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Today’s Brand Must Think Like a Publisher

Content is king. But as the line between publishers and brands are blurring, all brands find themselves in both the content and the commerce games.

As brands, we are sometimes wary of pushing content on our customers. In my experience, however, customers are much less worried about the blurred lines, and much more interested in getting that they want when and where they want it. As Alexis Maybank, founder of Gilt Groupe described it,

"If I go into a Restoration Hardware store, for instance, I understand they're selling that product, but I'm not just interested in seeing rows of lamps on shelves. I want to be shown how to set up a room and create a look. That's what I'm craving: the ability to see a product, understand how to use it, and be given the tips and tools to imagine how that might change my interior. Consumers are very savvy."

If a customer is buying food, they may need recipes… and maybe even meal plans, nutrition tips, table setting inspiration, and some ideas about what to talk about over dinner. If a customer is buying a suit, they may need advice on how to care for it… and maybe even information about dress codes, instructions for how to tie a bow tie, tips on how to shine shoes, and perhaps some tips to improve their poker game.

Unless we’re in a commodities business, it’s no longer enough for any of us to just sell a product. If you want to sell things online, it’s essential to attract and retain customers using timely, relevant, well-designed, and well-written content.

According to the research of L2 Think Tank, it’s just 3-10% of a online commerce site’s visitors that will interact with the content, but they convert at a much higher rate–and keep coming back.

Maintaining Brand Voice

When creating content of any type of content, it’s important that to maintain a consistent brand voice. No matter how your customers are interacting with your brand, they should feel like they’re talking to the same person. This has been said so often that it may seem trite; however it’s importance cannot be overstated. In many ways, our voice is our brand.

Take the legendary retailer J Peterman, for example. The product page shown below tells us, “No sleeves because, as any Irishman knows, to tell a good story you need your arms and hands free. Slip it on and you’ll be more entertaining. Even fanciful. Have an unquenchable thirst for Guinness. And you’ll look good.” It’s hard not to want to buy this vest!

photo 2

Types of Content

Don’t allow yourself to be constrained by a narrow idea of what content is. As we looked at in my previous blog, much of today’s brand-related content is user generated. Original brand-generated content, however, can include any number of things ranging from product pages, blog posts and articles, newsletters, illustrations, infograpics, photos, webinars, videos, ebooks, live streams, white papers, tutorials, reviews, recipes, interviews, contests, open threads, polls, cartoons, instructions, forums, games, press releases, and social media posts of all kinds. It can also include offline content: brochures, postcards, direct mailings, books, magazines, swag. The most appropriate content will be determined by your users. Ask yourself: where are they now, and what do they need?

A customer looking at the wines of France may need regional maps and tasting guides, a new car shopper may appreciate tips on maintaining a clean car, and customers shopping for infant car seats could be thrilled to see safety and installation instructions presented alongside items for purchase.

Some commerce companies have gone as far as to publish entire magazines–powerhouse women’s luxury fashion site Net-A-Porter just shipped the first issue of their print magazine, Porter (sold as a six-issue subscription for $48 a year). It’s not necessary to go that far, however; your content strategy can begin in a much more accessible way.

Choose your content types based on what your customers need or might enjoy, hold tightly to your brand’s voice, and be sure to pay attention to the content that your customers are already creating for you–for better or for worse. In today’s landscape, it’s no longer enough to sell; you’ve got to create and curate content as well.

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