publishing and content strategy

What’s the difference between publishing and content strategy?

In Content Strategy by Mark BrownLeave a Comment

If you’re thinking publishing and content strategy have something in common, you’re right. It’s not just because content marketing grew out of the practice of custom publishing, where a brand would publish a magazine for their own audience. Over the past 280-odd years since the first magazine was published, publishers have learnt a lot about building audiences and connecting with readers. Content marketers share a similar goal.

There are important differences, though. The job of a publisher is really just to create a channel to a market, then charge people at either end (readers and advertisers) for access to the channel. The job of a content marketer is to create a channel to a market in order to keep that channel open for themselves.

Still, you can see how content marketers can learn a lot from publishers about building an audience and keeping access to it. If you’re searching for a way to propel your business’s content, looking to magazines could be beneficial.

The advantages of imitating magazines

Some readers won’t be familiar with custom publishing, or may think of catalogues or brochures when they hear the term. Custom publishing is nothing like a catalogue—at least, if it’s done well. Custom publishing is about creating content that engages a business’s audience, and aims to maximise the purpose of a piece.

Years ago, companies realised that the magazines could indicate a future desire to purchase something. For example, if a person was renovating a kitchen, they would buy homemaker magazines and seek out ideas and inspiration. It was a small step for companies to say, ‘Hey, why don’t we create our own magazine?’

The content of the magazines, they realised, was their channel to market.

Most companies already knew a lot about who their audience was. Their challenge was finding that audience, and keeping their attention. So if you were a luxury car maker, for example, you would know your buyer is an affluent person, that is probably interested in golf, wine and other luxuries. If you sent that audience a magazine full of content about those luxury items or the lifestyle that came with them, and included information on your own products, the audience were more likely to buy your products.

Problem was, the only audience members you could reliably identify were people who had already bought your product. You had their name, address, and an idea of who they were. So custom magazines were mainly used to for customer loyalty.

Even though they could be used for finding new customers, you didn’t really know who those new customers were yet. So companies understood them as being for customer retention.

Then digital media came, and everything changed. While staying the same. Let me explain.

How digital media changed publishing and content strategy

Digital media made this process much more complicated. Marketers now may be communicating to potential customers rather than existing customers, and on a variety of different platforms. Metaphorically speaking, marketers can lean over the shoulder of every reader.

By looking at social media and metrics, marketers can see what content is working and what is not. Additionally, marketers can monitor how people are progressing through the buyer’s journey. They can then focus on transitioning leads into advocates for their brand. It has become much more complex, but the underlying principles of the strategy are still quite similar.

Why imitate magazines when magazines are closing?

Although magazines have built a strong model to produce content and captivate audiences, the industry is declining. So, why would you want to emulate a dying business?

The first thing the understand is that custom publishers have been troubled for two reasons. Even before digital media appeared, the magazine market was fragmenting. Years ago, if you were interested in the home, generally, you purchased The Women’s Weekly. It had recipes, and decorating tips, and parenting advice, knitting patterns, and articles of general interest. But then along came recipe magazines, and homemaker magazines, and parenting titles. Digital media, with its cheaper production costs, could fragment the audience even more. You could have a site with just vegan recipes, or just dessert recipes.

Considering the cost to print and circulate magazines, the effort to sell it on the newsstand was simply not worth it anymore. It also means it is also far easier for competitors to reach those audiences as well.

So, magazines are dying not because they don’t engage audiences. The problem lies with the costs of maintaining the channel to market, and the vast number of channels available to advertisers at the other end. Magazine publishers still excel at what they do and the framework that they have designed still works; more consideration must be placed on utilizing different channels to your business’s advantage.

The triumph of content

The reason you want to reproduce the work of publishers is they’re great at producing content.

Even if you establish an effective strategy document, you still need experienced writers to create your content. For example, a company that manufactures trucks can understand who their customers are, have an excellent strategy and know what channels their buyers use.

But just because you assemble trucks doesn’t mean you can make content, even about your trucks. By hiring a writer to produce quality content, the company could craft content that addresses the pain points of their customers in a way that is helpful and engaging.

Do publishers use content strategy the same way a content marketer would?

Both industries apply a content strategy to their work, however, it is often more straightforward for a publisher. A magazine for example only has to draw in an audience that enjoys their content then continue supplying that content.

Once a steady readership is achieved, a magazine doesn’t need to guide and nurture their audience through the buyer’s journey beyond that. Opposingly, as a content marketing strategist, you have to understand your audience usually isn’t searching for the obvious thing at the end of the buyer’s journey because they don’t understand all of that journey yet. Even if a certain product solves their problem, they must be led to that conclusion.

How the buyer’s journey affects content strategy

Everyone unintentionally experiences the buyer’s journey at first. For instance, you may be stressed at work then realise that you’re also coming home grumpy and doing a whole plethora of other things that are making you even unhappier.

After you’ve become self-aware of that, you may search the web for way to manage or reduce work related stress. One thing leads to another, and it may be suggested in those searches to have a long-term goal to look forward to. If you know that you are unable to change things at work or home, then you may decide to book a holiday six months out in order to have something to look forward to and work towards within the coming months.

A travel company’s goal is of course to convince buyers that they need a vacation. On the other hand, their customers’ first searches weren’t looking to plan a holiday, but rather, how to get themselves out of their personal rut. A client’s pain point was very different to what a travel marketer might assume it was, but if a travel company can be the one that engages a potential customer with that idea, then that could mean meeting their objective of earning a sale.

In order to direct customers to your final goal, it is important to keep your objectives and personas in mind. As long as a business can remember what they want to accomplish in the end and who they are targeting, content marketing strategists can maintain that the roads, as convoluted as they may get, still lead back to their ending objective whether it be a sale or any other desire.


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