By Mark Sherbin published December 2, 2012

3 Brands that Are Expanding Their Online Content Publishing Expertise

Creating more content for your blog than it can keep up with? Your content marketing may be ready to morph into a full-blown online publication.

Consider websites like Coca-Cola JourneyAmerican Express’ OPEN Forum and Boston Consulting Group’s Perspectives. There’s a whole lot more to these sites than your typical corporate blog. They differ from the usual blogging channels for several reasons:

  • The sheer volume of content published over a given period
  • More advanced content classifications
  • The inclusion of strong community interaction tools
  • Independence from the main brand

Creating your own publication is no small task. It takes a huge time and financial investment to get a strong publication off the ground. Just ask SAP, IBM, and Sun Life Financial, all of which maintain relatively new online publications.

Let’s take a look at how these three major brands approach their content marketing channels.

SAP’s Business Innovation

Online content publishing

Stage of development: Budding, driving business goals

Audience: Executives, analysts, and IT managers at any size business

Purpose of site: The goal of SAP’s Business Innovation is to answer the larger questions potential customers ask. Content revolves around topic areas like big data, sales and marketing, HR, finance, and more. The site addresses the business issues and challenges that tend to start the dialogue with early-stage prospects that are considering SAP’s solutions.

Challenges:

  • Getting buy-in internally
  • Working with a small budget for content creation
  • Building a four-person curatorial team
  • Applying the concept to entire business

Why Business Innovation works

Started and managed by SAP’s Michael Brenner, Business Innovation works on a hybrid of creation and curation models. Much of the content posted on the site is recycled from publications like Forbes with the permission of the author. Brenner and his team also work to find SAP-specific content (like white papers) that they can break up and redistribute.

At the beginning, Brenner dealt with skepticism internally. “Our web team and master brand social account owners were asking, ‘Do we need another channel?’ “ he explains. “Like many companies, we have a large proliferation of social accounts. We have some ‘off the reservation’ blogging activity. It’s a challenge for some of us in the organization to try to shepherd those activities and make sure that they’re brand compliant.”

Until he could prove his concept, Brenner had to go it alone. But SAP saw a big return pretty quickly, so the Business Innovation team expanded. To keep content consistently fresh, Brenner’s editor-in-chief scans 30 to 50 articles per day, choosing eight posts on average.

Business Innovation is on point, audience-centric, well organized, and search-optimized, making it a successful content tactic for SAP.

Key takeaway: “Even a small organization has existing resources or an ecosystem of folks that are already creating content in the space. With the curation model, you can essentially put your own wrapper around that and draw traffic to your site,” says Brenner.

IBM’s Midsize Insider

Online content publishing IBM

Stage of development: Established and growing

Audience: IT execs and managers at midsize businesses

Purpose of site: From a branding standpoint, IBM is battling the perception that its IT solutions are too large and complex for midsize businesses. Through Midsize Insider, the brand leverages bloggers and influencers to create relevant, brand-agnostic content that appeals to decision-makers at midsize organizations.

Challenges:

  • Building a team of influencers
  • Overcoming entrenched brand perceptions from potential clients
  • Measuring the site’s impact on business goals
  • Extending the program to foreign markets

Why Midsize Insider works

At first glance, Midsize Insider looks like a typical blog. Digging deeper, though, you’ll find a world of smart content from a vast network of contributors, some of whom are well established in the IT community. Most of these contributors have no affiliation with IBM beyond Midsize Insider.

What really drives traffic to the site is its focus on timely, search-optimized articles, which are submitted and posted a dozen times a day. How does IBM’s Leslie Reiser manage such a vast program? She partnered with Skyword, a platform that combines software, consulting and content creation, to create a structured process for the digital publication. Writers are sourced from a pool of freelancers.

“Through the Skyword program, the writers work within a pay-for-performance model,” Leslie says. “The writers produce content based on contractual agreement with Skyword and us for a certain amount of articles. They are taught through the Skyword program, for example, how to optimize for search.”

Finding the right partner became a critical factor in how IBM advances one of its most significant business goals: breaking through to a dynamic marketplace the company is fully prepared to serve.

Key takeaway: “We educate the writers on the marketplace segment and IBM differentiators. We provide access to experts so that they have ‘always at the ready’ fodder for their blog posts.”

Sun Life Financial’s Brighter Life

Online content publishing Brighter Life

Stage of development:Well established

Audience: Consumers not yet considering financial products

Purpose of site: Sun Life Financial created Brighter Life to engage consumers earlier in their buying journey. The site’s purpose is to share lifestyle-based content in the discovery phase, when consumers start seeking information to inform their money, family, health, working life, and retirement decisions — exposing consumers to Sun Life Financial and its products, sometimes before they realize they need them.

Challenge: Marrying content to marketing goals

Why Brighter Life works

Sun Life Financial created Brighter Life to raise awareness for the company’s suite of financial products and services. But content on the site doesn’t always revolve around those financial products.

Visitors don’t necessarily come looking for that kind of information, either. According to Brenda Spiering, editor of BrighterLife.ca, “They may have been exposed to a trigger, such as an upcoming life-cycle change — starting a family, changing careers, or retirement. Therefore, the site focuses on content that defines the audience and the brand, rather than the products and services.”

What kind of impact has this approach had on Brighter Life’s success?

“In the first nine months, it converted approximately 4 percent of traffic to leads with more than 8,700 click-throughs to SunLife.ca,” Spiering says. “More than 620,000 pages of content were consumed. Site visitors spent an average of 2 minutes and 30 seconds browsing the site. It also drew over 13,000 fans and followers across its Facebook and Twitter social media extensions.”

Key takeaway: “BrighterLife.ca promotes Sun Life’s ultimate goal to drive a more-informed consumer to Sunlife.ca to find product information or speak with an advisor by incorporating relevant, but clearly set off, calls-to-action in banner ads and underneath articles.”

Big investment, big payoff

It takes a lot to power a content engine the size of an online publication. Done right, a website like those run by SAP, IBM, and Sun Life can drive new business and brand loyalty in huge quantities.

What brand-sponsored publications do you read regularly? Share them with us in the replies.

Want more examples of businesses that aren’t afraid to explore new channels for content marketing? Read CMI’s Ultimate eBook: 100 Content Marketing Examples.

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

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  • michaelbrenner

    Mark, thanks so much for the inclusion. It is an honor to be listed with these other amazing brands and their content marketing efforts.

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

      Sure thing, Michael. Thanks for sharing your insights with us at CMW!