By Rob Yoegel published March 27, 2012

3 Lessons to Help Content Marketers Stop Thinking Like Publishers

A content marketing mantra that I often hear is, “Think like a publisher.” Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to think like a publisher, I want to do more, much more.

Sure, content marketing aligns closely with the makeup of a traditional publishing company: editorial teams that create content; sales teams that bring in business; and audience development teams that build an audience of active, engaged, and highly-qualified readers. But if I simply think like a publisher, I’ll likely end up like many of them — irrelevant and working hard to stop the Titanic from sinking.

There are, however, many lessons to be learned from publishers. Here are three of the more obvious ones from my 20 years in the publishing business.

1. Great content is king

Your content marketing team should look a lot like a publisher’s editorial staff, with a specific hierarchy and defined skill set, including a managing editor to oversee and coordinate the team’s editorial activities. You also need to engage as many people as possible at your company as staff writers to produce engaging content, which will keep readers on your website, differentiate your brand, and convert unique visitors into dedicated fans and, hopefully, longtime customers.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you work to create content that is worthy of its crown:

The value of the written word. While many marketing departments don’t have professional writers on staff, the structure of good storytelling has also been largely forgotten, as texting and Tweeting have zapped people’s attention in lieu of content that is longer than 140 characters. Yet, great content is a valuable differentiator. Readers can find canned content on any website. They will come to you if you offer relevant content, deep analysis, and diverse opinions.

• SEO best practices. Solid SEO practices, including good keyword research, helps ensure that your content features the most relevant terms being searched for by your target audience. For example, if you’re a financial adviser who focuses on estate planning, knowing that “Whitney Houston” was trending on Twitter the week she died presents the opportunity to write an engaging blog post about Whitney’s estate plan. Google Trends is a great tool that can give you insight on popular searches and plenty of ideas for relevant topics.

Make sure your content contains relevant keywords so it can easily be found online. Use either your in-house PPC experts or your agency to train your content creators. It’s critical that your writers know what users are searching for so they can give people what they want. For example, if you know the term “HDTV” is more popular and less competitive than “high-definition television,” use “HDTV” in posts about high-definition televisions on your blog and throughout your website. Publishers work so hard at this, and content marketers have to do the same.

• Social media. Once you have perfected the art of creating quality, relevant content, it’s critical to use social media as a distribution channel so a broad audience can find your content.

Content marketers can take advantage of social media by empowering their content creators to be active with social media. Many publishers are not very good at social media because they focus on increasing quantity over quality, separating content creators from the people in charge of the social business.

Content creators need to build their own personal brands. Publishers struggle with this because legacy editorial staffs traditionally were unreachable. “Letters to the editor” would show up on a desk, rarely get published, and seldom earn a response. Every author should, minimally, link their blog posts to a Twitter account where they actively engage with their followers, and they should personally approve and reply to each and every blog post comment.

2. Match buyers with sellers

The job of a publisher is to match readers with advertisers. Content marketers are no different — their job is to get prospects into the sales funnel, find out more about them, and get them interested in your product or service. While publishers focus on demographics, content marketers rely on personas — a profile of each potential buyer of your product or service that includes their title, goals, job function, and pain points within their organization — and try to understand everything about each persona. The names may be different, but the aim for both is to reach buyers with products or services that fit their needs and interests.

3. Audience development

Publishers work hard to attract new readers without losing any of the ones they already have — known in the publishing world as “list fatigue”. List fatigue occurs because the communication you provide via email, social media, or in print is no longer what the reader is looking for. While publishers have become so focused on finding new readers, it is just as critical to make sure current readers find engaging content on the topics they are currently interested in. This means analyzing the stories, videos, and other content that readers interact with and discovering which content is bringing them deeper into the website, and which is getting left behind.

Content marketers face the same challenge. Make sure your messages are reaching people that have a specific interest in your products by understanding each persona type, getting feedback from individuals throughout your company, and interviewing actual people who most closely match your target audience.

However, it’s just as important that your content is relevant so readers don’t opt out because your blog posts, white papers, etc., are either too basic or too advanced for their particular level of interest at a specific stage in the buying cycle. Content that doesn’t fit with what the reader signed up for, or isn’t relevant, will ultimately lead to a subscriber looking for information from a competitive company. For instance, don’t just assume that every customer or prospect wants to receive that new e-newsletter that you’re about to launch.

It’s all about engagement

The goal for any publisher is to be able to prove to advertisers that they can engage a target audience. The same is true for content marketers. The key for both publishers and content marketers is to listen to your audience. Look at which sections of your website they spend the most time on and which stories they read, share and comment on, and then write more about these topics and share this information throughout your organization.

