So, after all these years, content marketing is pretty much mainstream. And the pattern of a successful content strategy is by now, well established.
Fill your website with interesting, relevant blogs, the argument runs, become a resource for your audience, back up with eBooks and the occasional piece of video, then tend your patch. Your market standing, influence and sales will grow as result.
Except the argument has moved on.
Now, there’s a new orthodoxy. Brands, we’re told, need to think like media publishers.
Which sounds pretty daunting.
But what does it really mean and what will it entail?
A new opportunity
More than anything it means opportunity. An opportunity to use lessons from across the media industry to eliminate wasted marketing effort and revitalise your approach to inbound.
The mantra of ‘content is king’ has been so often repeated its execution has become formulaic and frozen in time, undifferentiated and ineffective.
The world is just awash with ‘content, after all. Most brands are blogging in one form or another and using SEO tools to drive traffic to their website.
They may even produce spectacular pieces of multi-media content from time to time. But their approach is still being informed by a campaign mentality, supporting particular marketing pushes, rather than a commitment to building long term, authentic, audience relationships.
You might be producing a thousand-word blog every week, but is anyone actually reading it? Your website is primed for search, but how does it further or deepen your conversation with the parts of your audience that really matter?
The message is, brands can’t simply be assemblers or curators of content anymore. They should constantly seek to generate dynamic and unique content of their own in a range of formats that speak more directly to their specific audiences.
Leading with stories
Above all, the media publishing approach is an opportunity to create an ongoing, narrative about your business, your clients and their industry using a range of creative, journalistic and story-telling techniques.
Which may also sound pretty daunting.
And for some brands it might even seem an impossible task. Not least because their sector doesn’t seem to be a sparkling wellspring of material. How much sexy, relevant content can a B2B SaaS solution actually generate, anyway?
But the good news is that some brands have been thinking this way for a while. And what they’ve been learning can be applied to every organisation that is thinking about the kind of content they produce and what they do with it.
Five ways to think like a media publisher
1. Assemble the right team with the right skills
If brands are setting themselves up as media publishers, they need to assemble the teams that approach their content creation with the same dedication and thoroughness that independent business reporters might.
In some cases this has meant setting up ‘Brand Newsrooms’, creating editorial teams, pitching stories, ensuring you secure the right interviews with the right people to tell the right stories.
But you also need different kinds of creative professionals in the mix, too, such as film-makers, animators and podcasters, as well as digital marketing and SEO experts.
One brand who have pioneered this approach with their inbound strategy is the Intel team who launched iQ, the company’s online ‘tech culture magazine’. This digital offering was intended to connect with Intel’s business audience using diverse content in a deep and abiding way. They approached their audience as individuals with shared interests and passions rather than sales targets. And they commissioned rich, tech-themed articles to build influence in the long term.
2. Take lessons from the news media
Mobile and tablet technology have shifted the way we all consume information. As a result, in the news media, text-heavy articles have given way to digital storytelling media formats.
The New York Times responded to this challenge by diversifying their output to reflect new patterns of consumption. Their strategy was to cater to the needs of a fragmented and time poor audience with a growing range of content options including long form, short form, blogs, vlogs and podcasts.
B2B marketers should be responding in the same way. A gated 40 page eBook may not always be the most appropriate offering for people who live on their small screen devices.
3. Address and retain unique audiences
There’s nothing wrong with niche. Once, brands wanted eyeballs more than anything else. Now, they want the right eyeballs to come back time and time again. They want their audience to follow and engage with their stories in the same way as they might a news site or favourite media brand.
But just because an audience is niche doesn’t mean they don’t want and need the same creative attention that a larger audience would. With the right treatment, even the most complex subjects can become extraordinary and compelling content.
Think of the world’s smallest movie created by IBM - a short film literally ‘starring’ atoms, This piece was designed to bring the advances in atomic manipulation technology to life:
There are stories everywhere that can chime with specific audiences in new and unexpected ways. You just need the right blend of expert and creative talent to tell them.
4. Own your relationships
A brand publishing approach is about understanding and owning the relationship with your audience to drive their engagement time and time again. The Intel team were clear that one of their objectives would be to capture email subscriptions to their online magazine. They wanted to use social media to push messages and pull visitors to their site, yet not let social dictate the terms of these relationships.
As Luke Kintigh, Head of Publishing at Intel says:
“[When] Mark Zuckerberg is your landlord, he will change your rental agreement when he wants, and you can’t do much about it.”
Intel wanted their site to be a destination in its own right.
But brands can only achieve this, if the quality is there and consistent over time.
To drive this kind of engagement the content you create should be unique to you; something that no other brand could produce.
It must be imaginative, diverse and part of an ongoing, overarching narrative about your sector and your audience.
5. Turn the page
And there are more lessons from media publishers here. Great content is episodic, not finite. Serialise your content. Focus on creating value through repeat visits. End with cliff-hangers, tease with the promise of more and breaking stories to come. And then deliver on those promises.