Finding new customers is great, but keeping them is even better. It’s been proven that a returning customer is more profitable than a new one, plus it can be cheaper to maintain an existing audience than attracting an entirely new customer base. This is why so many brands are investing in brand publishing to build trust and loyalty with their existing customers, and ultimately, grow revenue.
What is brand publishing?
The term ‘brand publishing’ unfortunately sounds a little dry and outdated, and this really doesn’t do it justice. Brand publishing is all about connecting with your customers at an emotive level, providing them with information or entertainment that they can’t get anywhere else. Most of all, it must be an enjoyable and social-share-worthy experience.
You have probably come across many forms of brand publishing online without even realising. This could have been:
- An independent publisher site (also known as a content hub)
- A digital magazine
- A blog page
Many brand publishers tend to look like an amalgamation of all three. (Brands can also publish offline with printed magazines and direct mail, but let’s just focus on digital channels for now).
What is brand publishing NOT?
Brand publishing is not to be mistaken for advertising, or even marketing in its more traditional form. Some of the most successful brands using publishing to connect with their target audience don’t even mention their brand in their published content. If they do, it is done strategically so it feels completely natural and non-intrusive to the experience.
Not mentioning a brand name or pushing sales messages can often give the board cold feet when it comes to investing in publishing. This is why any pitch must be approached in a context more similar to journalism and PR, as opposed to advertising and marketing; i.e. it’s about creating added value and building brand experience, not the hard-sell.
Creating Engaging Content Plans
Building a meaningful connection with your customers means they are more likely to return and less likely to shop around. To do this, you have to cut the selling and provide real, honest and unique content, such as:
- Human interest stories
- Independent comment articles
- Free advice, tips and how to’s
- Customer content (e.g. photos and quotes)
When creating a content plan for your publisher platform you must keep the customer in mind. It’s no good if Julie in customer care likes the article about cake icing techniques; you need to ensure this is what your customer wants to read. Make sure you do your market research before even considering brand publishing; you must have a clear picture of who you are talking to, otherwise it will be a wasted effort.
How brand publishing benefits the brand and the customer
To put it simply, the consumer wants free content that makes their life better. Although this is a simple statement, this takes a lot of effort to get it right, so what are the benefits?
Build brand trust and credibility by delivering up-to-the-minute, reliable information on a topical theme in your industry
Imagine the scenario: A woman getting ready for a night out wants a quick video tutorial on how to do her eye makeup. She can search on YouTube or she can go straight to her favourite source for all makeup tutorials; a makeup brand’s content hub full of tips and tricks from leading makeup artists and beauty bloggers. She loves her new look and next time she is shopping she picks up a couple of the brand items used in the video so she can achieve an even better finish next time.
Here, you have captured data from her visit online, she has made a purchase and she is likely to return to use the free video content again. This is an engaged customer that now trusts the brand. She may even tell her friends about the brand content hub too giving you word of mouth promotion. As long as content is fresh and timely, she will have a reason to continue to return.
Position your brand as a market leader and have a steer on the debate
Many brands shy away from debate, however with social media, customers expect to be able to speak directly to brands wherever they are. They want their voices heard, and you are either there to have your brand voice heard and maintain a control on the debate or you are not at all. Putting your brand voice out there does create a risk factor, but it also makes you an innovator and a thought leader, which consumers will respect more than a black hole of silence, where you quickly become irrelevant.
Provide a touch point at any stage of the buying journey
This is a benefit the advertising and marketing team can really get on board with. Marketers are always looking at new ways to create touch points with customers. Using a publisher platform that offers added value content, you can ask for a customer’s contact details in return for such enticing material. This helps you build up a database of engaged customers to market to with tailored and personal offers. As it’s all online you can also monitor where traffic arrives, drops off and how long people stay engaged with your content. This will tell you a lot about the wants and needs of your customers.
You don’t need the media – you can talk directly to your target consumer – and they can talk directly to you
All that time and effort spent selling in one press release to a busy journalist can be completely unnecessary if you have a thriving publisher platform. Share your brand stories, in your tone of voice and get instant feedback from customers. This can help to shape future marketing, products and services as well as continuing to build trust with your customers.
