Brand as Publishers

Director à Beyond
15 Jan 2014

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Brand as Publishers

  1. brands as publishers FIVE SUCCESSFUL RECIPES FOR BRAND STORYTELLING IN THE AGE OF THE SPLINTERNET A best practice guide for brands that want to put content, audiences and stories first
  2. About the ‘Brand as Publishers’ Movement ‘Brands as Publishers’ has become a fashionable term for the recent trend of content marketing. An Econsultancy study in 2012 found that 73% of digital marketers agreed that “brands are becoming publishers” and 64% agreed that content marketing “is becoming its own discipline”.[1] Coca-Cola has even changed its website to become a content-led platform (which we will examine later). Fast forward to 2013 and content marketing is still at the top of the agenda. Why? @Beyond [1] : 2
  3. Social Media as a Storytelling Medium @Beyond 3
  4. The first reason is the developing relationship between brands and consumers on social media. One of the lessons of social media is that brands hell-bent on pushing product are not as welcome in our personal timelines as those who can add some value to our lives. Many brands have now passed the stage of cautious experimentation. They're seeking more strategic approaches to brand storytelling than simply pushing out cute animal pictures on a Friday and hoping for Likes. Brands have rediscovered that they can be storytellers. And the social web is a brilliant medium for this, allowing them to be sympathetic to audience needs and expectations. Adding value to products and services via compelling social stories and narratives is where the action is. @Beyond 4
  5. The Rising Challenge of the ‘Splinternet’ @Beyond 5
  6. The second reason is the challenge posed by what Forrester calls the ‘Splinternet’. Technology is blurring the lines between product, product experience and marketing. First there was the web, then there was Facebook. Then came iPhones and Instagram. Now there’s near field and in-store. People are searching, choosing and sharing differently - and their interpretation of a brand is changing. Ideas, emotions and memories are being created in new ways across all of these different moments in life. This is tough to manage. The rate of technology innovation and the growing number of touchpoints it provides is outstripping the pace at which brands can tell, re-tell and effectively enrich their stories. @Beyond 6
  7. “Companies today face the challenge of meeting customer expectations across an explosion of digital touchpoints [the “Splinternet”]. To do this, they need to design and develop unified experiences that cross multiple digital channels - websites, mobile websites, applications for smartphones and tablets, social media, in-store displays, and so on.” The answer for many leading brands - including Beyond client Virgin (see Page 22 for more details) - is to apply content-first thinking to their organizational make-up. This includes re-wiring their internal marketing and communications teams into multi-skilled 'publishing hubs' that take a newsroom approach to day-to-day @Beyond Forrester Research: Forrester Interactive Design Agency Overview, Europe 2013 (June 2013) communication, by breaking down the walls that currently sit between their PR, web, social and technology teams. The result - when executed well - is a new breed of brand publishing platforms and content deliverables. 7
  8. our research approach @Beyond 8
  9. We wanted to gain a better understanding of the current state of brand publishing and to see if there was a way we could define ‘best practice’. That meant examining the publishing habits of world leading brands and then comparing their performance against a set criteria. When we started the project we were faced with two dilemmas. Every type and size of business can do content marketing - with completely different budgetary parameters and market needs. Secondly, there are so many brand properties online that could potentially be defined as ‘content marketing’ that we had to find a way of clearly delineating what would be in and out of the report. So we decided to focus on the 30 most valuable global brands as measured by Interbrand. By doing @Beyond so, we felt we’d create an ‘apples to apples’ comparison - as a collective, this peer group has large marketing budgets, is publicly traded (and therefore subject to market scrutiny), and will be broadly known by you, our readership. These companies also possess some of the best B2C and B2B marketers in the world - so we’re confident they provide good, bad and ugly examples of brand publishing that we can all learn from. 9
  10. “The media landscape has changed and brands now have to engage consumers in meaningful conversations with compelling content.” “Reciprocal altruism works: If you give something away and are authentically not expecting something in return, you end up getting much more back in return.” @Beyond Brad Jakeman President, Global Beverages Group, PepsiCo Scott Roen American Express' VP of Digital Marketing and Innovation and publisher of Amex’s Open Forum site 10
  11. Brand Ownership in the Age of the ‘Splinternet’ @Beyond 11
