- The internet is flooded with thin-value content marketing that might drive traffic, but ultimately fails to reach and convert the desired audience.
- The audiences aren’t simply eyeballs to be reached: they are prospective customers, current clients, and/or investors.
- Well-defined target audiences are a more powerful driver for brand publishing initiatives in the long run.
For any company investing in branded publications or in-house content initiatives, getting their content in front of audiences is essential. But with competition for audience fiercer than ever, sophisticated brand publishers are increasingly judging the success of their efforts based on who their content is reaching, rather than simply chasing volume for the sake of volume. Simply put, they’re realizing there is no use reaching a big audience if it doesn’t include the people they need to reach.
Publishers of all stripes are now rethinking their attitudes to scale, and many are concluding that high-quality audiences are a far more powerful driver for their businesses than large ones. Growth is great, but sustainable growth – powered by smaller, more meaningful audiences – is better.
This dynamic is particularly pronounced for brand publishers, and therefore more important for them to recognize. Brand publishers do not typically face the same pressures traditional publishers do to monetize their content via advertising, subscriptions or commerce, for example. For many brand publishers, it’s far better to reach 1,000 of the right people than 10,000 people who can ultimately do little to help to grow their brands and businesses.
Optimizing to high-quality audiences requires that brand publishers orient their internal operations around a few key principles:
Clearly defined audiences
Brands who are trying to create successful brand publishing operations that actually help their businesses must begin with documenting a strategy that includes well-defined target audiences. It is nearly impossible to please everyone – and a narrow, defined set of target audiences can help inform all other decisions, including what type of content to create. Brand publishers must try to balance specificity with some understanding of scale – and remember that going too broad can make standing out very difficult, and attract the wrong audiences that won’t help overall business goals.
The “right” types of content
Content that reaches the right audiences may not be the same as content that reaches large audiences, and editorial teams should ensure they understand the differences and optimize accordingly. The internet is flooded with thin-value content marketing that, although it may drive traffic, fails to reach and engage audiences of a specific nature or quality. Much of this is created by staffers who are instructed, simply, to produce content – not think too deeply or examine too closely who that content is actually designed for.
The right metrics
Goals and objectives will vary greatly, but focusing on quality over scale and having clear audiences will mean a better understanding of what metrics to track to indicate success. For some companies, traffic may be a metric they could track, but won’t tell them much about whether the content is driving the leads they need to grow their business. Focusing on quality over scale will ensure the correct metrics are tracked. For example, take Future, a16z’s much-talked-about brand publication focused on writing about ideas that will shape the future (and help the company win deals.) Metrics that the firm tracks, per operating partner Margit Wennmachers, include whether the “targeted audience is sending us around or talking about the topics we raise,” and “will write to the tech people and the tech curious.” In short, it’s hardly some kind of big scale play – it’s focused on reaching the right people with the right information that will help them take action. For another Toolkits tech client, “success metrics” included qualitative surveys of existing customers and new customers to ask if they found the content informative, engaging and valuable. Other metrics were whether an authoritative positioning was being created, measured by indicators like inbound links, citations and content being recirculated in the right audiences.
Audience engagement and community
A time of “peak content” means more competition. Audiences, barraged with information from a wide variety of sources, including brands, traditional publishers, independent creators and social media, are much more discerning about where they spend their time. If the content isn’t designed for a specific audience, that audience may not find it useful, and even if they read it once, may not return to it. Anyone in the business of creating content wants to build a “community” of readers, because these readers actively seek out the publication, because it creates content written for them – and because it can mean that these readers actually will take action based on this content. Community is exceptionally important for brand publishers, who are not in the business of selling display ads, but need to use publishing to create a community that will buy something from them, or at least think of them favorably. For a consulting firm, this can mean the ability to convince their clients of their expertise; for a tech firm, it can mean an opportunity to lure away customers from a competitor. Large audience numbers don’t lead to a community – they’re mostly surface level fluff that may look good in a sales deck but don’t matter much beyond that.
Credibility is an important, albeit difficult to understand, factor for anyone in the business of making content. For brands, the issue is a little different. Audiences already may expect brand-funded content to be biased, one-sided, or in some cases, simply not engaging enough. That means brand publishing has to fight more of an uphill battle in convincing readers that they are credible, authoritative and interesting. A focus on quality over chasing scale for scale’s sake can convince readers over time that the content is worth sticking around for. Brands eager to get into publishing, or those who’ve already launched publications, must be careful to not chase volume too eagerly. It’s highly unlikely for a brand publisher to actually need to have very large audience numbers.
In some ways, the flight to quality inside brand publishers is an opportunity to reset some imbalances that have always existed between the content people and the business people. The audiences for brand publishing aren’t simply eyeballs that can be monetized: they are future or prospective customers, or current clients or investors, for example. This is the ideal outcome and will pay dividends for brands looking to build real publishing operations – but only if they ensure they do so by making high-quality, engaging content.