Print may be dead, but storytelling is alive and well. Internet audiences are increasingly turning away from traditional publishers in favor of brands for content that informs, inspires and entertains.
The key to leveraging that storytelling power? Thinking like those print publishers your brand is replacing. In order to stand out in a world saturated with content, it’s not enough to simply produce articles and blogs designed to drive organic search traffic.
You need to meld marketing and magazine mentalities. Complementing that bread-and-butter, SEO-driven content with high-concept, personality-filled and beautifully designed pieces is a surefire way to establish your brand as a forward-thinking leader in your industry.
Brands as Publishers
Before we get into exactly how to take your content to that editorial next level, let’s take a quick step back and look at why this opportunity exists in the first place. The concept of brands as publishers is certainly nothing new—John Deere (a major manufacturer of agricultural equipment) has been doing it with The Furrow magazine since 1895. What is new is modern audiences’ increased appetite for content—and the fierce (increasingly expensive) competition for their attention.
This always-on model is exactly why brands with the right mix of foundational, intent-driven SEO content and crown-jewel content stand out amongst their competitors and move more leads down the funnel. Companies that get this right, like the 5-star hotel chain Four Seasons, see as much as a staggering 42% increase in revenue from sales driven by content that looks more like what you would find in a top-of-the-line travel magazine than a corporate blog.
How do they do it? They think like magazine editors but act like content marketers.
Set the Tone, Then Take Things Up a Notch
An editor of a national men’s magazine once told me, “sometimes, you have to slap your readers in the face.” And while he definitely didn’t mean that literally, as the success of Four Seasons’ digital magazine suggests, there is proven value in taking your content marketing efforts outside of its usual boundaries. (After all, aren’t rules—or, in this case, editorial guidelines—made to be broken?)
By showing you aren’t afraid to push the envelope with content that makes a statement or artfully puts new technology to use like B2B tech company Hexagon did by incorporating AR into its annual report, you can surprise your audience and shift their point of view, establishing your brand as a thought leader and sparking conversions in the process.
That said, there is a right and a wrong way to toe the line. Those guidelines we just mentioned? They should still serve as your guiding light for whatever content you produce—even when you are stretching the limits of what your audience expects. As Alan Schulman, national director of brand creative and content marketing at Deloitte Digital told the Wall Street Journal, “everything has to align to the brand purpose. The best content is relevant, inspiring, understandable and leads to the company’s North Star.”
With that North Star in sight, you can brainstorm all the different ways to lead your target market to it. Maybe it’s amping up sales- or service-driven content with an inspiring, high-design look. Maybe it’s producing profiles of leaders in your brand’s space that go beyond the standard thought-leader formula by finding quirky points-of-entry and mixing text-based media with audio and video elements. Or maybe it’s even covering topics that are adjacent to your industry—see how mattress company and all-cylinders-firing marketing machine Casper took on wellness content as a prime example.
Think Beyond Digital
The brands winning the content marketing race are the ones not simply thinking like publishers, but becoming publishers.
First published in 2014, Net-a-Porter’s magazine Porter is one of the leaders in this new movement, which has since seen young brands across a huge range of industries hop on board. The monthly magazine is stocked in more than 30,000 retailers nationwide, competing (and often beating out) traditional glossies like Vogue and Elle, effectively positioning the brand as a one-stop-shop for luxury fashion. According to one of the retailer’s representatives, this effort has led “magazine subscribers [to] buy 5.3 times per year versus 4.1 times for others, with net spend that’s 5% higher.”
This success prompted the retailer to double-down on its digital content marketing efforts, complementing all of the work done in print with blown-out features, shoppable roundups and playful video content updated near-daily on its website. This investment in a content strategy that spans traditional and new media channels has prompted readers to make purchases with an average order value that’s up to 26% higher than those of non-readers.
Spend the majority of your content marketing on creating intent-driven content designed to expose your brand to the most potential customers. Still, the value of tentpole pieces that look like they came out of your favorite magazine can’t be underestimated.
No matter your industry, this kind of content can appeal to customers at every stage of the marketing funnel—sparking awareness when they spot your magazine on the shelf or see that feature you produced shared on social media, and encouraging advocacy by creating thoughtful touchpoints for repeat customers.
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