By Marcia Riefer Johnston published January 18, 2018

How to Stop Acting Like a Marketer and Start Acting Like a Publisher

stop-acting-marketer-publisher

“Wow! Check out what technology is making possible!”

If Intel’s digital magazine iQ could speak, that’s what it would say. One article, for example, describes an emergency button that outdoor adventurers can attach to their clothing. Another describes a tiny drone that may someday help pollinate plants.

iQ by Intel may not sell those emergency buttons, the bee-like drones, or any of the other tech-driven creations it covers. And it doesn’t directly promote Intel; the only place you see the tech giant’s name is in a logo so small you can’t read it, and in quotes from the company’s experts. iQ simply tells fascinating story after fascinating story of technology in the world.

I discovered iQ while writing this post. It didn’t take long for me to sign up. And that, I realized, is how the media model – the very thing discussed here – works.

Today’s savvy content marketers are at least eyeing if not yet adopting the business model established by media organizations. In this model, content has one main job: to build a loyal audience of subscribers. We hear about it all the time.

But how do traditional marketers make the switch? How do we evolve from seeing content as sales collateral to acting like publishers?

Start by studying iQ’s five-year evolution as the iQ team replaced its marketing mindset with a publishing one.

iQ’s head of publishing Luke Kintigh and iQ’s managing editor Deb Landau shared the lessons learned in their Content Marketing World talk How Intel Evolved From Blogging to Running a Full-Fledged Media Property. 

The evolution of iQ by Intel

Since its 2012 launch, iQ has become a full-fledged media property. Without building a loyal audience, iQ’s editorial team couldn’t hope to achieve what they’ve set out to do. And what have they set out to do? Nothing short of spreading an understanding of Intel’s view of “technology’s role in all parts of the world, not just in a tech category.”

“Content allows us to build that influence,” says Luke.

#Content allows us to build influence, says @lukekintigh @intel. Click To Tweet

This diagram from Luke and Deb’s presentation shows how the iQ team’s focus has evolved.

iq-team

Intel launched iQ as an “employee-driven curation engine,” a blog that mostly sent readers from the Intel site to other people’s content sites. In other words, iQ at first was “not intended to be a destination.”

Over time, the team made choices that advanced its practices. It moved from outsourcing to insourcing, from reaching audiences to retaining them, from single posts to series, and from a traditional marketing model to a publishing model.

Luke and Deb identify five ways iQ operates as a media property:

  1. The team owns the audiences and data.
  2. It insources the content.
  3. It seeks to retain and influence unique audiences.
  4. It plays the long game.
  5. It treats their content as a product.

For more on each of these traits, see the sections below.

1. Own your audiences and data

Whereas marketers often rent audiences and data on someone else’s platform, media companies own audiences and data on their own platform.

Like many companies, Intel learned the hard way that third-party platforms “are a place to harvest an audience, not build it,” as Luke puts it. Intel “invested a lot of money to build up our fan base to 25 or 30 million,” only to discover that its organic reach was a puny portion of that total: 2,500 or so.

“Mark Zuckerberg is your landlord,” Luke says, referring to Facebook’s control of its audience. “He will change your rental agreement when he wants, and you can’t do much about it.”

Originally, the iQ team measured content success in terms of social engagement: the number of shares, comments, “likes,” and retweets. Intel focused on how well iQ content traveled through social feeds.

Today, the iQ team follows a push-pull distribution model. “Just because you build it doesn’t mean that people will come,” Deb says.

Luke advises, “Push content to where people are discovering it, where they are. But don’t stop there. Pull them in to your own sites and your own infrastructure, and then convert them into email subscribers, harvest more data, get smarter about what kind of content they want to consume.”

Push #content to where people discover it. Then pull them to your sites, says @lukekintigh. Click To Tweet

The focus for iQ has shifted from reaching audiences to retaining audiences. “Traffic isn’t enough,” Deb says.

Luke adds, “We figured out that instead of dropping a bunch of one-time traffic, we want to pull people back in to the site, create those repeat readers, email subscribers, and brand loyalists.”

2. Insource your content

Whereas marketers typically outsource publishing to agencies and consultants, media companies hire and cultivate in-house journalists and content creators.

You may still want to hire an agency for help with certain things – analytics, for example. “But think about The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal,” Luke says. “Their content is compelling because they invest in their own people. They don’t outsource their front-page news and editorial content. They have amazing people writing and creating content.”

If your company’s leaders are reluctant to hire because they’re looking for a cheap way to produce content, Deb has news for them: “Creating content is expensive.”

Creating #content is expensive, says @debword. Read more >> Click To Tweet

The iQ team spends a lot of time editing and working with writers to get the right stories, the right interviews, the right voices. Deb says, “Before we go and spend a bunch of money promoting the stories, we make sure that they’re worth promoting. We don’t want to put out something that clutters up the ecosystem.”

3. Seek to retain and influence unique audiences

Whereas marketers typically strive to boost reach and eyeballs, media companies seek to influence – and retain – unique audiences.

In its early days, when iQ published mostly curated content, the magazine was all about “posting, posting, posting,” Deb says. “It looked good, but nobody was reading it. Nobody. Not even people inside Intel.”

