10 Companies Dominating Brand Publishing (And How They Do It)
Marketing used to be all about interruption. Commercials, pop-up ads, and in-your-face billboards. Advertising takes advantage of our attention with hope of converting it into action.
But that’s all changing lately. People don’t want to be interrupted and they don’t want to be sold something. They want education, inspiration, and community.
This shift has lead to many of the world’s leading companies to become brand publishers. Marketers love buzzwords and “brand publishing” is certainly one of them. The actual definition varies depending on who you ask, but we have a simple, no-BS way to describe it.
What is brand publishing?
Brand publishing is a reader-first approach to content marketing. It’s what happens brands stop thinking like marketers and start thinking like media companies.
They create content purely to add value, build trust, and develop a community — not necessarily to drive sales. Instead of simply managing a blog, brands build teams and processes that see their marketing department operate more like a newsroom.
Like a media company, these teams work to create print magazines, run independent websites, record podcasts, and shoot documentaries. Their medium will vary, but all of these teams share the big-picture objective of adding long-term value to a highly targeted audience.
Tractor company mainstay John Deere is a perfect embodiment of the trend. These guys are true OGs of content marketing, creating branded content long before the concept existed. They printed the first edition of their magazine The Furrow in 1895. It still exists today, reaching more than two million farmers around the world.
This editorial content aims to provide farmers with an accurate, unbiased source of information. It covers anything and everything farmers might want to know to improve their operations and become more successful.
By creating an independent resource that adds value to their target customers, John Deere demonstrates that they understand their customers’ problems and are there to help. That’s what brand publishing is all about.
What are the benefits of brand publishing?
Build a community. A media property gives you the ability to unite people around shared interests. This community includes your target customers and other industry thought leaders with their own unique perspectives. As the community grows over time, you get credit as the central hub that brought everyone together.
Be top of mind. The goal of developing a media property is to become the go-to resource for your industry. By creating content that aims to educate and drive conversations forward, your brand becomes top of mind as an industry thought leader.
Capture market insights. As your media site grows and the community becomes more engaged, you enjoy an endless stream of quantitative and qualitative data from your target customers. From the comments they make to the user analytics you collect, a media site is a goldmine for insights to inform your product development and positioning.
Gain networking opportunities. Owning a media site let you network with key players in your industry in a unique way. Instead of approaching them and asking for a favor, you can begin a conversation by offering exposure to your audience. A well-leveraged a media property is the ultimate networking tool.
Who’s doing brand publishing?
We’ve put together a list of ten companies killing it in brand publishing, and curated insights from the people running these platforms.
Some have a dedicated website, others have a podcast, but they all understand that brands of the future will think and act like media companies.
#1 CMO.com — Adobe
In an interview with Velocity Partners, CMO.com’s former Editor in Chief Tim Moran was asked — Is there a lot of pressure to measure ROI and show the role of CMO.com in demand generation?
“There is no pressure whatsoever. It has been accepted for quite some time that CMO.com is not a demand-gen play. We are a content site, and Adobe has come to see our value in being that, in terms of connecting it to digital marketing thought leadership.
There are ways, however, that we can help in the demand-gen world: advertising. We have multiple advertising slots on the site and in the weekly newsletters, and these can be used for offers and white papers and research and other demand-generation content. We can also, for instance, do a news story or executive summary of a piece of Adobe research and then link to the full report, which might be behind a gate. It all works out rather nicely and well within the CMO.com structure.”
#2 First Round Review — First Round Capital
In an interview with ManagingEditor.com, First Round Review managing Editor Camille Ricketts was asked, how do you measure the success of your content?
“We keep a close eye on Google Analytics to make sure page views are increasing month over month. We also, on a more casual basis, keep tabs on social share counts for each piece to see what topics resonated with which audiences.
We also have an internal Slack Channel that records whenever influencers tweet Review content — i.e. whenever anyone with over 10,000 followers shares one of our links. Successful stories have generally been shared over 3,000 times, gotten over 20,000 views and have good influencer followings. We’re not sticklers about maximizing these numbers constantly — that would prevent us from pursuing high-quality but niche content that might appeal to a smaller audience. Rather, we use data as a general guideline for what we’re doing right or could improve.”
#3 GE Reports — GE
In an interview with Contently, GE Reports Managing Editor Tomas Kellner was asked, how do you guys measure success? How do you know you’re really winning that battle for the hearts and minds of people?
“We start with the usual stuff—we look at users, we look at pageviews. Total time spent reading is really important for us, so we look at that. How many engaged people come to it? How long do they stay?
I’m going to keep talking about this CT scanner as an example just because it’s so recent. You’ve got tens of thousands of people coming to this site to look at a story, and they usually stay for almost 4 minutes—which, online, is a lifetime. It’s a really long time. We know that the people engage with our content. They’re not just popping in and popping out.
Organic pickup is also very important. It means that what we’re saying is actually newsy. The guys who are in the news business are finding it newsy.
Email subscription is big. We measure that, too; how much email subscriptions a certain story drives, and why. Which headline works, with whom, and why? Those are really important questions that you need to be asking, instead of sort of shooting the headlines of stories out there scatter shot to anyone who will listen.”
#4 Open Forum — American Express
In a 2011 Fast Company article, AMEX Open Forum Vice President Scott Roen explained where the idea for the brand publication came from:
“We were going to trade shows, we were going to events and basically anywhere business entrepreneurs were going. We saw over and over again, how they interacted and what they did. They were voracious consumers of information and content education at these physical events. they networked, networked, networked. They walked out with just these big stacks of business cards.
We started primarily with the idea of ‘how do we connect business owners with each other,’ but what we found is that it’s crucially important, but the consumption of information, the ability to be educated on a whole host of things … They crave that information and education. We have become a publisher.”
