your brand publishing strategy maps back to the right target audience(s). Not to mention that the game is changing quickly for how marketers tackle this step.
2. Editorial Approach and Operations
So, you have executive excitement to launch a brand publishing effort. Now what? How does a publishing effort fit into your brand’s existing marketing mix? What exactly is your site’s mission? What will be your editorial focus and how “owned” are those spaces? Are your competitors doing something similar or is this area already being heavily covered within your industry? Find your niche.
Likewise, what are the staff and resourcing implications of launching? Highly effective brand newsrooms and brand positioning sites are creating high volume publish models required to make a dent in the cluttered world of content in which we exist. Similar to what is required to run a newsroom, is your company or organization properly staffed with the following?
- Managing Editor
- Sr. Copy Editor
- Contributing Writers
- Paid Syndication Coordinator
- Community Manager
- Graphic Designer / Photographers
- Video Producer / Editor
Many big brands still maintain very segmented internal departments. As a result, brands have struggled to adapt quickly to the changing times in terms of roles and personnel realignment or new hires to launch and sustain brand publishing operations from within. Having the right skills and deep experience is absolutely necessary to ensure success.
3. Platform Design
It’s 2013. Most of us know good design and a great user experience when we encounter it online. We don’t give brands a second chance if the experience in their content delivery is slow, cluttered or provides less than stellar information. Time is our most valuable resource and the onus is on brands to ensure that they are meeting audience expectations.
“Build it and they will come” is a bad, bad strategy for brand publishing. It’s too easy to think that the platform will lead and guide the strategy. Wrong. Start with your audience mapping and defined approach to editorial and ongoing operations. Then bring the platform design and experience into the picture. Furthermore, start with your project manager, UX designer and developer in the room from the beginning with your proper working group leads across marketing, PR, sales, e-commerce, IT, legal, etc. This will not be easy but in the end, you’ll save time clearing up security, tech/functionality issues and aligning all key leads with the purpose and intent of your brand publishing model.
4. Production Coordination
Advanced brand publishers often take an approach of looking at content streams across proactive, reactive and evergreen content. This requires a high degree of coordination with your writers, photographers, graphic designers and video production team to ensure that high quality visual and multimedia assets are developed and approved in a timely manner. If you don’t have detailed coordination and process in place with the folks that need to churn out great creative content, you’re dead in the water for driving any type of proactive editorial calendar.
5. Paid Syndication
Your content will struggle immensely without the support of paid syndication. From content discovery outlets (Outbrain/Taboola, ShareThrough, etc.) to social advertising (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) to SEM, content partnerships with media outlets and beyond, opportunities continue to expand that enable highly targeted positioning of your content in front of your target audience.
The biggest struggle on this front for brands today? Fighting for those precious ad dollars and justifying the value of reapplying those dollars away from traditional brand awareness advertising. The good news? Engagement tactics such as paid content advertising can help fuel a sales funnel as well as provide real-time insights. Clicks equal user action, tracking and audience optimization. It should be an easy sell.
6. Analytics Tracking
Listed last here, analytics are the critical feedback hinge in a brand publishing model that fuels insights and enables brands to optimize and adjust an editorial approach over time. More content = more data = more insights to improve delivery of high value content that resonates with your audience’s values and interests.
The big takeaway? It’s easy for brands to want to “dip a toe” and attempt to prove a brand publishing model before committing to a sustained operation. Unfortunately, brands often underestimate the proper time and resources required to efficiently launch a brand publishing effort. Take note of the areas above and plan properly from the beginning as you’ll inevitably come across each of these challenges at one point or another.