Discussion Point: What Does 'Brands as Publishers' Really Mean?

11 minute read
Stacey Harnish-Zinck avatar

brands as publishers, content marketing, customer experience

Brands working as publishers may be a necessary digital marketing component for many businesses, but try explaining that to the hard headed executives sitting at the boardroom table. Well, we've got the solution. CMSWire recently gathered a group of experts and asked them how they explain the concept of "brands as publishers" to their organization/clients? Their answers will certainly help you effectively reach those at your own business.

The Question

How do you explain the concept of "brands as publishers" to your organization/clients?

The Responses

Joe Chernov - VP of Marketing at Kinvey

Joe Chernov is the VP of Marketing for Kinvey, a mobile back end as a service start-up in Boston, MA. Joe joined Kinvey from Eloqua, where he served as VP of Content Marketing. The Content Marketing Institute named him “Content Marketer of the Year” in 2012. He serves on the board of advisors for Little Bird, a search engine for influencer discovery and engagement.

The rallying cry, “brands should act like publishers,” echoes throughout the halls of every digital marketing conference. And like most expressions that have been repeated too many times, it has lost all meaning. They are just hollow words, no longer symbols of a larger meaning.After all, the proof is in the pudding: I don't see many brands acting like publishers. At all.

Recently I visited a major marketing tech company’s blog and was disappointed -- yet unsurprised -- to discover that all former employees’ bylines were stripped from the blog, replaced with something benign, like “Contributor.” Even the former CEO’s posts were genericized.I was telling this story to a prominent CMO, who initially thought the decision seemed reasonable. Why, he thought aloud, would a company tout its former employees?

I asked him: Does the New York Times redact bylines from articles written by its former reporters? Of course not. If brands are truly publishers, then they should look to the media -- not other vendors -- for answers concerning unfamiliar questions like how to treat blog posts by former staffers.

The meta point here is simple: Acting like a publisher isn't code for “blogging often” or even adding someone with a j-school degree to the marketing team. Those are common tactics in support of the larger objective. If a brand truly wants to behave like a publisher, it needs to shift its thinking fundamentally. It needs to stop looking through its own lens, which distorts the world through the filter of self-interest), and begin seeing the world -- itself included -- through the public’s perspective. To do this requires the organization to experiment with uncomfortably light shades of transparency, commit to a real-time mindset (news doesn't necessarily break between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.), and be willing to admit, even tacitly, when you bungled something … like that ridiculous decision to retract bylines.

Jon Miller - VP Marketing and Co-Founder at Marketo

Jon leads strategy and execution for all aspects of Marketo's thought leadership and content marketing programs. Before co-founding Marketo, Jon was Vice President of Product Marketing at Epiphany. He is the author of the comprehensive handbook, The Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies with under US$ 250 million in revenue.

We live in a world of information abundance, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to cut through the noise and grab an individual's attention. That's why marketers need to think like publishers, and constantly evaluate and re-evaluate what consumers want to know about, and how they want to consume that information.

Rented Attention is Dead

For a long time marketers and advertisers lived in a world of rented attention, meaning they would latch on to something a consumer wanted to be doing -- such as watching television -- and interrupt them with a promotional message. But over the past years, consumers have gotten better and better at tuning out that noise across all channels.

This makes the solution for marketers obvious. If interrupting consumers is less effective, stop doing it. Instead, focus on producing content they want to watch, listen to, or read. Own your own attention and build your own audience.

Think Like a Publisher

In 2006, I created the Marketo blog before we wrote a single line of code for the product. Today, I have the capability to publish a blog post at any time that thousands of people then read and share.Because we consistently put out content that’s relevant for our audience, they come to us to learn more about industry trends.

By thinking like a publisher, you’re always keeping your target audience at the top of mind. What do they want to read about that’s informative? What do they want to watch that’s entertaining? How can I get them to share my content socially? These are the same conversations being had in newsrooms across the country and they should be taking place among your marketing team.

It’s also an opportunity to be creative. For example, when I wanted to discuss the benefits of marketing automation for keeping up with the demands of modern marketing, I drew a metaphor between my idea and the famous “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory scene. Because I owned the forum, I had the freedom to pair the idea I wanted to convey with an entertaining theme. My content was not an interruption in the core media’s flow. My content was the core media.

The other half of thinking like a publisher has to do with discipline -- creating consistent, quality content demands it. For example, every Wednesday night at 9 p.m., I know I can turn on ABC and be one of the millions of people to watch Modern Family. They've built that audience with a quality show and a consistent calendar. If the writers aren't feeling particularly funny one week, they don’t have the luxury to pass on writing a script. Similarly, you can’t only put out content when you are struck with a spectacular idea. You can’t write and submit a column only when asked. Instead, you have to actively develop relevant content and make it a priority. The result is an engaged audience that looks to your brand for information and entertainment.