#5 iQ — Intel
In an interview with Newscred, Intel Global Content and Media Strategist Luke Kintigh was asked, how can content marketers strive to replicate iQ’s success?
“You have to be obsessed with your audience and what makes them tick, and when you’re coming from a marketing platform that can be hard to do because you’re usually coming from a content and marketing strategy from the product side, making sure to incorporate certain product specs and taglines, when the reality is that no one really cares about that.
First you have to think about how to get the audience’s attention — taking off your marketing hat and putting on your journalist’s hat and thinking how can I make this content interesting so someone will actually read it. Now with so many platforms and the availability of data you can really use a lot of that to inform your insights and your direction. You have to put the product in the back seat and really focus on your audience if you actually want your content strategy to succeed.
There also needs to be a balance between acquisition and retention. If you’re too focused on new customers, you’re losing out on a lot of value with your current customers. We can celebrate our viral hits and 2m monthly visitors, but then we need to move into the mindset of how we can retain this audience and get them to come back next month. That’s where we’re deploying a lot of tactics on the paid side, around retargeting, content sequencing, and trying to figure out how can we get someone to come back with more personalized content.”
#6 The Red Bull Media House — Red Bull
In an interview with FIPP, Red Bull’s Dr. Dietmar Otti CEO for TV, publishing and operation at RedBull highlighted the company’s true focus:
“The only consistent, overarching guiding principle for us is audience-centricity. Red Bull Media House has loyal and engaged communities, and a key reason is because we know how to reach our audience when and where they want to be reached… we continue to deliver on the expected and surprise with the unexpected within our core sports and music areas. We know that the interests of our viewers are not of a single focus; in fact, our audience is multi-dimensional in that their appetite for stories crosses over many areas. Our goal is to create memorable content and experiences that motivates them to do more.”
#7 More than 20 different brands — Arrow Electronics
Commenting on Arrow Electronics approach to brand publishing, industry thought leader Robert Rose explained:
“Over the last two years, Arrow Electronics has watched as electronics publications that they heavily advertise in struggle. And for their customers, electrical engineers, these publications were not only how they kept up with what was going on in the industry – it’s how kids became enamored and inspired to actually become electrical engineers. These publications are, quite literally, the lifeline for increasing the knowledge and population size of the Arrow Electronics customer base.
Arrow seized this opportunity. They saw the tremendous need to serve engineers. Where the big media conglomerates couldn’t afford to digitize small circulation print magazines, Arrow could. Where the success of niche oriented publications weren’t in the interest of the media parent companies, it was directly linked to Arrow’s success.
Over the last two years, Arrow Electronics has established itself as the largest media company in Electronics. In February of 2015, Arrow purchased 16 engineering web sites, e-newsletters, inventory access tools and databases from Hearst’s United Technical Publications. One year later, the company acquired the entire electronics media portfolio of UBM, including the brands EE Times, EDN, SEM, Embedded, EBN, TechOnline and DataSheets.com for $23.5 million.
The new content and marketing portfolio for Arrow Electronics sells advertising to competitors, and partners, holds events – and develops educational content for electronics professionals. And the effort is 100 percent on developing value for the consumer.”
#8 Mel Magazine — Dollar Shave Club
In an interview with FastCompany, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Durbin explained how they measure the site’s success:
- Do Dollar Shave Club’s members value the inclusion of Mel‘s content as a part of their membership?
- Is the overall Dollar Shave Club content team able to produce sufficient content and quality for Dollar Shave Club Original Content, its branded content channel?
- Is Mel’s viewership and readership growing, and is the critical reception growing as well?
#9 Here Magazine — Away
In an interview with Newscred, Away Chief Brand Officer and Editorial Director Ally Betker was asked, Why do you think Here has really resonated with your customers? What value do you see it adding to the business?
“We’re curating stories that don’t exist elsewhere, and a from point of view that feels like a familiar friend to a wide range of people. I think that combination is where the magic happens. Yes, you can find great recommendations for your next trip, but the content goes far beyond that.
An example that comes to mind is a piece from Here online by an Irish ex-pat living in London, born to a Caribbean mother and a Nigerian father. She wrote about her experiences mixing and living within several cultures and how that has affected the way she moves through the world. The overwhelming response we received to her story took us all a bit by surprise; honestly, we didn’t anticipate how deeply her encounters with cultural dislocation and confusion around identity would resonate with readers. So many people could see themselves reflected in this writer and in her story, and I think that really speaks to why Here has become what it is.”
#10 Traveler Magazine — Marriott
In an interview with AdAge, now former head of content David Beebe outlined the keys to success in brand publishing:
1. A storytelling leader: “That could be, depending on the content, someone like me from TV storytelling, to a journalist, to someone from a general media strategy world. The practice of content marketing is a speciality, and I think a lot of times CEOs don’t understand the fundamentals of storytelling versus what’s actually a campaign.”
2. A dedicated budget: “You can’t rely on the brands to contribute dollars for content development. You have to show them what it can do, and eventually start to shift dollars from traditional media to content marketing.”
3. Creative control: “Our entire strategy is built around developing creative in-house. We don’t take pitches from production companies. We develop what we want to do, and then we go to the creative community to execute this type of creative.”
4. Buy in internallyInternal buy-in: “The final thing is being able to educate people that content marketing is just one part of an entire marketing mix. You should be creating a content advertising ecosystem versus a bunch of siloed campaigns.”
The Future of Marketing
We believe brand publishing is the future of marketing. Instead of paying publishers for access to their audiences, you can develop your own media property and build an audience of your own. You can develop a community from there, positioning your brand as the ultimate go-to industry resource.
Customers don’t want to be sold, they want to be educated. There’s no better way to educate your audience than by developing your own media property.