Brands Must Adopt the Mindset of Publishers to Succeed

By Jim Cuene  |  December 18, 2013

Oranges and Apples

Corporate marketers want to develop more comprehensive and authentic communications with their customers, but they struggle with how to get past product promotion and tell meaningful, resourceful stories. MSPC recently sat down with Jim Cuene, new VP of Marketing at GoKart Labs, to get his thoughts on this perplexing dilemma.

With so much discussion about “content marketing,” brands are learning that they need to think and act like publishers if they want to thrive in social media. But while brands may aspire to be like Red Bull (the most well-known example of brand as publisher), there are still some real questions about whether most brands will actually be able to do it. My answer is a definitive “yes;” brands can do it. More to the point, I think the best brands have to adopt the mindset of publishers to win in a socially connected consumer landscape.

But brands will have to get over philosophical, business and operational barriers if they want to do what great publishers do. At the most basic, great publishers do the following:

  • Make useful stuff: Publishers deliver useful — interesting, helpful, inspiring, entertaining — material to people who can use it. Whether it’s a magazine or a radio show, a TV network or a website, the exchange between publisher and end user has to be based on a certain level of utility.
  • Build an audience: Publishers build a reachable audience — consistent, identifiable, unique, engaged — over time around that material.

Seems pretty straightforward. Why would this be hard for brands?

First, most brands today don’t have the basic service orientation. It’s just a philosophical disconnect. Brands are inherently interruptive and self-centered (“Buy me!”). They are all about using annoying TV ads and banners to deliver their own message in order to drive short-term results for themselves. In order to make the transition and build an audience that cares, brands will have to adopt “service first, message later” as a core philosophy.

Great publishers see their audience as a core asset that can be translated into revenue opportunities. An active, engaged audience that’s growing takes investment, time and careful support. That long-term business perspective runs counter to the short-term urgency most companies bring to their brand-building. Brands typically see advertising media as a painful expense to minimize in the short term. To fully adopt a publisher mindset, brands will need to embrace a long-term business orientation and see the investment in audience-building as a modern way to create a valuable business asset.

Operationally, the vast majority of brands will struggle with the content production process. But it’s going to be even more important for brands to develop a consistent and unique editorial lens. Great publishing ventures need great editors, someone who can discern what’s great for the audience and push the editorial agenda. Brands will struggle with any content that isn’t pushing their campaign message or product features. When faced with a decision about whether to invest scarce resources into an article that’s useful vs. one that delivers their campaign message, 99 percent of marketers will go with the one that “sells” more. To truly deliver on “brand as publisher,” brands will have to put their audience needs before their own.

Brands can overcome these challenges, and the potential upside is significant for those willing to work at it. But what happens to brands that don’t adapt? They won’t evolve their spending mix and will remain reliant for too long on paid adverting. They won’t adapt their brand, and instead of connecting with people on a higher emotional or aspirational level, they’ll simply blast out their features and benefits, losing relevance 15 seconds at a time. They’ll miss the chance to build assets and will keep throwing money at ads. While it may require brands to work against their long-grooved instincts, those that commit will end up with a built-in audience, content that drives interaction and, eventually, a valuable marketing asset.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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