For Content Marketers, Is It Time To Start Thinking Outside The Brand?

If we’ve learned anything over the last few years (months, really), it’s that Google, Facebook and all the players in organic search and social are making it harder for brands to compete. Facebook is, for all intents and purposes, limiting the reach of brands in news feeds. Google continues to change it’s algorithm getting to a point where more and more quality content from popular sources gets first crack at search ranking. While I do firmly believe that 2014 is the year of content advertising, what’s next for content marketing? How about thinking outside the brand.

For every company, the brand is the thing. But as my colleague Brianne Carlon often puts it, no one cares about your brand. More and more, the old reliable sources of traffic (and presumably leads) are starting show they don’t care about your brand either. While Google and Facebook may care about your money, they also have an interest in not over promoting content. Users would revolt, more than they already have, at the sight of too much sponsored content. But don’t look at this as a bleak portrait of content marketing future. Content, especially with information consumers, is the most valuable weapon in your marketing arsenal. However, the constant talk of brands being media companies begs the question…

Can A Brand Be A Media Company Without A Media Outlet?

There are a number of examples of great brand publishers. Coca-Cola, GE Reports, Red Bull, just to name a few. And while proper brand publishing can raise a company’s profile, consumers still very much rely on traditional-style media outlets for much of their information. That’s why sponsored content (a.k.a. native advertising) is all the rage and good, old fashioned media relations hasn’t gone out of style. But there’s another way for brands to really lock in an independent media outlet: Create one. Many brands are already doing this:

What’s the advantage of creating a publication, rather than using a fully-branded corporate blog? At this point, there’s really no technical reason to do it. Google isn’t penalizing corporate blogs as far as I’ve seen (at least not yet). And there’s no data one way or another to really say what is better. It’s mostly a content strategy decision. With blogging on your website, your brand is on the hook for all of the content. Un-branded media properties give you flexibility in the content you can or can’t create. Think of it as a form of dis-owned media, intentionally allowing the owned media site to create a separate visual identity while supporting a brand’s personality and target market. So if you have a home decor product that’s perfect for stylish homes, then your media property should focus on trendy decorating tips. Because it’s not associated directly with your brand, consumers may be more at ease with consuming that content. The key here is to treat the media property like any other media company would, with:

  • Editorial Independence: The credibility of any publication depends on its ability to be considered a reliable source. Marketing departments may initiate a new media brand in support of the primary brand, but it can’t be another place for all the news about you that’s not fit to print. The publication needs to have it’s own dependable voice, instead of being a megaphone for your primary brand.
  • Professional Content Creators: In order to really have editorial independence, you need to have professionals and experts in the space writing the media property. For smaller brands this may just be one person. For others it may involve several editors and writers. For any company, though, making sure at least some content creators have multi-media talent (photo and video editing, design skills, etc.) will benefit everyone.
  • Advertising Support: Some people may balk at this idea, but an independent media property needs to be self-supporting. Google Adsense is one simple solution. Selling sponsorships direct is another. Even if your company is the only ones buying ad space, on the books, it’s got to look like a relevant part of your business, not just a money pit.

But there’s one other thing you can do if you can’t build it. Just buy it.

Minor Media Consolidation

There are countless bloggers out there, and with Google Authorship and new tools like Virante’s AuthorRank, we’re now able to identify some of the most influential writers in any space. While most marketers and public relations professionals are used to pitching bloggers by now, it may take going one step further in the world of content. That is hiring those writers and having them bring their blogs with them. I like to call this minor media consolidation. While there are global media conglomerates out there, information consumers demand more and more content. We’ve already gone through a period where popular blogs were picked-up by media companies. Still, there are any number of blogs out there that could immediately benefit a business, with direct ownership also providing the long-term upsides of an kept community. I mentioned others above. But what about the content creators? Well, the financial support of a larger company can benefit the blogger as well. Either way, whether you build it or buy it, an unbranded media property with knowledgeable professionals can be used to support a brand in a more nuanced, consumer-friendly way.

Does All This Mean My Company Can Branding Content?

Even with an unbranded property, you’ll still need to create content for your branded sites. The Alamo Drafthouse does it, keeping people informed about events and business updates on their drafthouse.com site. Procter & Gamble and Adobe do this as well. Adobe, in fact, creates branded content that’s often advertised on CMO.com, using it to capture leads. However, you see it, your branded content will still be a source of measurable traffic and leads. But long term, in the case that Google starts focusing less on branded blogs, or becomes a full-fledged content company itself (something any social network could do someday, too), a semi-autonomous media property that’s company owned may be the best way to create and maintain community and visibility. photo credit: NS Newsflash

Author: Dan Stasiewski

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