Brand Publishing Is the New Content Marketing
Story-driven brands are now moving beyond mere content marketing and becoming publishers in their own right.
There’s something interesting happening with brands and content right now.
For years, brands have invested in content marketing because it works. It gives companies the opportunity to showcase their expertise, establish their credibility and educate potential consumers looking for their solution. The idea is that if they find you through your informational content and are engaged by it, some of them will convert into customers.
But the most creative, story-driven brands are now moving beyond mere content marketing and becoming publishers in their own right. They’re seeing a lot of value in producing stand-alone sites or even print magazines that speak to the interests of their tribe — their most passionate followers — and creating great storytelling for its own sake.
Consider these stand-out examples:
● Outdoor Voices, the buzzy athleisure wear brand, just launched an online magazine as part of a new storytelling platform. The Recreationalist exists as a separate entity from the brand’s main site with its own domain. None of the content really has anything to do with the brand save for an interview that founder/CEO Ty Haney conducts with Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, and yet, it has everything to do with the brand. The profiles and Q&As with models, graphic designers, illustrators and chefs will resonate with fans of Outdoor Voices who value #doingthings beyond being an obsessive gym rat.
● Away, the hot direct-to-consumer luggage brand, is putting out its own print magazine called Here (get it? Here and Away). You know brands are serious about publishing when they venture into print — expensive and beautifully produced periodicals you can read while sipping a martini at the airport bar and, yes, tuck into your new Away luggage. But you won’t find boring stories about wheels and zippers in the magazine. “Here is written for the way we actually travel, with stories worth sharing — for travelers, by travelers,” Away says. “Every issue features cultural reporting, travel journals, photo essays, interviews with known travelers, and city guides from local creatives.”
● REI is launching its first-ever print magazine called Uncommon Path, which comes out in September in partnership with publishing powerhouse Hearst. “Uncommon Path tells the stories of the experiences, events, issues and ideas that shape the relationship between people and life outside,” says Ben Steele, the outdoor brand’s chief customer officer. “But those stories aren’t limited to trails and peaks. They take us to parks and urban places closer to home, covering issues like climate change impacts that, due to dwindling resources and shrinking local newsrooms, are inevitably getting less press.”
● Airbnb, a brand that completely gets the gospel of storytelling, has been putting out its own print magazine since 2016. Also created in partnership with Hearst, the periodical allows readers to “see the world through a local lens,” in keeping with Airbnb’s brand ethos of “Belong Anywhere.” As the brand puts it: “Airbnb Magazine celebrates humanity wherever it exists: across borders, time zones, languages, and skin tones. We believe that travel is transformative, and key to building bridges in increasingly strained societies.”
What Outdoor Voices, Away, REI and Airbnb are doing is much more than content marketing, which usually exists within a blog hosted on a company’s website or as a series of how-to tutorials. A better name for this trend would be “brand publishing.”
And the brands at the forefront of this movement are not just selling a product or a service. They’re storytellers. They understand that the most successful brands transcend the thing they create to become an engaging, emotionally resonant companion. As publishers, they do this by connecting with consumers over the long-term through stories written by journalists and skilled writers, and richly captured by professional photographers, videographers and illustrators.
Content marketing, at the end of the day, is aimed at turning consumers who have an active need into paying customers. The best brand publishers want to create top-quality content — great storytelling — because that’s what attracts and sustains a real audience, which is critical to long-term brand awareness and growth these days.
Here’s the other thing: While content marketing is often a cost companies bear, brand publishing can be an actual profit center. Away’s Here sells for $10 a copy.
“The way we looked at it, we just wanted to tell stories,” said Away co-founder Jen Rubio, speaking to Fast Company. “The worst-case scenario was that we would have a really cool brand blog, and the best-case scenario was that it would become its own revenue generating part of the business, through advertisers. And what we’ve seen is that [Here] is bringing in revenue, so it’s something we’ll continue to build out.”
If you’re only doing content marketing, maybe it’s time to consider investing in real storytelling that sets you up as a bona fide brand publisher and sets your brand apart.