As they moved toward a media model, they differentiated their content for a niche audience. “Unless you break through the noise and tell stories that only your brand can tell,” Luke says, “you’re never going to make an impact.”

You’re never going to make an impact unless you tell stories that only your brand can tell, says @lukekintigh. Click To Tweet

The iQ team discovered one way to appeal to a unique audience is to go in depth with the stories and create serialized content. It used to publish 60 or so posts every month, “a ton of content that wasn’t necessarily connected,” Luke says. Over the years, it cut to half that many – 30 or so stories every month.

“We needed to choose the right stories, not just a bunch of stories,” Deb says. “More is not better. Better is better.”

“You’ll see a lot of four-, five-, six-part series on iQ,” Luke says. “They give our audiences a way to naturally stay engaged in that story line. We’re taking a page out of Netflix instead of chasing that volume game.”

To create content that matters to your unique audience, Deb says, “it has to be for them, not for us. That’s a shift in mindset.”

To create #content that matters to your unique audience, it has to be for them, says @debword. Click To Tweet

4. Play the long game

Whereas marketers often play it short with brand campaigns, media companies play the long game.

Media companies can achieve this with franchises and series. Luke: “We all love to cite Red Bull as the signature example in content marketing and publishing. We have to realize that they committed to being a media company 15 to 20 years ago and not 15 to 20 months ago. It takes patience to develop an audience.”

It takes patience to develop an audience, says @lukekintigh. Click To Tweet

Deb adds, “One of the things we’ve learned is that content marketing is hard. It’s hard to do it effectively, and it’s even harder to figure out what effective means.”

Of course, marketers are under pressure from a “giant sea of stakeholders” who want to know: How are you going to add sales? How are you proving ROI?

The iQ team “decided to stop trying to prove ROI and think more like a publisher,” Deb says. “Think about audience cultivation. Circulation. We’re in it for the long game. That’s a different approach.”

5. Treat your content as a product

Whereas marketers use content to sell products, media companies treat their content as a product, something with value in its own right. Eventually, that approach to content drives demand for other products.

Luke’s 4-year-old son has Cars toothbrushes, Cars pull-ups, Cars books, and a lot of Cars toys based on the movie distributed by Disney.

Judging by Luke’s house, you might consider Disney a product company. In reality, Disney is a media company first and foremost. Its “killer content” drives billions of dollars in merchandise sales.

As marketers, Luke says, think big about how to productize content in a way that will “naturally drive interest and demand for the products we sell.” This approach can be a hard sell to upper management, who want to “see the sales, the shopping carts, all those conversions.”

To treat content as a product, you must know the difference between a thing and a story. Deb says, “That difference is huge. People want to read about people.”

People want to read about people, says @debword. Click To Tweet

For example, a computing group came to iQ because it wanted to show how it supported small businesses. The editorial team created a series called She Owns It.

We profiled four small business owners, women entrepreneurs who were using technology to make their dreams come true. By doing that, we showed that Intel supports small business while showing some ways that people are using technology. These interesting stories about interesting women generated a lot of engagement.

Conclusion

Is your organization’s content so compelling that a writer researching you would get caught up in your material and subscribe? If not, what would it take to lift your content to that level? What benefits would your organization reap from having a growing number of subscribers eager to read everything you publish?

Ask yourself questions like those, and you’re on your way to acting like a publisher.

Here’s an excerpt from Deb and Luke’s talk: 

Discover how to be the single source of content for audiences and much more at the Intelligent Content Conference March 20-22 in Las Vegas. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

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  • http://www.vinishgarg.com/ Vinish Garg

    While I enjoyed this post, I get a feeling that that *acting* is a bit too harsh on the whole mechanics of being a marketer. For instance to be in a *publisher* mindset, we cannot separate the feeling of being a marketer first. No?

    Likewise, I see marketers being called to act like ‘storytellers’ or sometimes ‘journalists’ too. I assume that this shift to act like A, B, or C is contextual of course – doing what, why, for whom, how? In the nucleus, they are marketers, and the orbits keep on changing. 🙂

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Vinish, Thanks for this thoughtful take. I like the way you put this: In the nucleus, they are marketers, and the orbits keep changing.

  • Adrienne

    We are the midst of this very same transformation. It’s exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. While I agree with @vinishgarg:disqus to some extent, I think that we have experienced a fundamental shift in how we view the content we are creating that is different from a marketing mindset. Ultimately, for any good marketer, it is about making a sale. Content in the way that Intel describes is not created to achieve that goal (it may contribute but it’s not its raison d’etre). It’s to add value to people’s lives that’s brand-relevant but not about getting you to pull out your wallet to purchase an Intel product. There’s a fundamental difference between a journalist and a storyteller and, at the core, it’s about objectivity and subjectivity. I think a marketing-mindset would fall firmly in the latter.

  • Lorea Sam

    @marciarieferjohnston:disqus Exactly, changes had to be made to start growing. Agree with your point. Your article was good. I found Renae Gregoire’s blog- ineedcopy.com very useful as well. Thanks again for the info!