Brands are becoming publishers.
Let's say it again: brands are becoming publishers. Is this good? No. It's stupid. If you're in the sneaker selling business, and you are forced by your marketing strategists to become a content publisher, are you going to have the experience equity in publishing you have in sneaker production? Hell no.
You are no more qualified to be a publisher than a squirrel is.
However, you do have one thing that publishers are desperate for- specialized knowledge which can be converted to content. You are deeply knowledgeable about sneaker production and the needs and habits of the sneaker consumer.
You have a treasure trove of potential content.
And since publishing is as simple as setting up a Wordpress blog, if your marketing team or some blogger on Scribd can convert your knowledge trove to content, you have plenty to publish. So suddenly you have a content archive which is a value-add to your consumer. But you still don't know anything about publishing. About how to tell a story, how to sell a story, who to tell what story or how to use a story to create consumer aspiration, which is the real point, for you.
So do you just open a content firehose on your blog or site and hope it will attract people through search, get shared and give you beneficial backlinks?
Sure, you could start there. Or you could design your content to attract the people most likely to buy your product and use it to guide them to the purchase that will make them happiest. Let's do a case study, of how a company called Orchard Corset (link has no nudity but still NSFW) is doing a tremendous job at this with reasonable, not-extravagant resources. Orchard Corset is a company up near Seattle that sells mass-produced steel-boned corsets and shapewear, and their content marketing ROCKS.
Orchard Corset sells ready-made corsets, as opposed to custom made ones, at extreme value prices. So their customer is the novice corset wearer, someone buying their first corset, who doesn't want to spend the $400 to $1,000 a custom typically costs. Orchard has created a marketing strategy that is perfectly tailored to helping this customer buy the absolute best corset for them. They make educational blog articles, videos and newsletters that teach their customers how to choose, size, wear and care for corsets.
They're creating content that goes directly to the questions and concerns of the people who are most likely to buy from them.
Then they share that content through Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and Vine, through email newsletters and their blog. This is the COPE strategy described in this slideshow about NPR's Flexible Content news API- Create Once, Publish Everywhere. Of course, Orchard Corset is doing it without a fancy API. They're just using the principle of creating a quality story kernel about something their customers care about- how to properly size your corset for example- and then generating modular assets for that story kernel that can be plugged into various versions of the story for various outlets.
They're a family business with an incredible story, tremendously rich in human interest. And their story is entirely reflected in and consistent with the company's social media messaging, content creation and style of doing business- it's all personable, human, authentic. Employees, like model Danielle, are given a personal voice. Behind-the-scenes videos of photoshoots give customers an intimate insight into the business. Constant giveaways provide tons of incentive to visit and comment on their Facebook page, and it pays off in 13,000 Likes.
They're using the new Facebook store technology so customers can shop directly on Facebook as well. A recent Facebook post showed the latest customer review of a product, synergistically using the site's interactive features to create content. Check out this Facebook exchange to the left- a customer complains about the mobile site and gets an honest answer, within 12 hours. They're working with industry influencers like Lucy's Corsetry (30K Youtube subscribers!) to establish creditability and leverage the influencers' fan base. This video of their spring corset vloggers' invitational is brilliant.
Targeted discount codes like the one on their Google+ page (where videos are also posted!) encourage and track engagement. Bringing it back to the website, which has links to all social channels placed just where they're supposed to be, there's also a suggestion box page. (They do make one choice I don't necessarily agree with, to house their blog on a separate URL rather than on their domain. Click here for a good article on the pros and cons.)
Does all this make me more inclined to shop at Orchard Corset? Well, I'm not a typical customer for them- I have a pile of custom corsets that cost five to twenty times what their typical corset does- and yet I buy something from them at least twice a year. I have a stack of their curvy model corsets, including novelty colors (like leopard- shhh!!!) I probably wouldn't have bought if I hadn't gotten a newsletter announcing a sale.
Their customer-focused approach and responsive business model means they've taken customer feedback from social media and created new products driven by it. I'm one of the customers who offered feedback- my comment here was one of 56, which is extraordinary response for a company blog. I was absolutely thrilled to learn they are developing a new model that's curvier than any of the available off-the-rack options, and I'll probably buy several. Having my needs recognized makes me feel special and valued.
So even though Orchard isn't how I would typically meet my corset-buying desires, I'm a loyal customer. Orchard Corset is doing a perfect job of what the article below lays out: a content strategy based on a conversion funnel approach. It starts with the Awareness or top of the funnel stage: if you find out what questions your customers are asking and answer them, you may attract them to your site.
To use this technique Orchard Corset has had to become a publisher, and learn about how publishing works. But they didn't do it alone- they welcomed their customer base into the process, and let the customers drive their content strategy. We can all learn from this model, and be inspired by it.