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Why you should (strongly) consider brand publishing

Quentin Franque leads lectures on digital transformation for publishers at Sciences Po, a world-class university in Paris. He also takes the role of Head of Marketing and Communications at the digital marketing agency, Intuiti

In November 2021, as I was doing a return trip between Calais and Nantes (it’s a long journey!) I shared why we would soon be seeing an explosion in the number of brands acquiring a media. A year later and very few acquisitions had taken place (in France at least). On the other hand, I’ve lost count of the number of companies (like Poool) who have launched their own media (rather than buying an existing one). And this has been the case across a wide range of secteurs, in both B2B and B2C – from interior design and real estate, to fashion and tech companies. Launching a brand publication certainly isn’t anything new, but it seems we’ve gone past this strategy being innovative to it being the norm.

Reputation, visibility, business: 3 goals for most brands turning to publishing

The order doesn’t matter, but reputation, visibility and business (lead gen, account creation, sales…) are the 3 goals cited by every professional I’ve met on why they launched a brand publication. One head of comms of a large French industrial group explained “you should, before anything, start with the Business Unit that’s suffering the most from a lack of strong reputation and sales results”, building a media around this BU*.

The business goal for your publication won’t necessarily be this concrete. In some sectors, particularly those with multiple intermediaries, ‘to influence’ remains the number 1 goal. “Launch a brand publication with a voice” was the advice shared by Marie Hardy, Head of Le Comptoir de Malakoff Humanis – “We launched our media with one clear goal: incarnate a collective expertise with content that informs our clients. It’s a service to them, helping to develop their daily choices and actions”.

The media you’re reading from right now, for instance, seeks to meet the above goals as well as provide a variety of benefits for Poool: 

  1. Position themselves as the main point of expertise within the industry
  2. Facilitate prospect’s buying decision
  3. Centralize demands around a challenge (just like you’d do for a SEO tree) for a known target audience. At The Audiencers, this is professionals working in digital publishing
  4. Whilst also centralizing potential future demands that are still being defined in the industry, where Poool aims to become a reference

Reduce acquisition costs, a less obvious but important goal

Historically, the gambling industry has focused on client acquisition via a combination of third-party lead generation and traditional advertising (where permitted). In more recent years, the model has in part shifted to more involved partnerships with linear broadcast networks…The thought here is simple — eyeballs build brand awareness and eventually lead to new customers. In the game of customer acquisition, lower costs are king. That’s where Barstool fits in. In this (long) article, the American analyst Will Hershey dives deeper into the reasons why Penn National Gaming decided to acquire Barstool.

In the last few years, the marketing mix has taken a turn to focus more on the short term, over-investing in the end of the tunnel rather than in brand awareness. The problem is that this has led to costs exploding…

  1. …there’s strong competition at the end of the funnel – the number of potential customers at the end of the tunnel hasn’t increased nearly as much as those investing. On Google, for instance, where just 3 sites advertised on the word ‘trowel’ (yes, trowel) 5 years ago, there’s now a dozen or more
  2. …platforms employed for the end of the funnel often have the monopoly, or near-monopoly

To reduce acquisition costs, many now turn back to the start of the funnel: branding.

If brand publishing leads to reduced acquisition costs, why aren’t all brands getting on board with this strategy?

A few reasons… 

Firstly, in very large organizations, it takes time and deep data analysis to be able to change the status quo. After all, we can’t all be early adopters! 

Secondly, launching a publication means a major drawback: attribution. Where it’s easy to see the ROI of an investment in Facebook, it’s a lot trickier to understand the investment made into a brand publication. 

Nevertheless, with a more global view, it’s true that being a smaller organization makes things easier. At Intuiti, for example, just 3 years after launching our media, Decriiipt, acquisition costs had been divided by 3 (taking only the marketing budget into account) and by 2 if we add in the HR costs since launching the media.

And that’s not all! 

There’s still plenty more reasons to get into brand publishing. With the industry having not yet reached maturity, I continue to find new reasons why certain brands should move to publishing. In no particular order, they include:

First-party data collection

Tightening privacy regulations, accompanied by changing user behaviors online, mean we’re moving from an ‘ad-based’ model to becoming more ‘content-based’. Then consider GDPR and cookie-related legislations, which have led brands to work on developing zero- and first-party data collection strategies, trying to make up for the ‘fog’ surrounding third-party data. 

Brand publishing solves both challenges.

Concentrate on a simpler acquisition model

A great number of companies spend extortionate amounts of money to simplify the user journey, to become user-centric, to have a single acquisition channel. But, in reality, budgets often hide the ridiculous internal complexity. Some structures have developed an acquisition strategy that looks more like a bowl of spaghetti than a beautifully neat, tiered wedding cake… What’s more, with the current difficulties to find talent, I’ve been hearing more and more stories of organizations who no longer have the employees to run a whole section of their strategy, or even those who realize that campaigns can run by themselves, without that employee who just left the company. Brand publishing makes acquisition simpler and doesn’t require a complex system or large team.

Support recruitment efforts 

The thing that surprised me the most in our brand publishing adventure was its impact on recruitment. By younger talents, who may not have previously thought about sending a spontaneous application to our company, but also by many professionals with managerial experience. For instance, amongst some of the latest big recruitments, one decided to send in an application after reading our media. Long story short, she became my boss’s boss.” The ex-head of brand publishing at a large French group shared her surprise at the recruitment benefits that came from a brand publishing strategy. And she’s not alone, Welcome to the Jungle and BPI are other examples of brands that have significantly increased their attractiveness to candidates thanks to publishing.

Be in direct contact with your target audience through interviews

By running interviews as part of your publication, you’re doing them a service: visibility to their personal brand for future job opportunities, visibility of their work (or work done in their team), simple personal validation…by giving these individuals the floor space within your media, it’s highly likely that they’ll return the favor.

The difference between a regular publisher and a brand publisher

Reminder: a brand publisher is not a publisher. 

Whilst preparing for a conference, Maximime Hanssen, the editor-in-chief of Challenges, explained the difference between these two types of publishers: “for a traditional publisher, the primary interest is that of the public. For a brand publisher however, content is published as part of a business strategy, where the end-goal is to sell a product or service.”

All the same, brand publishers take many characteristics from traditional publishers, otherwise it would still resemble a regular blog. 

Just like any publisher, brand publishers look to:

  • In its totality: provide a service, sharing researched work and bringing information into one place 
  • In its format: publish content on a regular basis and offer an engaging user experience including quality visuals
  • In its mission: to share information for a target audience, rather than speaking about itself

But despite these shared characteristics, let’s not forget that a brand publisher has the goal of selling a product or service. Even if the publication never mentions the brand, it’s still behind the scenes in the publication’s ecosystem. Conversely, a classic publisher, even one who’s under a confined ad mindset, produces information for what it is – information is at the heart of their business model. For brands, their product or service is at their heart, and always will be, even if they launch their own media. 

*Starting with a ‘need for notoriety’ as your BU is certainly one way to build a media. But I’d recommend working from your target audience and their expectations and problems. If you start with notoriety, you risk closing yourself in with very precise topics that focus too much on your product. If, however, you put audiences first, yes you may end up covering topics that don’t focus on your area of work, but you will at least be read! The HR topic in our newsletter at Decriiipt is the one that generates the most clicks and, since starting this section, newsletter open rates have increased by 3%. Intuiti, the marketing agency behind this brand publisher, doesn’t run any HR activities, but discussing HR increases the reading rate of other sections within the newsletter that do cover our area of work – jackpot!