Increase the lifetime value of your customer by making them loyal
If you are able to provide unique and inspiring content on your publishing platform you can capture the attention of you target audience. If you can then use analytics to develop your understanding of your audience, you can match your content to their needs. This means not only will you capture the audience, but you should also retain them, effectively increasing the lifespan of your customer’s journey with your brand. As mentioned earlier in this article, the customer loyalty benefits of brand publishing provide the greatest brand value.
Support search engine optimisation with fresh and unique content
Google loves content, but publishing loves a plan. In order to keep up with the need to produce regular content, you need a content schedule. This needs to include upcoming awareness days and holidays, seasonal changes and industry trends and events. You then need to cross-reference your content ideas with your customer profile – are you meeting their needs? Finally, you have to also be able to jump on a reactive content opportunity. Being the first to report on hotly topical announcement in your sector could give your site the SEO boost of a lifetime.
Great for staff morale and as a recruitment tool
Brand publishing is great for HR too. Why not get people from different departments involved with a new piece of content each month? It’s their chance to share a story with the brand’s customers. Brand publishing can open up a window to behind the scenes activity at your company, which is great from the outside looking in. Using this forward-thinking marketing approach, you will attract highly skilled, thought leading professionals that want to join your company.
Five questions to consider before investing in brand publishing
Before you jump two feet first into publishing, you need to have a plan in place. Here’s five questions to ask yourself.
- What are your goals with brand publishing?
We’ve already considered the possible benefits of brand publishing above. Now you need to set SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and timed) goals based on your overarching business strategy. A brand publishing initiative can be geared towards any number of things but you must agree the purpose so that it can be effective.
- How much budget can you assign to brand publishing?
According to 2016 B2B Content Marketing Trends the average percentage of total marketing budget spent on content marketing was 28%. You need to decide what is right for your business based on your business goals. Brand publishing is just one part of your marketing spend but bear in mind you will need to dedicate more at the start for design, development and a launch campaign.
- Who is going to resource this new venture?
If you are a small business you might only have one person in charge, but could they enlist other members of staff for support? Communicating your goals of launching a new marketing channel is important for getting staff on board. Whether you have an entire publishing team with photography studio, or you marketing manager has an extra string to their bow, if the whole company understands the importance you will have greater buy in from staff from the start.
- How will you measure success and generate ROI?
This is a frequently debated topic in brand publishing. However, as long as you understand that content marketing is relatable to brand awareness and web traffic as opposed to directly attributed to sales, you can set some really valuable KPI’s. Set a benchmark beforehand then continue to monitor:
- Unique visitors
- Page views
- Media views (e.g. video / infographic)
- Downloads (e.g. eBook)
- Social shares
- Database leads (e.g. email sign ups)
- Conversion rates (e.g. clicking from content to a sales page)
- What is your marketing plan to tell your customers it’s there?
It’s all good creating an all-singing, all-dancing publisher site that’s jam-packed full of incredible content, but if your target audience doesn’t know it’s there, then it will be a waste of time, money, effort – everything. Promoting your content is just as important as producing it. You need a launch plan followed up with sustained marketing activity.
Three tips for getting started in brand publishing
- Take inspiration from leading bloggers. They have often built their brand in reverse; starting by producing unique and shareable content to them be seen as public figures that have loyal fan followings.
- Imagine you are a journalist. Set out your publishing venture as a business within itself. Imagine you are launching an online news hub – separate to your business, how would you treat it?
- Resource your brand publishing appropriately. Assign a person or team, outline procedures and maintain brand guidelines. If you don’t have the internal resource you may need to outsource the design and build of the platform or an editor to manage the ongoing content.
Examples of brand publishing in the North East
- Barker and Stonehouse: ‘Your House’ Content hub
- Barbour: ‘Barbour People’ and ‘Barbour Dogs’ blogs and
- BeanBagBazaar: ‘LivingSpaces Magazine’ blog / magazine
Customer loyalty and attainment is the future of your business. You have to invest in the future now to reap the benefits, and what better way than creating something that serves both your brand and your customers’ needs?
Guest post by Bryony Mansell.
Bryony is a freelance Brand Communications Consultant based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Bryony regularly writes articles on the latest marketing techniques at the INSPIRATION blog, as well as running lifestyle blog, The B-Line.
Connect with Bryony:
LinkedIn: Bryony Mansell
Web: Brand Comms Bryony