Marketers can learn a lot from publishers and how they use content to tell great stories that engage their readers.
By Jomar Reyes
So if we take that concept as gospel, the next question is what does a brand or product need to tell a great story? Let’s look at it from the beginning…
What is content? In this context, content is information created by a person or organization that is distributed to a wider public audience. More than ever, content is a powerful marketing and communications tool, as the Internet is the new broadcast platform available to virtually everyone. Great content tells a great story, and whether you’re selling tennis shoes, machine parts or accounting services, every brand has a story.
How we all consume our media has changed. There are fundamental changes to not only how audiences consume content, but in how we connect with each other and share information. Mobile devices and social networks make our conversations online, instantaneous and public. For brand marketers, this is a new age where the game has changed, and content has a more powerful reign as king.
Because of this unprecedented interconnectivity and access, brands are finding new ways to communicate and influence their target market. Brands are becoming the publishers of content, telling stories to engage new audiences while enabling customers to tell stories of their own. But how does this create better customers?
Engage an audience, not just customers
Customers are the consumers of a brand’s products and services, so they are already active users. But your audience goes beyond just the customer; it is the seeding ground for tomorrow’s customer. While traditional mainstream advertising still has massive reach, the engagement is shallow. The audience will switch off from the message as quickly as they switched on. Brand publications have the ability to reach and attract that broader group beyond the customer base – to truly find an audience.
Keeping them engaged with your content keeps them exposed to your promotions and advertising. Keeping your advertisement in context is the key to delivering your brand message or call to action.
However, it’s important to remember that today’s audience is more sophisticated and better informed than yesterday’s audience. Today’s audience hates being ‘sold to’ or hearing a pitch – in other words, being ‘told’ to buy. Whether print or digital, publications are designed to attract an audience with strong content, and brands should keep that content free of advertising and promotional messages. This doesn’t mean that a publication can’t discuss products of services, but advertising and advertorials should always be clearly marked.
Social Media: Your customers have an audience
We are all so plugged in to the Internet that it’s just like water from the tap. It continues to morph as it reaches our smart phones, tablets (iPad and the plethora of similar devices hitting the market) and into the depths of our social lives. Because of this, your audience also has an audience. Word of mouth now literally travels at the speed of light, carrying millions of voices along with it. But what’s the message? What is the story these customers are retelling?
Incorporating these communities into a strong brand publication validates not only their experience, but guides the message being told and re-told. Even in print publications, it’s important to remember that you are engaging an audience, and that audience has a voice.
Become the publisher
As the brand becomes the publisher it also becomes it’s own news service, delivering not come-ons, but insights, articles and commentary on the market and industry it serves. It becomes not just a supplier, but a recognized authority and a platform to engage audiences and customers.
The methods of reaching an audience, informing and inspiring them through content, are myriad. The Internet is extremely efficient in publishing and distributing articles, blogs, video and podcasts, but classic mediums should not be forgotten. These include things like print (magazines, newsletters and whitepapers), and events (seminars, conferences and workshops) where published material is also relevant.
Remember that even in this digitally-driven world, “traditional” is not necessarily a bad word.
Communicating value and experience, not just features and price
Many department stores now have their own magazine. Often they no longer produce a catalog or brochure – those details are easily accessed on their websites – but they create a publication that has the look and feel of a magazine you would purchase from a newsstand. The department store is going beyond standard print-based marketing, producing magazines that tell us stories about lifestyle. Marketing the “experience of new products,” not their features and pricing, is a powerful way to engage customers, and it is the kind of storytelling in which publications excel.
The right ingredients
Telling your brand’s story is like developing and refining a recipe. Getting the right mix of ingredients can be trial and error, especially if you are creating your own recipe. We have all these new mediums – the Internet and increasingly ubiquitous devices from which to access it – but also the time-tested formats with which to experiment. The department store is an example of how a traditional business can now use traditional media (magazines) in a way that was previously not relevant. Their recipe for great storytelling has changed, but they are still using the ingredients – print publications and online media – to their full advantage.
Taking the next step
Marketing campaigns have a beginning and an end; however a publishing strategy has a beginning with plans for a long, ongoing life. It’s not an ad campaign, and it requires thinking and content production outside of the agency box.
For a brand to become a publisher it’s imperative that they employ a team with publishing experience, who can think like publishers, and can see the power of this long-term branding concept. The relationship that consumers have with a brand – and your publication will be synonymous with your brand – can be incredibly powerful. But it’s got to be best of breed to truly succeed.
Jomar Reyes has been working with technology, marketing and media for over 20 years, starting his career at IBM and then ACNielsen. Since 2001, he’s been at the forefront of digital media trends focused on combining traditional publishing wisdom with the limitless possibilities offered by the Internet and social media.
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