Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
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Publisher branded content revenue grew 40% YoY, and other content marketing insights

The global content marketing industry will grow at an annual rate of 16% per year through 2021. It’s set to reach $412 billion by the end of 2021, according to a November 2018 report by British market-research firm Technavio.

The Content Marketing Institute says this growth is being driven to a large extent by the fact that 86% of B2C brands now employ content marketing.

Content marketing “is booming”

Tony Silber, former Vice President at Folio wrote in Forbes, “Ad spending is declining across the media industry, except in content marketing. From native posts to ebooks and even lush print magazines, the form is booming.”

What’s the new currency of advertising? It’s content.

Tony Silber, former Vice President at Folio

Another research by branded content platform Polar found that publisher branded content revenue grew 40% YoY from 2017 to 2018.

Publishers like The New York Times, Guardian and Quartz have their own branded content studios. According to the FIPP Innovation in Media 2019-2020 World Report, revenue from Guardian’s content studio, Guardian Labs grew 66% in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period the previous year.  

Quartz, whose studio is called The Lab, has created 540 campaigns for over 150 brands since its launch in 2013. And the Times has doubled its international digital ad business in the last couple of years with the bulk of the growth coming from its T Brand Studio.

However, creating branded content can be hard and expensive. Brian Tolleson, Head of Content at branded content studio Bark Bark says, “Great branded content is really tough.  I’ve been in this space for fifteen years and the biggest mistake I’ve made or seen people make is thinking that it’s simple.”

While creating great content might look easy, it’s not. And just as people will hate your brand if you bombard them with annoying ads, they’ll feel exactly the same if you waste their time crap serving content.

Stéphanie Thomson, Editor and Content Strategist at Google

These campaigns also require multiple steps of approval which complicates and extends the process.  Further, clients and agencies demand high-quality multimedia content which in turn requires expensive equipment and writers.

So how do publishers ensure that they consistently deliver high-quality branded content for their clients? Here are some pointers from the FIPP report.

Blending experts from advertising and journalism

The best branded content comes from a team that draws expertise from the different segments of publishing including, editorial, marketing, sales, and tech. According to Jeremy Elias, Executive Creative Director at The Atlantic, “When it comes to building a winning content marketing team you really are blending at least two fields: your traditional advertising creative and your journalist.

“We’ve got people who were editors at media companies, others who were documentary film-makers, and others who were copywriters at ad agencies. It’s the merging together of their expertise that helps us create award-winning branded content.”

At Guardian Labs, each project is assigned to a core team of four people from editorial, strategy, sales and project management skills. They oversee the project taking help from other staff members of the Lab as required.

Balancing storytelling and marketing

According to Elias, content marketing is an equation in which value for the brand + value for the audience = success. He says, “Often when content marketers fall short, it’s that they’re favoring one side of the equation.

“In some situations, the content really over-emphasizes the brand and makes it all about them. That can end up sounding like a repurposed press release. It’s also possible to fall short on the other side of the equation, where you’re telling a really great story but there’s no connection to the brand. The idea is to fall in the middle, where your content provides value to the audience while also having a clear brand connection.

Sometimes the allure and pressure of including bright shiny new things can be tempting. Graham McDonnell, Creative Director at the Times’ T Brand Studio said, “Some clients come to us and say they want AR and VR. They want all the bells and whistles, and all the flashy toys. But we tell them it’s much more important to think about the story first, and then how to tell it.”

What is the story, what is its value to the reader, and what is its value to the brand? That needs to come first.

Graham McDonnell, Creative Director at the Times’ T Brand Studio

“What they stand for and how they’re different”

Elias recommends starting with developing a deep understanding of the brand—“get a better understanding of what they stand for and how they’re different from their competitors.” The next step is exploring how this “comes to life in their products or in the people they hire.”

The process helps establish the big themes that the brand can authentically align with. For example, a brand selling HR software service can align with the future of work for its content marketing campaign and explore what value it can deliver to its audience.

People want to learn something they don’t already know. Ask brands what about them is unique, new and timely?

Lauren Reddy, Director of Audience Development and Insights, T Brand Studio

Taking the guesswork out of campaign decisions

Data can help take a lot of guesswork out of campaign decisions. It can help identify the topics that are shaping and driving audience interests and behaviors.

Adam Foley, Director of Sales and Strategy at Guardian Labs told Digiday, “Every Labs project is designed to resonate with and target readers wherever they may expect to see a type of content. That’s partly thanks to the commercial team getting access to in-house data-analytics tools, like Ophan, long used by the Guardian’s editorial team.”

He also pointed out that Guardian Labs had a team of audience editors who analyzed data to determine where, when and how content should appear in order to be of interest to the right target audiences. That’s seconded by Reddy, who suggests, “You have data about your readers, use it. Not your best guesses or stereotypes.”

But of course it should all start with your audience, she recommends, “Think about your audience and create content that provides value, actionable information that improves their lives and builds brand trust.”

Download WNIP’s comprehensive report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.