The year ahead will present a challenging market for brand publishers, but there are also reasons for optimism.
Those were the takeaways when we asked brand publishing and marketing executives what they expect from 2023, and what’s topping their priority lists for the months ahead. Those who have been in the business of content long enough know that tough times can also present opportunities. Times of growth are often great for big-name launches and big ambitions, but it’s when the market tightens up that content initiatives with strong propositions, true audience fit and efficient ways of working often thrive.
Three key themes emerged from conversations with brand publishing professionals about the year ahead:
Doing more with less
It became clear in 2022 that brand publishing isn’t for everyone. Even while “every company should become a media company” refrains expounded on Twitter, it was clear that not everyone can, or should. The year was marked by multiple examples of brand publishing operations that went bust because they simply didn’t seem to have a reason to exist.
More of this examples will come this year. As budgets get reined in, any activity that doesn’t clearly justify its cost is likely to get trimmed or shut down entirely. Those in the business of content creation must be able to demonstrate their contributions to business outcomes and companies’ bottom lines, even if indirectly.
For a number of brand publishing executives, their priority in the coming year is to go beyond the “nice to have” to be a truly transformative force for a company’s marketing prowess. And for many, they’re going to have to do so more efficiently and with fewer resources than ever.
“Leanness” therefore is Meghna Rao’s biggest priority for the year, a focus in what promises to be an unpredictable year. Rao, who runs content for Mercury Bank, she’s cognizant that brand publishing is at high risk of being cut during uncertain times, particularly if it’s measured against other performance-related marketing. “Leanness is a hard value to maintain, and an even harder value to re-learn; for many of us who’ve made the move from media, the big war chests of tech companies have been enticing.” she said.
“This year in Brand Publishing is about doing more with less – or rather – with what you already have,” said Natalie Mendes, who runs editorial and content at Atlassian. Mendes has the optimistic take that in challenging macroeconomic conditions there is opportunity for brand publishers to think less about channels and focus on how all content is working together to “tell a total brand story.” Another opportunity: “Where marketers may ordinarily just focus on ‘their swimlane’, this year is the year to collaborate across your company,” she said.
For Rao, another priority is finding efficiencies:“Cut back on art budgets, find ways to keep writing in-house, and think wisely about your publishing calendar and how it correlates to spend,” she said.
Mandate for differentiation
For Meghan Barr, vp brand, content and communications at Zoominfo and a veteran former journalist of over 15 years, being “useful and distinctive” is the biggest priority for 2023. “I’m constantly asking myself and my team whether the work we’re doing resonates with our audience,” she told me.
That can mean pushing back on asks from bosses to “create content” in favor of focusing on what an audience actually craves and needs in an effort to make something differentiated. “We need to create content that other companies simply can’t or won’t create,” said Barr. “This doesn’t mean we don’t need to compete on SEO, but it means that we have to push ourselves to do more and make it stand out in a sea of sameness across the Internet.”
In recent months, it’s become evident to brand publishers that while they benefit from consumers’ increased open-mindedness to consume information from new sources, brand publishers also have an uphill battle to fight to ensure that they can attract and retain audiences with high quality content.
One common strategy is to differentiate by relying on internal or in-house expertise as a way to help audiences decode difficult or complex topics. One example is ad tech giant The Trade Desk, whose editorial mission relies on cutting through complexity. “Ad tech is complex by nature, and that can be a barrier,” said Stephanie Paterik, gm of editorial at the company. “We have an opportunity to step beyond selling a product to truly serve a community.”
That means more brand publishers are prioritizing editorial strategies that focus on being a true resource for audiences. That’s been a key trend over the past year, and one that’s increasingly separated true brand publishing from product-oriented content marketing. As Paterik says, The Trade Desk’s editorial goals include “saving people time, curating what they need to know, translating complex ideas and systems in ways that are easy and even enjoyable to understand, providing context to the news, and helping decisionmakers spend their budgets wisely in a year where that is going to be absolutely critical to every executive’s success.”
What happens with Twitter remains to be seen. But brand publishers are keenly aware now that the rules of leased space depend on the landlord, and are even more intent on figuring out how to own the distribution channels for their owned work beyond Twitter, Facebook and the like.
“Maximizing distribution channels” is a key priority for Hone Health editorial director Tracy Middleton, and that includes doubling down on tactics such as email newsletters so the company can speak to their audiences directly in their inboxes. “Relying on one distribution channel is like putting all of your eggs in one basket,” said Middleton. “Google will change its algorithm and social media platforms can come and go. Publishers of all types need a diversified distribution strategy to make sure they’re hitting their audience in multiple places—and tailoring the messaging in each.”