Scared to Take the Leap Into Brand Publishing? Don’t Be.

A Brief History Lesson in Publishing

Cast your mind back to 1702. Queen Anne was on the throne. The population was rapidly expanding. And Samuel Buckley established the Daily Courant – the first daily newspaper – on the grimy streets of London. It restricted itself to news and facts (without opinion) and thus avoided political interference. It raised revenue by selling advertising space in its columns.

Lured by the prospect of making money and enjoying regular work, many great journalists such as Daniel Defoe, Richard Steele, and Joseph Addison started writing for newspapers.  Their material was popular, informative and entertaining and was met with an insatiable demand.

The Spectator was founded in 1711 by Steele and Addison and was the first publication of its time to replace news with views. The Spectator had an impact that far outlived its times by aiming to enliven morality with wit and temper it with mortality.

Newspapers and magazines of the 18th century relied heavily on advertisers, but relations between advertisers, publishers and journalists were most certainly frosty throughout this time. For example, many British publishers refused to allow advertisers to use large fonts. Indeed, some looked down on advertising altogether.

Fast-forward a few hundred years to 2005 and print ad revenue was at its peak. In the US, the nation’s newspapers bought in a record $49 billion. Newspapers and other forms of print media were definitely in charge – the metaphoric cruise ships controlling the waters.

Newspapers had transformed into portals for brands wanting to drive readers to their products and services. Alas, brands were limited to sharing their messages via 17X9 ad spaces nestled amongst the stories people actually wanted to read, written by the real journalists.

By 2013 ad revenue dropped to around $13 billion. Something amazing had happened. The world changed. Brands woke up to the power of the Internet and took control of their destiny. Brands became publishers.

Internet Killed the Print Ad Star

It’s no accident that the decline in ad revenue correlates directly with the decline in newspaper and magazine circulations. An ever-increasing number of people are spending an ever-increasing amount of time online, and this means the way we search for information and interact with content and brands has changed forever.

Most of us begin our digital journey with a question, which is essentially a request for more information. We trust the people we know the best and, therefore, if the answer to the question we’ve asked happens to be provided by a brand we’ve been familiar with for several years, then we’re likely to listen to it… and buy from it.

These ‘questions’ could be answered in a number of ways, maybe in an interesting feature article, an interactive map or a YouTube video. And if our peers have also asked the same question and liked, consumed and shared the ‘answer’ then the chances are we’ll like it even more.

In fact, 84 percent of us trust and take action based on recommendations from friends and family. This won’t happen with an in-your-face brand advert. The days of the hard sell are over, which means in order to win with digital, brands have had to find new ways of doing things.

New environment, new method

As Catherine Tool from Sticky Content states in her fascinating Curve post, brands must move from interruption to persuasion. Brands must treat their customers with respect in order to get their attention.

Entrepreneur, writer and marketing wizard, Seth Godin calls this ‘permission marketing’ and states a brand’s marketing must be:

  • Anticipated – they know it’s coming and it’s welcomed
  • Personal – speaks directly to them and anticipates their wants and needs
  • Relevant – timely and suited to the consumer

Remember those cruise ships? Well, consumers are the captains now and if brands want a ticket to sail they must ride the new waves of play.

But while there are some brands that are thriving as publishers – Johnson & Johnson and Whole Foods Market to name just two – there are huge numbers of brands struggling to stay afloat.

Finding the time and skills in-house to pull together comprehensive content strategies that maximize digital opportunities and consistently produce enough relevant content to satisfy our insatiable demands is tricky, to say the least. However, do it right and the rewards can be huge.

Leveling the playing field

Unlike print ads where your success was determined by the size of your pockets, the Internet has created a level playing field. According to findings by the Content Marketing Institute, small businesses are leading the way when it comes to digital content success.

In an interview with New Rise Digital, CMI founder Joe Pulizzi states:

“It’s very similar to thinking and acting like a publisher, and could take the form of blog posts, e-newsletters, print magazines, social media content, in-person events and more, but unlike a publisher, instead of generating revenue through paid content or advertising, we drive new sales, cost savings or keep our customers happier in some way.”

And for those worried about getting started, content doesn’t need to be complicated. Remember, it’s all about answering those questions people are asking. Assuming you remember to produce content for the consumer, not for the search engine, any content you produce will be better than not producing any at all.

In fact, B2B companies that blog once or twice a month generate 70 percent more leads than those who don’t blog at all.

What does “good” content marketing look like?

Content marketing may feel like a bit of an industry buzzword, reserved for agencies or companies with a dedicated digital marketing department. However, according to Copyblogger, content marketing is simply the act of “creating and sharing valuable, free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers.”

Content marketing is the act of educating people so that they know, like and trust a brand enough to do business with the company. For content to be effective, it must be:

Findable – Your beautifully crafted content is worthless unless you shout about it.
If you’re hosting it on site, then make sure it’s promoted via a link on the homepage, or you share a link directly to the content off-site – either via your social channels, email newsletter or article sharing/link building.

Shareable – Make it easy for others to like and share the content you produce. Include social sharing buttons and sense-check the content to make sure it’s something people will want to share. Always ask yourself: Would I want to share this?

