Listen to the buzz and you might think that the brand-as-publisher model is the goal of all content marketing. But while this approach can be a winning proposition, there are nuances to be understood before your team takes it on.
First, a definition, since the term “brand as publisher” often gets misused. This publishing model represents a commitment to using your owned channels—websites, social handles, white papers and other publications—in a coordinated push to deliver useful and engaging content that commands an audience. The objective should be the same that drives any household media brand: establish your brand as a voice that deserves to be listened to.
Of course, to be valuable in the current media landscape means being a steady font of reliably good content. The model works best with a commitment to a regular publishing cadence, such as weekly or daily offerings. And you need to follow the lead of traditional media brands in another way: Your products or services can’t always be 100% of the message. Like any news or entertainment site, the gold ring is to entice and enrich the lives of your audience. That means providing information that is sometimes adjacent to your brand but not about your brand. In short, be audience-serving first.
If that sounds like work—and a significant outlay of resources—it can be. A brand-as-publisher model isn’t for everyone. At Foundry 360, guiding a client to this solution only happens after a frank discussion about timelines, marketing resources and bandwidth.
Questions to Answer Before Adopting a Brand-as-Publisher Model
No? A content marketing approach—smaller in scale but still effective—could be ideal.
No? Without dedicated resources or buy-in from leadership, traditional marketing is a better option. All of our clients employ us in slightly different ways because their organizations are at different stages of content marketing adoption. We are used to filling unmet needs.
No? If your goals aren’t clearly defined, begin with an investment in content strategy.
Brand as Publisher Done Well
If you answered yes to some of the questions above, a brand-as-publisher model should be a good fit. The first step is to understand your audience and then create program goals, which should be right-sized for your brand. There’s no requirement to become a behemoth like Parents.com, Allrecipes.com, BHG.com or People.com. In fact, brand-as-publisher efforts can start small and grow through the years.
The best way to evolve a program once it’s begun is to analyze channels and output and refine your focus in response to what resonates. In the flexible and fluid medium of content, even partial successes (or partial failures) point to where to invest next. Even “total fails” can be powerful lessons before they get sunsetted to make way for the next big idea.
Indeed, these types of pivots—based on results—are exactly how traditional publishers operate. They try things; they build on successes; they keep publishing and innovating. As trends in content change, the channels themselves change along with them.
Here are examples of brands as publishers who have done just that.
Client: Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
[why] Massachusetts General Hospital, the chief teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, was looking to increase its name recognition. The solution would need to command a prime spot in the crowded medical space and extend Massachusetts General’s reputation beyond what was happening at the hospital. Together with the Foundry, MGH launched a flagship content brand: Proto: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Medicine.
[what] Proto is a premier medical news brand, covering advances in medicine and how they interact with trends in technology, policy and culture. A bold mission statement on the inside of every cover of the print magazine informs readers that it will “explore breakthroughs, dissect controversies and open a forum for informed debate.” Stories range across a wide spectrum of specialties, peering into the science of near-death experiences, asking why new mothers were in a mental health crisis and dissecting the physical manifestations of a broken heart.
[success] Over more than 15 years, Proto has won a respected spot among health care publications, seeing its stories republished and syndicated by respectable media brands such as Business Insider and the Washington Post. It has won top awards from content marketing groups as well as recognition from the Association for Health Care Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers, the American Illustration awards and others. And its audience has continued to grow.
[cadence] The Proto brand, based on the print magazine published three times a year, has expanded to include a steady stream of web content, a monthly newsletter and a bimonthly podcast.
[goal achieved] Proto’s audience of physicians, hospital administrators and engaged lay readers is kept up to date on some of the most exciting news in their industry—and reminded that Massachusetts General is delivering it to them. While the field of medicine is experiencing a crossroads, inspiring stories from the frontiers helps readers reconnect to the purpose in their vocation. And Proto continues to bring the industry-leading work of Massachusetts General to its readers, reaching an audience that is appreciative and engaged.
Client: Synchrony Bank
Program: Money Matters
[why]After limiting themselves to traditional marketing efforts—namely, advertising the higher-than-the-competition interest rates for their online accounts—Synchrony Bank was searching for a new and better way to acquire customers. The bank opted for a content marketing approach, designing a blog, Money Matters. Its aim was to help consumers better understand their financial lives by providing content of the quality only found in financial magazines.
[what] Money Matters covers the gamut of financial topics and provides expert advice. While information forms the backbone of the content, real stories make that information relatable with the financial experiences of real people. Wondering how to raise financially savvy kids? It’s covered. Concerned about how to balance competing financial goals? Experts weigh in. The magazine-quality articles are dense with expertise from financial professionals. They share the ways money decisions can impact the dynamics of a family, or explain larger financial trends. All of this is served up with compelling artwork and infographics to bring the ideas home.
[cadence] With a weekly cadence of several new articles, Money Matters was able to grow into a robust platform over a two-year period. It has become a financial resource covering hundreds of topics. Articles are often pushed out on social media and used in Synchrony newsletters.
[goal achieved] Money Matters content drives traffic to the Synchrony website, provides shareable content for social media and other outlets that increases awareness of the bank and its offerings, and most vitally, empowers the audience to take charge of their finances with content relevant to their daily lives.