  12. So, why would a brand want to become a publisher? In a world governed by the dynamics of social media and a splintering of digital touchpoints, it’s all about controlling the brand story. Ownership of branded publishing platforms - and development of internal content and editorial processes to support them - provides control. From an internal perspective, the move to becoming a publisher forces brands to place a greater emphasis on quality control, creative content planning and better teamwork and execution. From an external perspective, the goal is to ensure that brand content won’t get lost, shunted aside, placed next to inappropriate content, buried in a timeline, or earmarked as advertising. @Beyond Better ownership of publishing processes and properties also enables the brand to converse more directly with its audience, with greater influence. Conversation can be two-way and participatory - and the best corporate publishing strategies do exactly that - but, when the processes and platforms are more strongly owned, those conversations are better controlled by the brand. Some brand publishing strategies are paid for and revenue generating. Some are more overtly linked to product sales and promotions. Some are straight SEO plays. All of them - when executed well generate brand awareness, and all of them have a great content, publishing and engagement strategy at their core 12
  13. “Our focus is on storytelling. You can still find investors information or job postings easily, but we’re putting the core of Coca-Cola – our brands and their connection to our consumers – front and centre.” Ashley Brown Director of Digital Communications and Social Media, The Coca-Cola Company The Growing ‘Brands as Publishers’ Movement Our research showed us that a third of top tier brands have now moved into publishing territory. Here are the top line trend results: 33% of the world’s top brands (as measured by Interbrand) have now created some form of content publishing hub. @Beyond 20% of those brand publishers have used them to replace their main corporate domain. Three brands now have more than one publishing platform: IBM, GE and Intel. The following section provides an overview of best practices gleaned from their publishing habits. 13
  14. Best Practices from the World’s Leading Brands @Beyond 14
  15. Best Practices #1: Platform Matters: Choose the Right One Our research demonstrated three significant types of brand publishing platform, each delivering a variety of core brand storytelling benefits. Take your pick... 1: The Core Branding .com A platform for telling ‘core brand’ stories. The Corporate Branding .com is the main brand site, powered by a set of brand-level publishing principles. More than just a blog, it enables the brand to create, curate, and commission content @Beyond that gives the audience something more than straight information on product or service offerings - typically drawn and integrated from the wider social web. Example: Pepsi Pulse - a socially co-created and curated publishing platform for promoting stories in and around the Pepsi brand. 15
  16. 2: The ‘Halo’ Hub A content marketing hub for building supporting brand ‘halo’ narratives. The Content Marketing Hub is a brand-owned platform that delivers content around a central theme related to the brand’s product or service offering. As such, the content strategy tends to be focussed on one key topic area. Content tends to be curated, crowdsourced or commissioned. @Beyond Content marketing hubs usually sit on their own domain, away from the corporate domain. Example: Intel IQ - a magazine-style platform that tells the story of how technology is enriching the lives of everyday people, told through third party, thought leadership narratives of influencers and opinion formers. 16
  17. 3: The Destination A sponsored platform for telling brand ‘philanthropy’ stories. Sponsored Destinations are produced in partnership between a brand and a publishing partner or an affiliate brand. They contain very little, if any, content that relates directly to the brand’s products or services. Sponsored Destinations are predominantly used to build out the backstory of a @Beyond brand’s corporate persona or values. Content is usually produced by the affiliate partner, or other third parties. They usually sit on their own domain. Example: The Creators Project - an Intel and Vice Magazine partnership to celebrate innovations in the world of art via the creative applications of technology. 17
  18. Best Practices #2: Tactics Matter: Build it and They Might Not Come Build it and they may not come: the over-riding goals for the brand as publisher are traffic acquisition, story sharing and engagement. Of those brands analyzed, three best practice principles prevailed to stimulate traffic, sharing and engagement with content: Pictures Paint a Thousand Words High performing brands delivered a high proportion of visually arresting, shorter form rich media content, such as image-based story albums and video which is easy to ‘graze’ on and share with friends directly from the page. @Beyond Stand for Something Top brands delivered a consistent editorial mandate - setting a clear direction for all content, including tone of voice, a high quality threshold and distinct content style. Blended is Better These organisations tended to produce a seamless blend of brand-produced and user generated (crowdsourced) stories - leading to a balanced editorial mix of brand-agenda content and content that showcases creative consumer contributions to the storyline (‘hero’ stories sourced from platforms like Instagram and Twitter). 18