Usable – People love information they can use and apply in the real world, and if you’re helping them do something, better, quicker or faster, then they’re going to love you for it.

Memorable – What did you have for dinner last Tuesday? What were you wearing this time last month? It’s difficult to remember, isn’t it? However, if I were to ask you about your best ever restaurant meal, or what you wore to your best friend’s wedding, the odds are high that you will remember these facts, and that’s because they’re part of a bigger story.

Really great content is content readers will remember for a long time to come. The Red Bull Stratos event and Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign are both examples that demonstrate the need to make your content stand out. Memorable content is one (or all) of the following:

  • Meaningful
  • Humorous
  • Shocking
  • Different
  • Inspiring
  • Tells a story

Reportable – How do you know whether your content is hitting the mark, unless you’ve decided what you want to achieve in the first place? Measuring the success of your content marketing against your primary objective is key and will help you learn, improve and iterate as you go.

What does a “good” content strategy look like?

As all good marketers and advertisers know, you’re only as good as your last idea – and when you’re the publisher, being able to dream up ground-breaking, newsworthy and engaging ideas to capture your target audience’s attention is challenging. How do you know if the ideas are right and how do you tie these ideas into the bigger brand picture?

Charles Eames had the right idea when he said:

“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality.”

Uncovering those connections is what will help turn your brand story into something your customers think is worth reading and help you to succeed as a brand publisher – this is called a content strategy.

Ideation & Personas

At Zazzle Media, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time creating an ideation process that we follow religiously when creating content strategies. The process ensures we cover every possible content opportunity, leaving no creative stone unturned.

The first part of your journey as a publisher should center heavily on identifying customer personas – the three or four hypothetical people who represent the bulk of your key customers – and adding as much detail as possible to these profiles to add colour, depth and meaning to your perception of what they want to see in your content. This is a trick print publishers have been practicing for years; after all, how did they know what content to produce unless they knew who to produce it for?

However, unlike publishers of old who had to rely on focus groups, reader meet-ups, written surveys and a good dose of guesswork to figure out who their readers were and what they wanted, digital brand publishers can be much more targeted.

The following tools and methods can help you uncover a wealth of information that can be leveraged in creating personas:

Social Research

Simply put, Facebook Graph Search is your big opportunity to find out what your Facebook fans are interested in, which will, in turn, help you add detail to your personas.

Creating interesting content related to other topics your customers are interested in is a winning formula. For example, if you run a dog shelter and discover a large percentage of your Facebook audience are also interested walking, a piece of content about amazing dog walks in the UK will be relevant and interesting to at least one of your personas.

Google Analytics

Google analytics is the voice of your customer and has the power to tell you about their habits, likes, and dislikes in just a few clicks.

Bounce rate is the best indicator of whether the on-page content is ‘sticky’ enough, and comparing this to the most commonly asked questions through your search bar should help you decide whether your content is pitched at the right level, providing the right answers, and sitting in the right place.

If you’re getting a lot of ‘basic’ questions through your site, but your content is aimed at professionals, you might want to consider introducing a persona at the lower end of the knowledge scale, and creating bespoke content just for him.

Keyword Planner

This is one of the best tools for discovering the long tail questions your customers and potential customers are asking. Spending a couple of hours sifting through the Keyword Planner might open up content opportunities you have never before considered.

Editorial Calendar

Once you’ve created your personas and pulled together a long list of exciting content ideas that are relevant, interesting and engaging, you need to assemble them into some kind of workable order. For this, you need to employ another print publisher trick and create an editorial calendar.

Planning ahead with the use of a content calendar will help you keep on track with content production and ensure your content flows – a method used religiously by traditional print publishers worldwide.

Incorporate Images & Video

For those who want to really cut through the digital noise, they must realize that visual content has a huge role to play in the future of marketing. With our attention span now at around eight seconds (less than a goldfish), using images to quickly and effectively convey important information makes content more engaging, persuasive and accessible.

In fact, as this infographic shows us, people can recall 80 percent of information given to them as images, as opposed to 20 percent of information given as text alone.

This opens up a whole new world of content opportunities, such as:

  • Videos
  • Interactive Infographics
  • Presentations
  • Animations

Marketing to generation Z will require brand publishers to move away from the written word alone, and share their message in a more visually engaging way.

This is evidenced by the rise of the new celebrity vloggers and bloggers, with nearly a quarter of all 18-24-year-olds religiously following at least one vlogger, according to Marketing Week. However – as the parent of a 14-year-old daughter already obsessed with Zoella, Alfie Deyes, and Tanya Burr – I predict this number to rise sharply over the next few years.

Vlogging and blogging are changing the future of advertising and publishing yet again, and young consumers are likely to respond and engage with one of these new breed celebrities than TV or movie stars of the past. According to this Guardian article, a high profile video blogger can expect to earn up to £4K for mentioning a specific product.

Much like those early ground-breaking journalists of the 18th century, brands must now find new and innovative ways to grab our attention and entertain us – tempering wit with brand messaging, and brand messaging with wit.

It’s survival of the wittiest.