What brands can learn from online publishers

Since the mid '90s, online publishers have been perfecting the process of creating compelling, engaging content experiences. While advertisers have been utilizing digital to spread their message, many are just now starting to emulate what publishers have been doing for more than a decade -- that is, to develop content that consumers respond to and come back to visit again and again.

What brands can learn from online publishers

In recent years, brands like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Citi, and HSBC have done a great job of thinking like publishers to connect with consumers through content. Other publishers likely want to follow suit on this great marketing tactic, but they have plenty to learn and don't know where to start.

Brands should start by looking at where online publishing has been successful. Before diving into a content strategy, priority No. 1 is to develop a clear editorial voice and personality. Too many times, when I speak to brands and businesses seeking to dive into content marketing or curation, they want to talk about their website redesign, microsite launch, or social feed campaign before developing a clear editorial strategy that is aligned to their customer's interests. Look at top online publications such as The New York Times, Slate, BuzzFeed, and Huffington Post -- readers have a clear idea of what kind of content they'll find on these sites as well as the voice the main brand will use. When a brand starts curating content, it needs to be done from the same perspective every time. Consumers are far more likely to engage when they feel like they know the brand, almost as if the brand is a friend of theirs with whom they are sharing something. 

With that voice established, you'll want to identify what kind of content you want to produce. Are you developing it all in house, or are you curating other content that appeals to the brand's audience? Brand content curators need to exhibit excellent judgment when it comes to what they say. It's a very public and fast-paced enterprise, so brands need to stick to their editorial voice and share only appropriate content with their audience.

To scale your content strategy, there are a few options to consider. When staffing for your curated endeavor, recruit from the same talent pool that the top publishers do. The media market is changing quickly, and a lot of talented individuals with journalistic backgrounds are currently looking and open to new opportunities. Once you develop a voice, you want a team that can develop content quickly and consistently. Journalists are used to producing stories on a daily basis and should slide in nicely on your marketing content team. Also, you may want to consider a deeper investment in publishing technologies that can aggregate and curate third-party content. There are quite a few emerging content discovery platforms that can help you quickly scale your curation efforts by reducing the amount of time your staff spends searching for great content. 

The final step is to develop an editorial calendar. The editorial calendar should also closely align with other marketing initiatives. For example, if there's a big contest, make sure to develop content that ties in and makes it easy for your visitors to access information. I mentioned before that this kind of content strategy can be very fast paced, but that's only if you want to push out content multiple times a day. Leading blogs and websites will update dozens of times a day, and highly engaged consumers often return on multiple occasions for updates. Your branded content site should have multiple updates as well to encourage repeat visits and deeper engagement with the brand. Consistency and organization around what you intend to publish will make the endeavor much easier on the marketing department. Citi's "Women and Co." site does a great job publishing frequently to its site and Twitter feed, including a number of different Citi "voices" or experts aimed at key financial issues such as estate-planning and college savings. Intel's "IQ" site is also a great example of a curated approach that extends the traditional newsroom to employees and internal subject matter experts who contribute insights and interesting content that is sharable.

With all these factors settled, brands should then try to learn from the many challenges publishers have faced scaling their digital operations over the past decade. Publishers have spent years building content management systems (CMS) to publish content, but these systems are often huge investments in dollars and human resources. Many publishers have developed their own unique CMS that are bloated with unnecessary features and lack the flexibility to adapt to new trends and technologies. It's comparable to building your own printing press in an real-time era when you want to be publishing simultaneously to your blog, newsletter, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Pinterest board.

Brands need to look into leveraging existing technology over buying their own systems. CMSs get outdated fast, and a slow one will stall your progress right from the start. Also, these larger enterprise systems demand significant training and staffing requirements to maintain. With a deep set of plug-ins, growing developer networks, and nimble publishing tools, a number of companies are now looking to leverage cloud-based technologies like WordPress or open-source solutions like Drupal to speed their time to market. Smart marketers will focus on what drives engagement (content) versus getting bogged down in lengthy technology planning exercises or investments. 

Rather than spend a lot on a CMS and training or building your own, brands should focus on their core competencies. Spend more time on the content part of CMS as opposed the management or system. Hire a few good writers and editors and integrate them directly into your marketing team. By incorporating everyone into one team -- without any siloes -- it will be far easier for the marketing team to focus on editorial voice, message, curation, and a calendar of updates. Try to be nimble, launch quickly, and test often to see what your customers like and then optimize -- you'll be off and running in no time.

Matthew Kumin  is founder and CEO of PublishThis.

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