In Part 1 of this series, “Toward a New Understanding of Publishing,” we laid out why we believe every brand must become a publisher. That post ended with:
We’re now in the midst of a second and related sea change in how publishing works: social media. We are today with social media where we where with search nearly ten years ago – at the starting blocks.
And to bring this short history to the point: social media and search directly impact Brands. In Part 2, we’ll dive into how, and why in the age of conversational media, Brands must become Publishers.
In this next installment, we’ll address….
What Does This Mean For Brands?
Let’s start the answer to that question with another question: What is a Brand, anyway?
David Ogilvy’s definition – the intangible sum of a product’s attributes – still rings true, but that feels a bit passive. To us, a brand is what people say about your product, service, or company – when you’re not in the room.
Put another way, a brand is what people tell their friends about it. That’s shorthand, of course, but if you unpack it, it starts to make sense. A brand is what other people think of it, and what those people will say to others about it. A brand is the conversation people have about your company and its products.
And this is why social media – or what we call conversational media – is so critical to your business. Increasingly your brand is shaped by what people say about it online. It started with search – people trust results in Google far more than they trust a brand’s mainstream advertisements or corporate website. And that trust has now moved into social media, as search integrates social results, and as folks become habituated to monitoring and responding to the social activity streams they follow on services like Facebook and Twitter.
These streams are powerful influencers. A recent study of social networks users asked who they felt was the most credible source of information about a Brand. The results are revealing: First and foremost was a peer on the site. But a close second was “The Brand itself.” A distant third was “Journalist” and even further back was “Marketer.”
In other words, in the context of social media, consumers understand that Brands can have voices, and they give Brands permission to be part of their online interactions. So the question then becomes: Does your Brand have a voice? It’s hard to join the conversation without one.
Answering that question takes us back to the focus of this essay: publishing. Recall how we defined it:
Publishing means connecting a community through the art and science of communication.
In conversational media, those with the best voices gain large followings. This is why Stephen Fry, the British writer, actor and humorist, has more than 1.3 million Twitter followers. It’s why Starbucks, a brand with no “human face,” has 6.5 million fans on Facebook.
So what does it mean to have a good voice? And how does that relate to publishing?
Marketers have always aligned themselves with great voices: publishers whose communities reflect the Brand’s core values and promise. Some have even taken the next step – they’ve created those communities, extending beyond making a “traditional” media buy. American Express, for example, runs a significant print publishing business that includes Travel+Leisure and Food&Wine. And P&G famously created the soap opera in the early days of television, and today its PGP arm still runs two soaps, as well as the People’s Choice awards.
Initially, the benefits of such moves were clear: profitable properties (a new revenue source), good lists to mine for direct response conversion (marketing efficiency), and a high quality environment in which to market your Brand (well-lit Brand environments).
However, not many brands want to be in the magazine or television business – even when they weren’t in decline, as they are now. There are plenty of significant operating realities that simply do not scale in those mediums, if they ever did. The impetus to creating Brand Publishing offline was strategically correct, but its true value proposition – one all Brands can and must embrace – will be found online.
In the digital medium, Brands can embrace the core tenets of publishing without the operating costs of traditional publishing approaches. In fact, by rethinking the approach to traditional marketing and customer service spending (including CRM and direct marketing budgets), Brands that become Publishers can finally integrate large portions of their business that were once in disparate silos. And that is a very big deal, indeed.
In the next installment of this series, I’ll unpack that sentiment, and get into several examples that illuminate it.
(As with most of my writing, I consider this to be a draft, with you, the reader and community, as the editor. So please use comments or email to tell me your thoughts!)
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