  19. These three best practices provide the immutable laws of a great brand content strategy: Visually innovative Strong editorial mandate Consumer inclusive Among the brands that were analyzed, those that execute well across all three categories outperform the market by a factor of over sixty in terms of content sharing. @Beyond 19
  20. Best Practices #3: Community Matters: a Lot! Regardless of industry sector - B2C or B2B content authorship strategies are mixed. Brand-Only Content 61% of brand publisher platforms analyzed contain only brand-owned content. This includes half of all Branding .coms and 100% of all Sponsored Destinations. Blended Brand and User-Generated Content 31% combine both brand-owned content and curated user-generated content from the social web. This includes half of all Branding .coms and over a third of all Content Marketing ‘Halo’ Hubs. @Beyond Community-Only Content Only 8% of properties contain curated, user generated content only. This includes (obviously) zero Branding .coms and zero Sponsored Destinations. Curation-only sites are the sole preserve of ‘Halo’ Content Marketing Hubs. At this point in time, it’s surprising to note that the majority of brands that have committed to the brand as publisher route are driven by a solely brand-owned and published content agenda. As previous data demonstrates, those that pursue a blended brand/curated approach to storytelling outperform the market significantly. 20
  21. Best Practices #4: Logo Matters: How Should the Brand Feature? How strongly the brand features on the publishing property is largely a question of type of site. Logo-Driven Overall, 38% of brand publisher platforms have a high brand prominence - where brand or logo is featured prominently in the site mast head with associated brand colour schemes and fonts. Subtle Branding 50% of Content Marketing ‘Halo’ Hubs have a medium brand prominence - where brand or logo is off set and/or site is ‘brought to you by...’ @Beyond Low to No Logo 66% of Sponsored Destinations have very low brand prominence, where the look and feel of the site takes precedence over branding. Brand prominence matters for all brand publishing platforms. But while it’s obviously essential to have high brand prominence on corporate Branding .coms, Sponsored Destinations are far more effective as neutral storytelling devices, where the brand takes a total backseat and maintains a low profile. Content Marketing ‘Halo’ Hubs take a more blended approach, with the brand offset to the side. 21
  22. Best Practices #5: Frequency Matters: How Much Content is Being Produced? We also looked at the average posting frequency of content for those sites analyzed. Here’s the breakdown: Content Marketing ‘Halo’ Hubs create an average of 4.6 posts per day. Sponsored Destinations generate 2.2 posts per day. Posting frequency changes depending on the type of brand publishing platform. Content Marketing @Beyond ‘Halo’ Hubs tend to publish more frequently due to the numerous sources that they draw from including content curated from the social web. Sponsored Destinations have a lower publishing frequency. This is largely due to the style of content that they produce: brand or property owned, non-curated, and longer form content assets, which are not necessarily time dependent (i.e. not tied to a news agenda) and allow for a longer gestation and publishing period. Please note, content frequency is in no way an indicator of quality or performance. 22
  23. Virgin Virgin’s Data Led Content Strategy Virgin wanted to re-imagine the modern day .com. It wanted to become a site that united the company’s diverse offerings and its heritage, by producing content that resonated with its audience. @Beyond “The key thing for us was realising that the best content are stories.” Bob Fear, Digital Content and Marketing Manager, Virgin 23
  24. We spent three months listening to what everyone was saying and not saying about Virgin online. This research gave Virgin the data it needed to build its content strategy around the brand and what its audience wanted. As well as designing and building the new, we also developed piece of technology called The Kinetic Engine, that powers the site. The KE learns user behaviour and surfaces relevant content to allow for a deeper, more engaging experience Since the re-imagined launched, there’s been a 105% uplift in time on site, and a reduction in bounce rate by 15%. The number of page views increased per visit by 32%. @Beyond Head over to the Beyond site to see the full interview with Virgin’s Bob Fear: “Using Beyond’s research, we wanted to clearly define our content strategy and identify the types of story we wanted to be telling people.” Bob Fear, Digital Content and Marketing Manager, Virgin 24
  25. Brands as Publishers: Beyond Ratings @Beyond 25
