In order to build successful publishing operations, it’s important that brands piece together their approaches deliberately and logically. But one area that trips many companies up is focusing heavily on distribution mechanisms and tactics too early in the process, and before they’ve established valuable and repeatable formats that form the backbone of their editorial output.
Content formats are not the same as distribution, and in order to be successful at creating valuable, engaging content and extracting the most value out of it, it’s essential that brand publishing teams not confuse the two.
Doing so often results in confusing and disjointed publishing operations that do not effectively serve and engage audiences, and often fall short of companies’ expectations as a result.
Exact nomenclature and even approaches will always vary from company to company, but Toolkits clients often find value in thinking about formats and distribution in the following way.
(In upcoming insights, we’ll cover how to connect formats with distribution, and go deeper into specific format types.)
Content formats vs. distribution
Content formats are the specific manner in which any content is displayed or expressed that enables it to solve a specific problem and offer a specific value for the audience. Formats often encompass how, content is formatted and presented as well, including titles, bullet points, questions and answers, and so on. Content formats can depend on how and when information is gathered or sourced and how that information is then structured.
Examples of content formats could include:
- News, or timely content that relays new information
- Analysis of major trends
- Explainers of key terms
Distribution is the means or channels through which those formats actually reach the audience. Ideally, distribution follows from formats – and certain distribution channels (eg. audio) lend themselves better to certain formats. Of course, every publisher has different goals to reach, and many can and do start with the distribution, then figure out the format to fit. But in most cases, formats should dictate distribution.
Examples of distribution could include:
- Email, or emailed content
- Audio, or podcasts
- Events, conferences or webinars (whether physical or virtual)
Why separating content formats from distribution is key
Focusing on the format first enables publishers to come up with the best possible way to present information without letting the natural limitations of a distribution channel get in the way.
Most publishing teams have a plethora of information at their disposal – gleaned from expertise within the company and other sources – that can be turned into powerful and useful content.
But presenting that information in an effective way is almost as important as identifying what information needs to be presented. Being able to present information in the format that it’s most applicable to enables it to shine (and often also elevates mediocre content.)
Conversely, jumping ahead to a distribution naturally limits how a publisher can present information. For example, if a publisher begins with deciding to create a podcast, there are natural limitations to a podcast distribution channel that they must contend with, and they will be required to work backwards to find the right content format that works within those limitations. Instead, while it may seem more difficult, it would make more sense to establish the right format, then find distribution channels that work best.
Various formats can also be presented through various distribution techniques: An interview with an executive can be a podcast, but also a Q&A that appears on a website. It can also be a virtual event. It’s also important to note that distribution does not have to be dictated by frequency of content production. A publisher may choose to write articles five out of seven days each week and present them on their website. They may then choose to email the top takeaways of those articles in one weekly email to clients.
Another critical point is in being able to “stretch” content. As we’ve written about before, one challenge we frequently hear from brand publishers that we advise is that they don’t know what to write about. But after digging deeper, what we often find is that these publishers are leaving opportunities for content on the table, and often not making the most of the content they have. While some types of information is better suited to some formats, there may be multiple formats through which to present information. For example: Content can be presented as “news,” when the information is new, then pushed forward to be more of an analysis piece. There may be an opportunity to also do an explainer around key terms.
The anatomy of a successful content format
Not every brand publisher needs to use multiple formats. Based on the following attributes, some teams may decide they’re firmly able to only use one or two formats regularly and to a high quality.
Content formats have a few key attributes that can be helpful to keep in mind. They should typically:
- Be repeatable. have to be able to be executed repeatedly and consistently. The frequency of the format can, and should, vary. It’s important to note that brand publishers don’t operate on the same kind of frequency pressures publishers do, and may not even need to publish daily, or even weekly, depending on needs. But the format must be able to be repeated.
- Fit within the skillset of the team. Certain formats need certain skills to be able to create. Brand publishing teams should look at their resource structures and choose formats they know they can produce, or first figure out a way to hire people that can.
- Do a specific “job” for the audience. Brand publishers should be able to draw a line from the format to what the intended effect of it is for the edification of an audience.
- Those “jobs” should be different: Each format is differentiated from the other in terms of what value it provides. There may only be a handful of formats a publisher uses, because each one must by definition be different from the next in how it delivers value to an audience.
- Play in areas where a publisher has “permission.” Every format is not appropriate for every publisher. Depending on the industry, category and core expertise of a brand, certain formats are easier to justify because a company has implicit permission to deliver value and be part of the discourse in that area.
In upcoming weeks, we’ll cover how to connect formats with distribution, and go deeper into specific format types.