Your Brand As Media

Three years ago, using the “earned, owned, and paid” organization for media strategy sounded cool. The earned-owned-paid slide in my presentations generated eyebrow raises, versus the eye rolls that are more common today. Like any good marketing catchphrase, this one has probably run its course. I’m not saying the underlying principles aren’t still incredibly relevant – in fact, they’re probably more relevant today. That’s not the point of this post though…

When I first started talking about earned, owned, and paid (and no, I was far from the first to start talking about it), I would describe the owned channel as brands owning the media channel and would use the example of Nike being its own ESPN. In other words, you would eventually go to Nike’s website for news and information on all things sports. When we talk about content marketing trends and brands AS media today, that’s what we’re talking about.

The funny thing is, half the people I talked to about that thought it was crazy talk. Brands as media – silly marketers. The other half got it. Fast-forward a couple of years and we’re all talking about brand journalism, content marketing, and the new favorite, native advertising. Every brand seems to be working on some form of a content hub, and overall, this is a good thing. Brands are working diligently to open up lines of communication between the brand and the consumers in ways we haven’t seen before – and they’re doing it with clever brand stories and content that resonates with consumers on a personal level.

Brands that are winning in the brand’s media game have figured out that the skillfully told brand stories, and the completely unrelated content that serves the information needs of the community, serve to build an audience and promote loyalty, conversations, and sharing more than ever before.

We’re in the midst of a content revolution, where brands are finding it more fruitful to produce their own content, earning the communication channels they use to reach you and me. You’re seeing this today with The Coca-Cola Company’s new Journey Homepage, where the company’s website has been transformed into an online magazine (shameless plug, read my recap on CES on Journey here).

It’s the essence of the strategies behind American Express’ OpenForum, which provides news and information for small businesses on par with Inc. or Entrepreneur magazine’s content. And then there are RedBull’s (awesome) content sites, which have become the destination for all things action and adventure sports – with an amazing range of multimedia content available that dazzles viewers and makes us all wish we had wings. More and more brands are building out sites built around content. It’s also the foundation of HubSpot’s content marketing machine.

Smart brands are realizing that you can build much deeper relationships – and drive much stronger engagement – around content that your audience is genuinely interested in than you can from that tired old marketing content you’ve been producing for years. Nobody wants to read your brochure, but they might be interested in real-life stories about what people are doing with your products or services. Better yet, they might love your brand more if you share content they’re interested in that has nothing to do with your products and services.

You don’t need to have millions of dollars in your marketing budget to leverage content marketing to transform your website or blog into an earned media channel. I’d argue any brand has amazing, untapped content marketing potential. Every company that’s in business today has stories to tell, they just need help telling them. Once you figure out the type of content your audience finds most valuable, you really just have to create it to start building your community, start opening up lines of conversation, begin to stimulate meaningful brand-with-consumer conversations, and encourage sharing and reciprocal word-of-mouth among those audiences. Sounds easy enough, right?

Really though, how can you start leveraging this “your brand as media” approach? Here are a couple of thoughts…

It’s About Them, Not You

Lose the brochureware content on your site. Get to know your audience’s interests and act as a media channel. Think like a producer or assignment editor for that matter. Turn around and start looking at your organization through the lens of journalism. What stories do you tell to people that come to visit your office or interview for a job that you don’t share outside of your company? How did the company get started? Why did the founders strike out on their own? Remember that time when you almost went out of business? How did you turn things around? What about that one employee you have that does something amazing outside of work? That might be interesting to somebody that reads the article you post.

Look Outside of Your Organization

Brands don’t need to rely solely on brand journalism – that is, telling their own brand stories – to find success with content marketing. Some of the best examples of content marketing out there today rely on artful aggregation of the best content from around the Web. In some ways, I would argue this is the premise behind OpenForum. Technically, OpenForum has recruited a virtual army of the best bloggers from around the Web to produce content for their site. But they’re aggregating the best content in one place, for the purpose of serving their community of small business owners. What information is hard to find in your industry – or what “best content” can you pull together in one place as a service for your audience?

Think Local

How many of you have seen your community newspaper fold in recent years? It’s harder and harder for local papers to survive in today’s media climate. While many have successfully evolved, new models and increased competition for advertising dollars have created tremendous hurdles for local papers to get content out the door. If your business serves a geographic radius – an area around your business – you have an opportunity to curate or develop original content that serves that information needs on a local level. You could hire a professionally-trained journalist – somebody with 3-5 years of reporting experience – probably for less than your local advertising budget annually. You would reach an equal or greater audience with a well-done local news site – and that content would pay dividends over time, as you gradually recruit more and more traffic from organic search, subscriptions to your site, and inbound links from social media sharing. I’m not suggesting you scrap advertising – but consider adding more content to your website as a service to the community.

Test And Learn

The best way to learn about the type of content your audience will best respond to is to share and test. Start sharing content you think they’ll like and see what happens. Leverage analytics and real-person listening to discover patterns in your content. What’s “real-person listening?” It’s listening with real people to what your audience has to say about your brand and the content you share. Take note of the actions taken on the content you share – the likes, tweets, shares, and comments you generate. What type of content do they share the most? Does that content tend to be in video form, have lots of great pictures, or is it plain old text? How does the time of day affect sharing? Try posting content during the workday or on a Sunday and see when your audience is most active. The more you learn about the type of content, performance across each channel, and the best time to post content, the better you will be at planning your content calendar.

Have a Home Base

You may leverage dozens of channels to share your content. Just make sure you have a home base for your content. More often than not, this should be your website or a blog (or both). All the content you share across social channels should pull people back to your home base, where they can discover and consume more of your content.

Boost the Reach of Your Content

Leverage your social media channels to help extend the reach of your content beyond your site. Pin images to pinboards on Pinterest. Create clever Vine videos to capture the interest of users in that channel, and pull them through to your site. Update your Facebook Pages and ask users for their feedback on stories. Tweet your articles and include locally relevant keywords or hashtags to reach local audiences (or cc influencers in your local area to help you get the word out). Post a picture of the day to your Instagram for your business – even if it’s a picture of your daily specials or a new product you’ve just stocked on the shelves. You don’t have to do it all, but do some of it and expand your efforts over time to figure out what works best for you.

Remember, the key point here is that your brand can be the media today. You can make your own news by leveraging a content marketing area on your website and using social media to connect with audiences in new ways. All the information is out here on the Internet for you – it’s up to you what you do with it. And if you don’t want to do the work required to help your organization grow, hire a professional to help do it for you.

What do you think? Have you tried to connect with audiences by sharing your brand stories? What success have you found so far – or what makes this approach difficult from your perspective? Share your thoughts below – I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

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