The official start of Fall is always a good time to take stock of the year so far. For marketers, the beginning of the fourth-quarter is a good time to figure out business priorities for the rest of the year.
This year, that’s particularly important, according to execs I’ve spoken with in the content and brand publishing space. 2021 was the year brand publishing began to come into its own, and this year, the discipline has continued to show signs of maturity. For some, that’s meant a reality check, and a realization that brand publishing isn’t easy, or for everyone.
And as the threat of a global economic slowdown continues, it seems 2023 will also continue to look precarious. In that vein, In that vein, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who run marketing, content and publishing inside brands recently asking them what is top of mind for them and what they’re focusing on to close out the year and ensure they start next year in a strong position.
I’ve outlined a few major themes that keep cropping up. We’ll be covering these storylines in the coming months, so we’d love to hear what you think.
Optimizing for trust
“There’s been a decline of trust and truth on the internet. Content marketing is more a responsibility today than just a function,” is how Robert Rose, chief strategist at the Content Marketing Institute put it during a talk at Content Marketing World a week ago.
The idea of brand publishing as a valid entrant in the fight against misinformation and disinformation feels a little bit like overstating the case. But an increasing number of marketing types echoed this sentiment to me in the last couple of weeks.
As low quality and straight-up false content proliferates on the Internet, brands are increasingly in a position to position themselves as– purveyors of truthful, factual information to help better educate audiences.
Brand publishing has evolved to optimize for trust, as we’ve written about previously. As the pendulum (slowly) begins to shift away from thin-value content marketing that prioritizes clicks and uses tricks to get people to give up their information but not get much back in return, it’s likelier that we begin seeinng content that is genuinely useful and geared squarely at satisfying audience needs being produced by brands. Companies have to tighten up their standards accordingly.
Optimizing for trust can change how content works within an organization – it means it’s likelier that journalistic tools and processes are used in developing and publishing content, and that the metrics that are optimized for change drastically. What is particularly interesting is how brands are increasingly using publishing as a way to communicate and build trust with internal stakeholders and audiences as workforces go hybrid.
Imbuing the wider organization with a “content” mindset
One of the biggest challenges for brand publishers and content marketers is that they frequently have to defend what they do to their wider organizations. Some of this is self inflicted – in order to succeed, it’s best that editorial teams are given independence to work on their own, so they can find the best stories to tell and do so with an editorial-first mindset.
But for management – the chief marketing officers, editorial directors and heads of communications – the biggest challenge remains protecting that isolation while also recogizing that they have to evangelize the benefits of content to other departments. This can be difficult since content usually has a much longer lead time. It takes time to create editorial visions and approaches, find the right footing, and staff appropriately. Then, it takes time to build audiences and distribution enough to the point that it starts showing returns. And as most people know, it’s rare, if not impossible, to ever directly connect content efforts with dollar returns.
Those who are in charge of content efforts at brands are also struggling with ensuring they connect those efforts with other marketing efforts, including PR and publicity, as well as advertising efforts to ensure they not only work together, but don’t cannibalize each other.
For one CMO I spoke with recently, one big challenge is figuring out how to add more focus to the company’s content strategy. The hardest thing for this marketer (and others I’ve heard similar gripes from) is that there are multiple ways to slice target audiences.
It’s possible to slice audiences by sectors or industries (eg. technology, entertainment, manufacturing) or by job discipline (research and development, marketing, or finance). It’s also possible to slice them by seniority levels, which can be particularly important for B2B brands who are always looking to reach decisionmakers in their audiences.
It’s an ongoing challenge for marketers, and an important and critical part of beginning to “own” specific topic areas. Most people call it “niches,” but for marketers, a better way to think about it to be hyperfocused on specific audience needs. This can enable brands to ensure they’re useful to those audiences and marshal resources appropriately.