  26. We didn’t just analyze brand publishing platforms, we also rated them on both a qualitative and quantitative basis. Which were the most successful and why? To start out, we looked at which key factors made a great brand publishing property (find out more about these in ‘The Scores’ section on pages 26, 27 and 28). We found two broad categories emerged out of these factors - brand value and audience value. These categories cover exactly what you would think: how does a particular site help to meet the goals of a brand and to what extent does it meet the needs of its audience? @Beyond Each site was analyzed by Beyond experts from a wide range of digital disciplines, including user experience, content strategy and design. 26
  27. the brands: Next we had to choose the brands to analyze. There are a lot of brand platforms out there, from the brilliant to the questionable, so we had to narrow it down. We’ve settled on 13 active publishing sites from Interbrand’s league of top 100 global brands, with a mixture from our three main publishing platform categories (Branding .com, Content Marketing ‘Halo’ Hub and Sponsored Destination). Here are the sites that made it through to our final analysis: Branding .coms: Content Marketing ‘Halo’ Hubs: Sponsored Destinations: Ind ndustrial Intern ernet @Beyond 27
  28. The Scores: Audience value When you evaluate, you need to ask the right questions. So we looked at everything that goes into building a great brand content experience. Then we refined these factors down into a list that could help us to identify the quality and the character of each property: navigation, UX, search and the quality and performance of the last 20 pieces of content posted on each domain. Navigation How easy is it for people to get the information they need? From 1 (complex or confusing navigation) to 5 (quick and intuitive navigation). @Beyond Accessibility How optimized is the site for mobile phones and tablet use? From 1 (not at all) to 5 (responsive site, mobile-specific functionality). Suitability of Content Formats Are the content formats used relevant for the audience? Technical audiences prefer in-depth, informative content, while young consumers prefer something visual and quick to scan. From 1 (uninformative and irrelevant to core audience) to 5 (useful and appealing to core audience). 28
  29. Audience value Design Relevance to the Audience Is the design up to scratch or is it dated? Is it aesthetically pleasing? From 1 (outdated and complex) to 5 (modern and clean). Is the information useful or interesting to the audience? From 1 (a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to content) to 5 (genuinely useful, insightful and/or interesting). Content Originality Does the content offer something new compared to other brands, or could it be confused with content from a peer brand? From 1 (similar content and themes to peer brands) to 5 (very distinct from other brands - and therefore of higher value). Publishing Frequency Does the amount of content published match the expectations and needs of the core audience? From 1 (too infrequent) to 5 (too frequent). Search Tone of Voice Does the tone of voice reflect the brand in a fresh and interesting way? From 1 (generic tone of voice) to 5 (distinct and fresh). @Beyond How visible is the site in search engine results? How much traffic does that visibility drive and are they seen ‘beyond brand’ via non-branded search terms? From 1 (not visible/only on brand terms/no traffic) to 5 (visible/via non-brand and brand keywords/high traffic). 29
  30. Brand Value Brand Familiarity Does the platform increase the audience’s knowledge of the brand story? From 1 (does nothing to inform reader of the brand) to 5 (does a good job of informing the brand story). In Line With Business Goals Is content helping to achieve a business objective? From 1 (no apparent fit with business objectives) to 5 (clear fit with business objectives). 1 5 Brand Persona Does content help to build or reinforce the brand’s identity and values? From 1 (does not communicate the brand identity and values in any way) to 5 (very clearly communicates the brand identity and values). @Beyond 30
  31. Brand by Brand Performance Breakdown What has our scoring told us about each brand? @Beyond 31
  32. Pepsi Pulse - audience value: Lots of easy to consume content and attractive design, although very cluttered. This is a site well-suited to a young, interested (and easily distracted) audience. In line with the habits of young consumers, it’s better on mobile than it is on desktop. It's lacking in original content and information about the brand, but these are small failings on a site that is otherwise very suited to purpose. There’s a healthy balance between traffic being driven via on-brand and non-brand search keywords - almost a like for like basis. @Beyond brand value: total score: 38/45 13/15 51/60 “I like the split scroll approach, but it’s clearly aimed primarily at tablet - they may have excluded desktop too much in the process.” Mark Allen, Creative Director, Beyond 32
