One of the longest-running brand publications out there is operated by one of the biggest companies in the world. Think With Google covers news and analysis about marketing and advertising for a B2B audience of decision-makers in marketing and advertising.
Leading the charge at Think With Google is Natalie Zmuda, who is global head of content. Natalie joined me on this week’s episode of the Brand Publishing Show for a wide-ranging discussion on how she balances “content” with “marketing”, and the Herculean task of telling stories from across a company the size of Google.
Balancing “content” with “marketing.”
For Zmuda, being a successful brand publisher means not losing sight of the editorial mission while always keeping business goals at the back of your mind.
“I talk to my team a lot about how content marketing, it’s two words there, content and marketing. And so we really have to bring the best of journalism and the best of marketing together to get to this sweet spot of content marketing. A lot of what I did in my first couple of years with the program was really bringing in core journalism tenets. I’ll give you a small example. We switched from briefs to pitches. So we weren’t taking marketing briefs from our partners anymore. We were taking pitches. We think deeply about where the pendulum swung a little bit too much to marketing. So we’re really trying to pull that back and sort of balance that out. And sometimes they say, ‘we’ve gone a little too far, like, we need to bring a little more marketing in,’ or, ‘we’ve gone a little too far, we’ve gotta like, go back to our journalism roots.’ But it’s a constant balance.
Why Google built an owned media operation
Think With Google celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, and Zmuda says that it’s a privilege but also a huge pressure to maintain a large owned media channel.
“It’s also been really important to think about in this increasingly crowded environment, what really excites me about Think with Google is that it’s this large owned and operated channel, we don’t have to go through a filter of PR, of media, of the interpretation of third parties, we can work directly with our executives to get out the messages that are going to be important for our customers to hear, and that are going to help them grow their businesses and help them think differently about how they’re approaching marketing. So being an owner of an operating channel is such a privilege and such a responsibility that I really feel this strong drive to make sure that we’re creating the best product that we can.”
How to find stories your audience cares about
Think With Google’s core audience is the chief marketing officer. But one of the traps that Zmuda doesn’t want to fall into is being too prescriptive or narrow about what CMOs care about.
“We have to always remind ourselves that, especially when we get into these marketing discussions around user personas and user journeys, like, people are complicated, they don’t just care about acquisition. So keeping in mind that people are complex, and they care about lots of different things is first and foremost. We had a couple of pieces that we were doing around sustainability a couple of years ago, and they really didn’t perform all that well. And we struggled with that one. And so we had to go back and look at that content and say, “OK, is there a different way to approach it that might resonate a bit more? Is it just not the right moment for sustainability? Are we just not quite there yet?” At the end of the day, we’re coming back to that balance between, ‘what do we feel is an important business priority for us to talk about for perception reasons?’ and ‘what do we feel like the industry should be hearing about?’
Edited by Eric Johnson at LightningPod.fm.