Learning Opportunities

Mike Volpe - CMO at HupSpot

Mike Volpe joined HubSpot in early 2007 as the company's fifth employee and currently serves as chief marketing officer. He heads HubSpot's lead generation and branding strategy through inbound marketing, including blogging, search engine optimization, video marketing, and social media. Since Mike joined HubSpot, the company has grown from 10 to 9,000 customers, expanded from 5 to 500 employees, and raised $100 million in venture capital.Under Mike's leadership, HubSpot's marketing has won more than 30 marketing awards and has been featured in over 20 marketing and business books.Mike hosts a weekly marketing video podcast called Marketing Update, is one of the 100 most popular marketers on Twitter, consistently blogs on blog.hubspot.com, and appears as a marketing speaker at industry conferences. 

In the past, brands relied on third-party reviews and big PR wins to shine light on their product or service, and SMB companies didn't have much leverage because communication platforms were limited and expensive. Today, we have infinite media -- infinite TV stations on YouTube and infinite newspapers as blogs or websites -- and you can launch a new media outlet in seconds for free. It's never been easier to publish content.

Content is the bread and butter of inbound marketing. Writing ebooks, publishing blog posts, connecting on social media, or hosting webinars are all opportunities for brands to leverage themselves as thought leaders. Not only do companies have a multitude of new platforms to work with, but these platforms are giving traditional outlets a run for their money. While television commercials and newspaper ads are being tuned out, audiences are turning to the web for what they want to consume. As publishers, brands now have the ability to produce the content their audience is looking for.

In the world we live in today, you should lead with owned media -- become a publisher -- and then use earned and paid media as a supplement (if at all). Invest in building your owned media into the New York Times of your industry.

Julie Strawson - Director, Market Development for Monotype

Julie is Director, Market Development for Monotype where she leads the Brand Perfect initiative. A qualified member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing with more than 20 years of experience in strategic marketing Julie has launched many technology brands from scratch and for the past 10 years has led innovative projects at Monotype, a global leader in typefaces, technology and expertise where many projects included pioneering their first mobile app, the FlipFont font downloading solution. Brand Perfect is a collaborative worldwide network of brands, designers and developers exploring what branding means today. We provide a platform for members to share knowledge across industry boundaries, create new insights and valuable alliances, and generate and test practical outcomes.

For the past six months Brand Perfect has been absorbed by the world of publishing, how it has changed in the face of digital communications and how brands themselves are evolving as publishers in their own right as content becomes so critical to effective customer communications.

Our Adventures in Publishing Report looked at the publishing industry as a whole, from books to news to magazines and discovered a newcomer to the publishing world, the corporate brand. Publishing was in the doldrums as print advertising budgets waned with the recession, yet new digital channels have provided access to data that brands relish. And innovative publishers have responded by modernizingtheir advertising models to attract brands like bees to the honey. But, as our New Dynamics of Advertising research showed, traditional publishers aren’t offering brands what they want and since good content is so readily available and easy to share on the internet, many brands who know their fan base best, are opting to curate their own offering and become publishers in their own right.

The reality is that publishing had become too scatter-gun in its approach and marketing expertise caught up and bit it on the backside. The focus on digital marketing from many brands, particularly native digital brands, has meant that the ability to leverage data and understand audience profiles has been core to the marketing function long enough for brands to be able to do a better job of providing content that their audiences value and need. How many times have marketers been challenged when it comes to providing ROI from brand advertising? But not so when planning direct marketing initiatives or brand building digital programs that can be accurately measured. So the appeal of becoming a publisher is growing. Particularly for brands that have an interesting heritage or story to tell.

For Monotype, Brand Perfect was born out of direct customer feedback that there was a lack of collaboration between the marketing, development and design teams responsible for brand experiences. And the onslaught of technology was too hard to keep up with. Monotype sits at the confluence of the design, development (technology) and corporate worlds providing typefaces, technology and expertise to publishers, corporates and designers. It’s been in our DNA to work across the disciplines first addressing the brand’s requirements when designing a typeface, then enabling the typeface across different technology platforms and engineering it to work consistently across media. To publish content that could help address the challenges these disciplines had was a natural move for us. Brand Perfect shows who we are and what we stand for today.

To be successful as a brand publisher you need to be authentic and you need to be open. Take a look at Amex Open Forum as another example of the value of publishing to a brand. I’m sure most of us associate Amex with corporate finance for blue chips rather than for SMEs.

But Open Forum focuses on helping small businesses get off the ground and network with each other. So by offering the expertise that’s so respected to a new market segment through publishing Amex has diversified and rejuvenated its brand.

Most critical is to practice what you preach. You can’t simply pull content together that’s idealistic. You need to show people that you can deliver on the vision you are creating. It has to be real to deliver brand value.