  33. IQ by Intel - This is a platform that knows its audience. Sleek, modern, easy to navigate and great on mobile devices of every ilk. With an informed young tech-savvy audience in mind, Intel has produced a platform that supplies useful and interesting tech news in an intelligent and engaging way. Could lose some of the lighter content and provide a broader range of formats, but these are small issues. audience value: brand value: * total score: 37/40 14/15 51/55 * *NB: Search data not available for this site as it is a subdomain of the brand’s main dotcom. @Beyond 33
  34. Coca-Cola Journey - audience value: Coca-Cola’s brand positioning is very different to Pepsi’s - but the execution is just as good. Aimed at a young, informed audience, it provides both entertaining and branded content. And it succeeds in communicating the brand character and addressing many of the common criticisms leveled against the company. The site isn’t effective at reaching beyond its existing fan base though, with a 9:1 ratio of branded to non-branded keywords driving traffic to the site. @Beyond brand value: total score: 33/45 15/15 48/60 “Brands that are concerned about fully committing to publishing should take note of what Coca-Cola has done. It produces entertaining content that gives the audience what it wants, without diluting the brand message.” David Preece, Head of Content, Beyond 34
  35. Amex OpenForum - audience value: With a brilliant design and story writers who know how to engage their audience, this site is only let down by a relative lack of variety in content. The standard post format is attractive and simple, but posts don't often move much outside of this template. This leads to quite a lot of unbroken text in content that is clearly meant to be quick to consume and easily shareable. That said, when it gets it right, it really gets it right - as with a lot of the ‘Women in Business’ section, which seems to have struck a chord with the audience. @Beyond brand value: total score: 35/45 14/15 49/60 35
  36. mb! - This Sponsored Site from Mercedes-Benz does well to position the brand as promoter of high-brow culture and sophistication. Generally the site has good content for its audience and is easy to use, although it does not perform well on Android. The content is nicely presented, but would benefit from more variation in formats, with more visual content. audience value: brand value: * total score: 34/40 12/15 46/55 * *NB: Search data not available for this site as it is a subdomain. @Beyond 36
  37. Omnivoracious - audience value: This is a great effort from Amazon to implicitly promote both its traditional book and Kindle products. But, although the content is fairly strong, the design and functionality lets it down. There is a lot of original content and good writing for a literate audience, including audio and written interviews with famous and emerging authors. But the presentation of this content often lacks inspiration and the design looks like an out-of-the-box blog. @Beyond brand value: total score: 25/45 12/15 37/60 “Brand to non-brand traffic sits at a ratio of 4:3. The site manages to pull in relevant traffic without relying on the Amazon brand too much.” Judith Lewis, Head of Search, Beyond 37
  38. Txchnologist - audience value: brand value: Txchnologist is well-positioned for a general tech audience, with high quality, interesting content. But confusing navigation and a sub-standard mobile site limit its potential connection with its audience. The lack of branded content on this site means the majority of search traffic is via non-branded keywords. “GE's thought-leadership publishing platform hits a lot Stronger brand positioning would of the right notes. The content predominantly puts the benefit GE by aligning it more with audience's needs above brand and product messaging, the Txchnologist's giving it a strong editorial impact.” thought-leadership agenda. total score: 34/45 10/15 44/60 @Beyond David Preece, Head of Content, Beyond 38
  39. The Creators Project - audience value: brand value: * The Creators Project hits the nail on the head when it comes to content. The site is easy to use, beautifully designed and the content is engaging and targeted perfectly at the audience. The connection to the brand could be somewhat stronger, although this is again partly to do with the fact that it is a “This site has a clean, clear, blog-style template, with clean Sponsored Site. branding that follows through with font and color. That said, it lacks a little soul and feels very cold and clinical *NB: Search data not available for which, for a celebration of art and technology, doesn't this site as it is a subdomain of come across well.” the brand’s main dotcom. total score: * 36/40 12/15 48/55 @Beyond Wayne Dorrington, Art Director, Beyond 39
  40. Industrial Internet - audience value: One of two GE properties on this list, Industrial Internet serves to promote the brand directly through an informative content marketing program. This has been achieved well, with intelligent and engaging content that informs the reader about the brand and its broader benefits to society and industry. It addresses general topics of interest to a scientifically- and socially-minded audience, presenting this information in unique ways. While this hub contains great content, @Beyond brand value: total score: 37/45 15/15 52/60 its visibility in search is limited because very little content is stored within the site section (it directs traffic to external destinations). 40
