The “vendor as publisher” model once threatened to marginalize publishers’ role in connecting brand marketers with a target audience. Now, the fast-growing practice of custom media, aka content marketing, is providing a promising revenue stream for many media companies.
Content marketing represents a significant extension of traditional custom publishing. Where once publishers managed a tidy side business producing custom magazines and other advertorial for their marketing clients, they are now tapping into a much broader and more fertile marketing services business, creating (and often running) everything from websites to live events to social media initiatives.
Last year, U.S. companies spent $47.2 billion on branded content, according to the Custom Content Council. In the B2B sector, marketers are allocating 26% of their marketing budgets to content marketing programs, according to new research co-sponsored by Junta42, MarketingProfs, American Business Media and the Business Marketing Association. More than half of the 1,100+ respondents to the Junta42 survey, due to be released shortly, said they planned to increase their content marketing spending over the next 12 months.
The main challenges for these content marketers, the study shows, fall into a publisher’s sweet spot: producing engaging content (cited by 36% of respondents) and producing enough content (21%).
Media companies, of course, can leverage their editorial expertise and their knowledge of the audiences they serve – be they consumers or business professionals – to help brands create and distribute content that is more authentic and more engaging than traditional marketing collateral. This content may live on the brand’s own website, a co-branded microsite, or across the marketer’s social media accounts.
“The landscape is changing and we have to evolve with it,” says Charles Lee, senior vice president of IDG Enterprise’s Strategic Content Services and Custom Solutions Group. “There’s a part of our business now that’s focused on the ‘vendor as publisher’ model. That takes us out of our comfort zone.”
|Infographics||Charts, graphs, maps|
|Newsletters||News, tips, updates|
|Training||Setup, productivity, troublshooting|
|Magazines||Quarterly, monthly, special editions|
|Catalogs||Print, online, downloadable|
|Live events||Launches, demos, discussions|
|Videos||Product showcases, behind the scenes, viral clips|
|Animations||Processes, configurations, how it works|
|Podcasts||Commentary, interviews, on the scene|
|Widgets||Calculators, calendars, updates|
|Apps||Quizzes, polls, games|
|Microsites||Resource centers, branding concepts, Flash experiences|
|Webinars||Sales presentations, internal communications, focus groups|
|Blogs||Authentic voices, audience comments, timely responses|
|Social media||Appealing identities, status updates, contests|
|Mobile services||Text messages, local promotions, alternate reality games|
|Campaign management||Integrated marketing campaigns combining any of the above|
IDG, the global technology trade publisher, added the “Strategic Content Services” label to its custom media offerings in May. SCS provides a variety of content development and “content optimization” services, including search engine optimization and social media optimization. During the current fiscal year that ends next month, IDG’s custom media business has seen double-digit growth, its client base has expanded by 50 percent and, perhaps more telling, renewal rates are over 70 percent, Lee says.
IDG’s SCS introduction is one of many moves business and consumer publishers have made in just the past few months to expand their marketing services offerings:
In addition, Time Inc.’s expected appointment of Jack Griffin as its new CEO could signal a shift in Time’s strategic direction toward custom media services. During his tenure as CEO of Meredith’s magazine group, Griffin steered the consumer publisher’s aggressive push into marketing services, which included acquisitions of several digital agencies and marketing services companies such as O'Grady Meyers, Genex and New Media Strategies.
At the heart of any content marketing strategy lies great content. In the vendor-as-publisher model, content that attracts and engages prospects – without overtly pitching them – is the key to a successful program.
“Marketers are always looking for great ways to connect with their customers. Distribution is important, but you have to start with great content,” says Mike Kisseberth, president and CEO of PCWorld/Macworld. Perhaps that’s why custom media groups are looking for experienced journalists to manage their editorial operations; for example, PCWorld/Macworld hired Wired senior editor Ted Greenwald as content director for the new ContentWorks group.
Lee says publishers need to work closely with clients to determine the right style and tone of the editorial content, or as he calls it, the right “cadence.”
“We always ask clients, ‘On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being vendor agnostic and 5 being vendor oriented, where do you want the content to be?’” Lee explains. The first one or two assignments with a new client can be challenging until that cadence is established, he adds. Some brand marketers may take longer to warm up to what often is a more subtle approach to attracting and engaging customers.
The nature of the content is changing as well. “It’s not just about producing nice glossy PDFs anymore,” says Lee. “It’s more unstructured – there’s lots of blog content, community-based content that just flows within the natural discussions that are happening on the vendors’ websites. In many ways, it’s a new breed – somewhere in between editorial and vendor content.”
As any media company knows these days, publishing is no longer just about the content – it’s also about how that content is discovered and shared across a community. This is why more publishers are pumping up their custom publishing groups with search marketing and social media services.
“Many custom organizations aren’t very good at making sure the content they provide to clients is search optimized,” says Lee. “Even within our own organization, we have to be vigilant to make sure the content we’re producing is written and optimized for search.”
IDG’s Strategic Content Services group includes an SEO service called ContentSmart. The service is emblematic of a more consultative approach to custom publishing.
“We collaborate with clients about their SEO/SEM strategies, about the search architectures on their websites, so they don’t have to rework the copy we produce to meet their search objectives,” he says. “It’s a bridge between building community and delivering good content.”