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Content marketing techniques brands can learn from publishers

Content marketing techniques photo showing editor at work

Marketing guru Seth Godin is an advocate of the fact that brands are actually publishers – using content marketing techniques to reach and engage their audience. Or at least brands should be publishers (read Seth’s fascinating assertion that brands need editors, not brand managers). The reality is that many brands don’t use content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, nearly four in ten marketing teams cite a lack of time, and one in ten are put off by the challenge of creating engaging content. A recent survey found that over half of marketing teams felt that content is simply too difficult to produce, and so give up.

That’s because – despite what Godin says – brands aren’t publishers. And why should they be? Publishers make magazines and newspapers, they have editors and columnists and writers. They investigate, research and create. They don’t sell things!

And yet, publishing is the ultimate form of content marketing. Publishers not only create content, they have to sell it as well. Content has to be so good that people are willing to spend money to buy it, to read, to watch and to share.

Which brings us back to brands as publishers. From experience, when brands jump into using content marketing techniques it can be a haphazard, afterthought affair where content is the red-headed stepchild to ‘proper’ marketing activity and spend. There’s often a short-sighted resistance from marketing teams to do something different, especially when faced with GDPR and consumer consent issues. Yet, content marketing has the power to move a customer relationship from a mere transaction to one of deeper, meaningful engagement.

Can brands be more like publishers? Definitely. But there needs to be some systemic changes before brands can fully think and behave like publishers. Creating magazines, content programmes, social stories or providing content that inspires, entertains and informs is a long way from pumping out product marketing material. It demands a degree of creativity and the art of looking sideways as championed by Alan Fletcher.

In a GDPR world, brands – more than ever – need to act like publishers. I’ve had the benefit of working for both major brands and global publishing houses. Having worked on both sides of the fence, I’ve found that there are some important lessons that brands can take from media companies and publishers which can help deliver brilliant content marketing techniques.

1. Content marketing techniques: planning

The image of editorial teams winging it all the way up to deadline is a myth. Modern media is not a chaotic, drama-fuelled headline rush to last gasp scoops. OK, sometimes it is, but usually only then on really important investigative stories.

The reality is that content teams plan. They invest time brainstorming, thinking and exploring content ideas, story angles and approaches. They need to do it, because media is a never-ending conveyor belt of content need. The media machine has to be fed.

It is also one of the most deadline-driven industries in the world. Print deadlines loom, magazines go to press, advertiser campaigns launch, embargoes are lifted and NDAs expire. Content needs to be planned, created and delivered to spec and on time.

Brands looking to be publishers need to get serious about content planning. Using editorial content planners, taking time to properly brainstorm and commission great content, and insisting teams stick to deadlines means you’ll adopt more of a publisher mindset. Planning is everything.

Need help planning? Read our guide to creating an editorial content calendar.

2. Content marketing techniques: communication

Editorial teams communicate constantly. Whether its IM and social updates (even to each other) through to using collaboration tools such as DivvyHQ, Google+ Hangouts or Teamwork, editorial teams talk. They host regular content meeting, they update on progress. There are specific roles in place that chase copy, harass editors and make sure that content gets out on time. Content is at pace, and not just email. It can be loud, in person or just via text.

Businesses looking to be publishers need to ensure that communication is a high priority. Good communication equals more productive marketing teams. If your marketing team is retreating into email and BAU monthly catch-ups that just update on analytics, it’s missing the point. Communication breeds trust, builds teams, and generates ideas. Communication is the lifeblood of editorial teams.

3. Content marketing techniques: process

Businesses – especially in regulated industries such as healthcare and financial services – naturally gravitate to process-heavy workflows. But, they can be too heavy. Other, more agile businesses such as fashion and lifestyle brands, can seem devoid of processes – winging it on a daily basis and seeming to exist on the whim of the gods. Here, process can help hugely. It’s a balancing act.

Publishers are far from perfect but years of producing content on time to a paying public mean content processes are considered, refined and adhered to. Content should flow through the team. From ideation and commissioning, to editing, proofing and production, each stage is important and forms part of the chain that creates effective content.

Businesses looking to be publishers must create a robust content workflow. Someone must take charge of the content pipeline to ensure that each stage works effectively with content flowing through at the pace and quality needed.

4. Content marketing techniques: creativity

Creativity is the beating heart of a publishing business. Editorial teams have to create something that did not previously exist – and do it daily, weekly or monthly. They need to conjure up articles, photography and design, and it needs to be different each time around. Editorial brainstorming sessions, done well, are a highly energised creative affair. Lots of ‘what if’ and ‘I’ve got a great idea…’ can be bandied around. For the best teams, nothing is truly impossible. That cartwheeling of ideas can sustain publications for years, resulting in millions of words and thousands of articles.

For brands looking to be publishers, giving teams permission to be creative is essential. It might not feel like the day job (and corporate life can sap the very creativity out of a team), but time spent brainstorming and problem solving will pay dividends. Creativity is what customers buy and how they see your brand.

5. Content marketing techniques: audience

The final pillar that publishers are very good at is understanding their audience. They identify target groups with shared interests – from wedding dresses to fast cars – and create content that they want to buy. They regularly survey readers, attend shows, and spend more time talking with their customers than any industry I know. From readers’ letters to talking on social to meeting at events, audiences often have a direct line to an editor.

For brands looking to be publishers, get to know your audience. Not just via metrics and analytics. Really get to know them. Give them a direct line into the business. Get them together in focus groups (bring the business along, rather than leave it to the customer research agency) and look for the insights that can inform the content choices your brand will make to truly help and connect with customers.

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