  41. Internet Evolution - audience value: Internet Evolution, from IBM, contains a lot of information that’s relevant to its technical IT audience. However, the cluttered presentation makes finding and understanding information difficult. The content is positioned well and contains good topics, but often lacks originality in terms of both the information it conveys and its presentation. The branding is fairly strong in the content, but the site overall is a little lacking on brand character for a Content Marketing Hub. @Beyond brand value: total score: 24/45 11/15 35/60 “There's good branding in the header, but navigation is lost in the noise. There's way too much crammed onto one page - it needs more of a guided flow.” Mark Allen, Creative Director, Beyond 41
  42. IKEA Family Live - audience value: @Beyond IKEA has targeted its audience extremely effectively with this website. The link to the brand and its products is strong, the presentation is stylish and modern, and navigation is easy and intuitive. The brand comes across as an authority on interior design, telling stories simply with highly visual content - perfect for its magazine format. In regards to search, IKEA fails due to the majority of its organic traffic being drawn via branded keywords - a missed opportunity to garner traffic from related topics and themes. brand value: total score: 38/45 15/15 53/60 “Style-wise it's very clean. It's a little cluttered in some of the timeline templates, but it translates well across devices.” Wayne Dorrington, Art Director, Beyond 42
  43. SAP Blogs - SAP Blogs is a simple hub - but the navigation is not consistent, causing problems for anyone trying to get a view on multiple blogs. Although presentation and content topics varies between each blog that is featured, it is generally quite formulaic content that does not push the boundaries in terms of format or information. It does, however, provide the user with a good location to find out key information about the brand and some of its products and services. @Beyond audience value: brand value: * total score: * 23/40 13/15 36/55 *NB: Search data not available for this site as it is a subdomain of the brand’s main dotcom. 43
  44. Midsize Insider - audience value: brand value: Midsize Insider has a clear, simple design and is easy to navigate. That said, the design of both the content and site is largely unadventurous and does not provide a lot of extra value for the audience. The branding is fairly strong, although it lacks visual cues to associate it with IBM. The content is fairly consistent though and “Midsize Insider doesn't quite get the balance topics are relevant, but presentation and right where content is concerned. Pushing originality could be improved. From a products and brand messaging comes before the search perspective, visibility and traffic audience's needs, making it seem more via non-branded search terms is generally advertorial than editorial.” very low. total score: 27/45 12/15 39/60 @Beyond David Preece, Head of Content, Beyond 44
  45. research background Beyond analysts surveyed the Top 30 brands from Interbrand, and measured the extent to which top brands have built corporate domains, content hubs, and sponsored sites based on the ‘Brands as Publishers’ trend. These analysts then assessed and compared the features and characteristics of the brands’ various platforms. To qualify as a platform for the project, the site was required to associate the brand with consumer trends and thought leadership beyond their products, and to build an audience with ongoing publication. Microsites and content hubs with limited campaign runs were not included. @Beyond Best practices were identified based on this evaluation. Engagement metrics were calculated based on the total shares on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for each platform’s top 25 pages as identified by Moz. For our search analysis on keywords and traffic, SEMRush was used for site discovery and search volumes; this was then combined with a model based on five published papers on click through rates to calculate traffic to sites from these search terms. 45
  46. about beyond Creative digital agency Beyond is part of the Next 15 group of companies. Since its formation in August 2010, Beyond has grown rapidly off the back of its deep social data analytics and digital creative capabilities to become a $10 million agency, employing 100 people in offices in San Francisco, New York, London and Brighton. Beyond delivers award-winning digital campaign work for four out of five of the world's top brands - including Facebook, Google and YouTube. Beyond’s Insight and Analytics team are experts at mining social data using a combination of technology and human analysts to work with brands such as Visa, Virgin, 3, Sprint, Cisco to develop both product and customer insights, content and digital strategies as well as measure the impact of campaigns online. @Beyond Contact For further information about this release, please contact: Follow Twitter: @beyond Facebook: LinkedIn: 46