Contently: Not Content Marketing, but Brand Publishing

Really like this write up from Contently’s Sam Slaughter (@samslaughter215) at Adweek. Focused on the distinction between content marketing and brand publishing. 

When brands make the decision to use content (and really, social media’s already made that decision for them), they need to forget about being marketers and worry about being publishers.

But this is harder than it should be for brands because of this: 

Like publishers, brands need to make sure that each piece of content—Facebook update, tweet, sponsored story, Pinterest board and microsite—is valuable to their customers, and maps back to a greater narrative.

Ads and ad messages aren’t all that valuable in the day to day life of anyone. And, most brands have no clue what a “greater narrative” means when they’re just focused on selling soap or widgets right now. 


Brands *Should* Be Publishers

With so much discussion about “content marketing“, brands are learning that they need to think and act like publishers if they want to thrive in social media. But, while brands may aspire to be like RedBull (the most well know example of Brand as publisher), there are still some real questions about whether most brands will actually be able to do it. My answer is a definitive “yes”, brands can do it. More to the point, i think the best brands *have* to adopt the mindset of publishers to win in a socially connected consumer landscape. But, brands will have to get over philosophical, business and operational barriers if they want to do what great publishers do.

At the most basic, great publishers do the following:

  • Make useful stuff: Publishers deliver useful – interesting, helpful, inspiring, entertaining – material to people who can use it. Whether it’s a magazine or a radio show, a TV network or a website, the exchange between publisher and end user has to be based on a certain level of utility
  • Build an Audience: Publishers build a reachable audience – consistent, identifiable, unique, engaged – over time around that material.

Seems pretty straightforward. Why would this be hard for brands? First, most brands today don’t have the basic service orientation. It’s just a philosophical disconnect. Brands are inherently interruptive and self-centered (“Buy me!”). They are all about using annoying TV ads and banners to deliver their own message in order to drive short term results for themselves. In order to make the transition, and build an audience that cares, brands will have to adopt “service first, message later” as a core philosophy.

Great publishers see their audience as a core asset that can be translated into revenue opportunities. An active, engaged audience that’s growing takes investment, time, and careful support. That long-term business perspective runs counter to the short term urgency most companies bring to their brand building. Brands typically see advertising media as a painful expense to minimize in the short term. To fully adopt a publisher mindset, brands will need to embrace a long-term business orientation, and see the investment in audience building as a modern way to create a valuable business asset.

Operationally, the vast majority of brands will struggle with the content production process. But, it’s going to be even more important for brands to develop a consistent and unique editorial lens. Great publishing ventures need great editors, someone who can discern what’s great for the audience and pushes the editorial agenda. Brands will struggle with any message that isn’t pushing their campaign message or product features. When faced with a decision about whether to invest scarce resources into an article that’s useful vs. one that delivers their campaign message, 99% of marketers will go with the one that “sells” more. To truly deliver on “brand as publisher”, brands will have to put their audience needs before their own.

Brands can overcome these challenges and the potential upside is significant for those willing to work at it.   But what happens to brands that don’t adapt? They won’t evolve their spending mix and will remain reliant on paid adverting too long. They won’t adapt their brand, and instead of connecting with people on a higher emotional or aspirational level, they’ll simply blast out their features and benefits, losing relevance :15 at a time. They’ll miss the chance to build assets, and keep throwing money at ads. While it may require brands to work against their long grooved instincts, those that commit will end up with a built in audience, content that drives interaction and, eventually, a valuable marketing asset.

Constant Content: An Agency Business Development Opportunity

(note: this is an incomplete post. Theres lots more to explore here, so i'll need to come back to this one)

Most brands that are heavily active in social media have already discovered just how important content is to their marketing. More and more, brands need to act like publishers in order to keep their fans/followers and close community active and thriving as well as to keep their marketers learning. this flow of "constant content" can be significant burden for marketers, but if done well, the "constant content" can also be an amazing source of insights and ideas (i'll cover that in another post sometime)Note: i'm not going to wade into the discussion of "content marketing", which seems like a neologism for "marketing" and a phrase that seems highly correlated to SEO guys and social media "experts".

But, how do marketers make that shift? For many of the larger CPG companies, the demand for constant content is especially hard, as their whole organizations are designed for maximum efficiency, and social media publishing runs completely counter to efficiency. Just as importantly, most larger CPG's are highly leveraged, staff-wise, relying heavily on their agencies partners. And, guess what: This is another job traditional agencies are not ready for.

Ambitious agencies will build content studios as separate businesses to help their clients ease into the publishing stream. They'll design around user stories like these:

  • Client needs a 100 word blog post from the ad shoot. Needs it to cost less than 200 dollars.
  • Client is very happy with the content project they completed for 10K, where we delivered 4 1 minute videos and supporting blog, twitter, and facebook posts over the course of 2 months.

They'll focus on solving a significant executional problem with superb efficiency and, at the same time, bringing the best creative makers to the projects. That operational double-play is what clients will pay for.

Here's how to do it.

  1. Set it up as a separate P&L. The cost structures, the salaries, the working model are going to be completely different than your standard business. For instance, large agencies can't show up to a meeting for less than $5K. In a content studio model, you should be able to deliver 3 or 4 projects for that. 
  2. Hire lean. You probably only need a couple people, not a full staff of creators. With so many ad-hoc project creators out there, you can work with freelancers for almost everything you need. 
  3. Hire two key roles: A project manager and a talent coordinator. The project manager works with the clients (or your normal account people) to define the projects and deliverables. The talent coordinator works her network of writers, bloggers, photographers, video experts, makers etc to find the right people for the job. Then, both work together to package up the cost & timeline for the clients. 
  4. Focus on fast turn, low complexity projects with "good enough" output – Not every post is going to be gold. Not every video should aspire to win awards. Sometimes, brands just need good content to flow out: Blog posts, social media content (twitter updates, facebook posts, curated experiences, etc.).
  5. Avoid the urge for to go for the "Big Idea" – Keep it super simple. Work through the deliverables fast. Focus your "big idea" efforts on the main part of your business, not the content studio. The studio is all about executions, not huge ideas. 
  6.  Charge for the deliverables, but not too much – Avoid the urge to charge regular agency production costs for this content. These aren't ads and they are not "broadcast quality" so to speak. It shouldn't take as long to create, it shouldn't require as much polish. 
  7. Work with the best talent you can possibly find, especially the ones that don't work in your office – Avoid the urge to utilize the extra capacity of your production bench. Seriously. Go find the exciting, cool makers out there, the designer in Montivideo who has awesome skills, the videographer in Copenhagen that did that cool short you like so much. your client will be happier, you'll have more fun, and your network will expand. If you have your junior production artist do the work, your client will be pissed that a) you haven't searched for someone new and b) that person isn't working on your other project and c) that you're double charging them. 
  8. Avoid the term "Content Strategy" – Amitious agencies have presumably helped the client figure out who they are, what they believe in, what they make, and how they want to communicate that. So, the content should fall right out of those other strategies. 

There are a number of agencies already pursuing this model, and some are completely organized around it already. Should be interesting to see how innovation flowers here. 

Any examples of companies or agencies doing this especially well?