Most publishers struggle with analytics. Traditional print publishers would send 25,000 copies of a magazine and assume every page was read. Today, the ability to analyze content consumption by author, topic, time spent, and other metrics is commonplace, but remains a struggle for even the most innovative publishers.

So stop thinking or even acting like a publisher, and start doing more.

Author: Rob Yoegel

Rob Yoegel oversees all content marketing initiatives across multiple platforms and formats to drive sales, engagement, retention, leads and positive customer behavior. Prior to joining Monetate, Rob was vice president of e-media for a business-to-business and consumer enthusiast publishing company, where he developed successful content, sales and marketing initiatives online for more than a decade. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobYoegel.

Other posts by Rob Yoegel

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  • Mary Ellen Slayter

    This is a good list. Is thinking too much like a publisher really a widespread problem, though? More commonly, I have to encourage people to stop thinking like old-fashioned sales people.

  • Rob Yoegel

    Thanks Mary Ellen. Not sure if it’s widespread, but as more marketers try to adopt a sound content marketing strategy and are told to follow what publishers have done (especially more recently), there’s potential for them to end up rethinking what they thought were the best ideas to follow.

  • Diane Thieke

    Great article, Rob. I’m completely agree that there are good lessons to be learned from publishers. For one thing, I believe my journalism background not only makes me a better PR person, but makes me a better content marketer. I’ve been thinking a lot about how marketing departments need to change to behave more like a newsroom that produces good quality content. In fact, I’d just finished writing a post about Why Marketing Will Soon Look Like a Newsroom when I found your post. I’ll be exploring this in more detail in future posts, drawing on my newsroom and marketing experiences.

  • Carlos Abler

    Mary Ellen. It’s just not the best title. This title—like most negatively positioned lead-ins—has a non-sequitor type relationship with the actual point. What sounds like is going to be a critique of how thinking too much like a publisher creates problems, in fact turns out to be a completely different message. It’s using a negative as a contextual contrast to a positive even though there is no polarity between the two either in reality or in the point of the discourse. I try to encourage colleagues not to use negative lead-ins as they can be misleading and lead to baby-out-with-the-bathwater thinking even where there is some critique element.

  • Rob Yoegel

    Diane, if you structure your department like a newsroom I would suggest doing it in title alone. Many traditional newsroom folks are used to cushy deadlines and, as I mentioned in this post, doing very little to enhance their own brand or even the brand of the publisher. IMO, that’s one of the big reasons (many others) why they are in the state they are now.

    Carlos, thanks for your comment… and for giving me flashbacks of journalism school. 🙂 Hopefully, it got you to read the post, which let’s be honest… is a big factor in headline writing.

  • Carl Friesen

    Like Diane, I find that my journalism background helps me as a content marketer. A few points on where current CM practice can learn from magazines:
    * Develop detailed readership demographics: Collected by industry, by occupation, by
    rank, these figures are third-party audited and verified. This helps the
    editorial side make sure that their content is relevant to those readers.

    * Readership surveys: Often conducted by third parties,
    these surveys improve the match between reader concerns and interests, and the
    magazine’s content.

    * Advertisers: Tight-fisted advertising buyers do a great
    job of making sure that the content in the magazine meets readers’ needs — or
    they’ll take their ad spend elsewhere.

    * Circulation figures: Likewise, the number of people buying
    the magazine instills a level of discipline and realism to the content — if
    readers don’t get what they want, they’ll stop buying the magazine.

    * Professional writing, editing and design boosts message


    CM is implementing my last point, about greater professionalism (hiring reporters and editors outplaced by newspapers and magazines ….!) Has anyone seen indications that CM is implementing the other measures outlined above?

  • Jim_Burns

    Confusing title but good ideas. Rather than abandon an important concept, we recommend people get to a deeper understanding of what it means to “create content like a publisher.” As your comments point out, “critique” #1 is about covering and telling good stories in ways that are relevant to audiences. Using social media channels is completely about embracing the publishing mindset called “syndication.”

    At a deeper level, the publishing model is the best way to help organizations address the daunting and success limiting challenges of creating engaging content, in the critical mass required, with the budget constraints we all face. These were the top three challenges identified in the recent CMI survey.

    This blog post addresses how to apply the publishing model to these issues:

  • Rob Yoegel

    Thanks for stopping by Carl and Jim. All great points. Another thought regarding the (typical) “newsroom,” how many writers would have the knowhow, courtesy, skills (whatever you want to call it) to do what I am doing here as the author of this post/story and monitor comments and participate in dialogue? My guess is very few.

  • laxmi

    Awesome! Briefly said, it’s the greatest post I ever read! I have bookmarked this page and will come back for more. Is there a way I could subscribe to your RSS feed?

    • Rob Yoegel

      Thanks laxmi.

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