Brands versus publishers

Sérgio Brodsky entrenches himself in the battleground for a trusted voice and profitable business and finds nothing is quiet on the content front.

Forget about Bitcoin or China’s Renminbi! The true contender to becoming the new global currency is online (written or audiovisual) content. If you’re after free finance insights and news by industry thought-leaders, just go to BlueNotes, ANZ’s newsroom. When it comes to health, Bupa recently launched The Blue Room. Finally, if you want to become a better marketer… well, keep reading this article, but feel free to also check Adobe’s excellent outlet, CMO.com!

Just as for every consumer there is a market, for every pain or passion point there seems to be a free digital resource to educate, inform, inspire or entertain. Beyond generating leads, sales and increasing referral traffic on their websites, content marketing has become the hottest strategy to capturing (existing or new) audiences’ attention. Why? Simply because it’s no longer just about whether a person likes a product or a service; it’s about whether consumers like a brand’s opinion, as reported by a recent research conducted by Qualtrics, a leading digital insights platform.

When Red Bull launched its Media House in 2007 in Austria, it became one of the first brands to create multiple channels all capable of engaging its target audience in an ongoing conversation. Now, it works with a global network of correspondents in some 160 countries and develops online media, print, TV, mobile, music, games and movies. Its newest film, Streif: One Hell of a Ride, will be released internationally this year. Airbnb’s Pineapple print magazine is more than 120 pages long and distributed by the company’s global hosts, as well as bookstores and newsstands.

Uber’s Momentum magazine is packed with interviews, health tips and city-specific events.

Casper, a US mattress company, has recently made the transition from consumer brand to full-fledged media outlet covering everything about the culture of sleep. Its digital magazine Van Winkle’s features stories on everything from sleep deprivation to what it’s like spending a night at Florida’s new Legoland Hotel.

Brands are asking: why should we buy media if we can create our own?

“Large brands like GE and IBM are publishing more content per week now than Time magazine did in its heyday,” says Rebecca Lieb, VP of content marketing for analytics and integrated marketing company Teradata Applications.

Even Qualtrics has its own content arm, Data Freaks, that highlights some of the most impactful stories people have discovered using its tool.

Therefore, if content has become the most sought after currency (or bait) produced by brands in exchange for a transaction, when it comes to the ‘traditional’ publishers – newspapers, magazines, TV, news websites and radio – how are they future-proofing their business models against this new commoditising reality? Is the perception of investigative, unbiased and trusted content enough to keep traditional publishers managing business as usual? If not, what are they offering beyond content to monetise on their respective brands?

Ouch!

Yes, it is a really tough question that puts content in a very delicate context. For proper analysis and comprehension of the situation, I have asked a few brave publishers to share their perspectives on how they’ve stood up to the challenge. Below are their answers.

Andrew Holden, editor-in-chief for The Age, says: “For starters I don’t agree that content is simply the bait, but then I would say that as a journalist! Fairfax has a range of initiatives that capitalise on the size and the loyalty of our audience. The most obvious are events: our Night Noodle Markets have been extraordinarily successful, with Melbourne having attracted 563,000 last year, a national record.

“Our credibility and expertise in content creation is used effectively in native advertising, particularly through Brand Discover. The size of our digital audience means we can direct that to the benefit of highly commercial sites, the most notable being Domain. And we use our customer relationship to offer (with ongoing commercial benefit) added extras, such as subscriptions to Stan (our streaming partnership with Channel Nine) or The New York Times.”

Campbell Reid, group director of editorial, News Corp Australia, believes trust, expertise and experience sets traditional media owners apart and uniquely positions them to support brands wanting to craft an editorial voice.

“I do not agree with the premise that journalism has been commoditised to become transactional bait. Branded or corporately produced content has its place. However, it is poles apart from professionally produced journalism that holds governments and institutions to account, without fear or – critically – favour. In fact the rise of branded content is an opportunity for publishers. Brands are increasingly coming to us for the expertise that we’ve built up over decades, to help them tell their story.”

For Michael Zimbalist, SVP of advertising products and research and development at The New York Times, brands do need traditional publishers’ support, but not their endorsement to establish credibility. “The New York Times’ T Brand Studio found that its native content was actually outperforming some of the publication’s editorial content. This is part of the proof point that audiences will engage with great content regardless of its provenance, provided they have a sense of where it’s coming from.”

Publishers are clearly looking at ways to monetise on their readership beyond content. Quite recently, Condé Nast unveiled its plan of transforming Style.com, one of its online properties, into a global ecommerce platform.

Gold Coast-based online marketplace SurfStitch has done the opposite by moving away from being a general brand aggregator to becoming a content network after acquiring publishers with already engaged and relevant communities.

For Paul Lidgerwood, managing director of Niche Media (Marketing’s parent company), this makes complete sense. “It is getting back to being a bigger part of the consumer’s wallet not the advertiser’s, as they have so many other ways to invest their money,” he says.

Does it mean, however, that if Nike decides to launch a digital TV channel, viewers will cancel their Foxtel subscriptions or, if Apple decides to expand the contents of its iCreate magazine from gadgets to covering more about the world of design, would magazines like Wallpaper* or Design Quarterly see a decline in their market share?

GE Reports managing editor Tomas Kellner says there are really only two categories of journalism: the 2% that wins Pulitzers and everything else, and competing against the other 98% defines his mindset.

Perhaps, to avoid missed opportunities and reenergise their businesses, publishers need to challenge their scale and editorial assumptions by ‘uploading’ the agility, flexibility and hyper- productivity of brand journalism practices.

 

Sérgio Brodsky
BY Sérgio Brodsky ON 19 November 2015
Sérgio Brodsky is an internationally experienced brand marketing professional having worked for some of the world's greatest strategic communications agencies. Sérgio is a proven thought-leader, speaking at industry events, lecturing and regularly being published worldwide. He is passionate about cities and culture and the role of brands and technology in society. Sérgio is multilingual and holds a BA in IP law and an MBA in global brand strategy and innovation. Follow him on Twitter: @brandKzar.