Whenever I hear people say “Marketers are the new publishers” – and I hear it regularly – the first thing I think is, “Actually, they’re not.”
The second thing I think is this: “But they could be.”
Yes, the marketing industry – be it content marketing or brands creating their own publishing platforms – has flourished as a source of consumable content amid the upheaval of the traditional publishing business model.
More and more of the content we consume is either produced by brands, sponsored by brands, created by content marketers or straight-up paid advertising that is so effective it transcends the boundary between “authentic” content and marketing.
The research even tells us that not only do people sometimes not know the difference between marketing content and pure editorial, they actually want content that’s produced by brands.
In fact, for many, drawing a distinction between marketers and publishers now seems almost redundant. I mean, content is content, right? It’s purely transactional – something manufactured, distributed, consumed, reported on, analysed and then forgotten about.
Well, yes. And no.
I would argue that that kind of thinking is very much a marketing mentality. But it’s not a publishing one.
And herein, for me, lies the crucial difference between marketers and publishers: for marketers, content is merely sales collateral; for publishers, content underpins the fundamental value proposition to their audiences.
Even though publishers have, out of necessity, become far more metric-focussed in their thinking, the raison d’etre of publishers remains content – or in the old-fashioned language, stories.
And telling good stories – consistently, reliably, accurately – is how you build a loyal audience. Which, ultimately, is precisely what marketers are also trying to do.
As someone who’s involved in the business of providing technological and process solutions for the creation, management, distribution and storage of content – for both publishers and marketers – I have some advice for marketers who genuinely want to be more publishing-minded in their approach.
First, you need to build an in-house team of content producers: journalists, editors, designers, photographers and illustrators who do not think of themselves as marketers but rather storytellers. They key here is “in-house” – building a unified, cohesive unit will deliver better results than relying on external agencies and contributors. Focus on content depth and quality, not breadth and volume.
Second, get your fundamentals right in terms of foundational technologies and processes to facilitate low-cost production, flexibility, faster time to market, and better reporting.
All assets you create – brand collateral, press releases, content marketing – should be captured centrally and in a structured way, allowing for transparency, easy multi-channel distribution, storage, tracking, analysis and reuse. Build parallel workflows that allow you to work on story components simultaneously, and rely as much as possible on templates to cut down manual redesign and formatting. And harness the power of AI to auto-tag and categorise content and streamline your processes.
Third, innovate. Despite their audience-building strengths traditional publishers are often slow to innovate – a combination of cultural factors and an unwillingness to risk damaging the loyalty of their existing audiences. As new entrants marketers have the freedom to try new technologies and models of storytelling to build new audiences.
If marketers really are the new publishers – and if they want to beat traditional publishers at their own game – then they first need to start acting like it.
Creative Folks director Andrew Lomas