With the rise of content marketing, the scrutiny on brands to adopt quality publishing methods is ever increasing.
Creating good content is harder than you think. It is also not something that comes naturally to most business executives. Just like you would not assume you could pen a best-selling novel or direct an award winning feature film, you should not assume it’s easy to create content worthy of your audience’s attention. But if brands adopt the mind-set of an editor or publisher, then that’s a good start.
Here are a few lessons that brands can learn from publishers:
Have an opinion
Saying something, even if controversial, is something at which publishers excel. Much ink has been spilt analysing the lack of neutrality in the media. Yet amongst corporates, there is a palpable anxiety when it comes to having an opinion. The fear of senior stakeholders, clients, investors, the board, suppliers, the public (etc) paralyse marketers into creating “vanilla” articles which do not engage audiences. This is understandable, as there are ultimately commercial interests on the line and repercussions that could come from being challenged.
However, we operate in a world where even academic thinkers fail to accurately predict future trends (economists included). Brands should learn that with a journalistic and marketing license, this should not be an excuse to sit on the fence. Good journalism still requires an angle, if not an opinion, in order to engage the reader. Having an angle means that branded content will evolve to more than just the facts and figures, and it will win the bigger battles of trust, knowledge and learning.
Create a mission statement
Think about your favourite publications. You read their sites daily, even several times a day and maybe subscribe to their content. There are many reasons you return to read this content, but the main reason is knowing what you will get. Publishers create mission statements; guidelines against which all their content should be created, and ultimately the standard against which it should then be evaluated.
To give examples of some well known publishing statements; Life magazine’s mission statement was to show the American public the world via photography that told a story. Mumsnet wanted to create a value exchange between parents. HBO was set up as a new type of TV channel passionate about original long-form television series. These are all one sentence statements that are easy to understand and aspire to. Adhering to a mission statement with consistency is something brands must adopt if they are to succeed as publishers.
Enlist independent experts
All too often when brands produce their own content, they focus on quoting their own clever and senior people. Naturally this is tempting. Where is the harm? Ultimately, if you own the paper you can control who gets quoted, right? The journey to having Chinese walls between commercial and editorial seems like a long one for brands.
On the whole, mainstream publishers treat the line between advertising and editorial as sacrosanct. Can you imagine The Economist, Harvard Business Review or Monocle using their own staff and clients as over 50% of their sources? No, they use independent experts, and so should brands.
As brands become publishers, the self restraint to avoid over-polluting articles with partner, executive and client quotes is vital in creating genuinely interesting editorial.