4 Things Marketers Should Know About Publishing
There’s more to writing than typing. There’s more to photography than taking pictures and there’s more to publishing than simply creating content.
Nevertheless, marketers and ad agencies act as if all you need is a clever idea, some consumer research and a snappy PowerPoint presentation. Make no mistake; publishing is a skill that talented professionals devote their entire careers to and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
It is not a buzzword, but a craft to be practiced and honed. It’s unrealistic, not to mention foolish, to treat it any other way. Moreover, in the new paradigm of paid, owned and earned media, marketers are finding that publishing is not an option, but an imperative and are devoting significant resources to it. Here’s some guidance on how to do it right.
1. The Importance of Conventions
In a 30 second TV spot, you need to catch the consumer’s attention quickly or not at all. There’s an enormous amount of clutter, so what doesn’t cut through fades into the background. Marketers have learned that in order to make an impact they have to be different, to stand out from the crowd.
That’s a worthy approach to advertising, but disastrous for creating an owned media product, where the objective is not to create awareness, but involvement. Shock value wears thin very quickly. Being different for difference’s sake is an idiot’s version of creativity. At best, it’s confusing; at worst it can be so silly that it devalues the brand.
What’s crucial to understand is that every medium has what Don Norman, in his classic, The Design of Everyday Things, called “dominant design”. Users look to conventions to clue them in to what they’re supposed to do. When they encounter something different, they have to expend effort, which is generally (but not always) a bad thing.
Search boxes, for instance, are generally on the upper right of a web page. If someone gets the bright idea to put it on the lower left, it’s going to be tough to find. Most people will just assume that it isn’t there and leave. If, by chance, they eventually discover that someone’s misplaced sense of originality caused the problem, they won’t be amused.
The only time you want to defy convention is when you want to be noticed for something distinctive. Trying to be different all the time just creates a confusing mess.
2. Build a “Brand Bible”
Once you decide to publish, you are not simply launching a campaign, but initiating a relationship with your consumers that will deepen over time. To be successful, you need to build consistency within your product. Therefore, it helps to create a “brand bible” document that clearly lays out style guidelines.
The brand bible should include:
Schedule: Whether you post once a week or ten times a day, there needs to be a rhythm to your product that users can tune into (believe it or not, they will notice). This becomes a lot easier if you build and maintain a strong content reserve that will get you through droughts.
Structure: Whether you’re publishing blog posts or videos you need to set clear standards for content. length, size of pictures, sub-heads, etc. should all have a consistent look and feel.
Voice: Should your voice be wholly positive or is it okay to criticize? Do you want to project a businesslike image, or is it okay to be laid back and funny? It’s important to spell out guidelines that everybody is aware of.
Creating and maintaining a brand bible is absolutely essential for infusing your product with consistency and purpose.
3. Show Clear Benefits in Headlines and Openers
Write a good headline and opener and it really doesn’t matter that much what comes after it. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but less than you would think. Not only does how you start an article determine whether anyone will read it, it will also color how they perceive the rest of the material (a phenomenon that psychologists call priming).
Unfortunately, all too often people try to be clever or cute with headlines and openers. Headlines don’t need to be entertaining, but they do need to show a clear benefit to reading further. You can take more license with openers, but still the idea is to spark interest. (Copyblogger has some good tips here.)
Again, conventions usually trump originality. Go to your local newsstand and check out the cover lines on popular lifestyle titles. Most likely, you’ll find a lot of “how to” headlines, plenty of numbers (best to keep them under 10), and no lack of promises to uncover secrets and dispel myths.
These formats are used over and over again because they work. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wander off the reservation (in fact, you definitely should now and then), just that if you don’t have a good reason for not using a common format, go with what works.
4. Treat Publishing as a Profession
Publishing looks easy. Everybody has ideas and wrote essays in their student days. There is a new cadre of “content strategists” who purport to be able to design a “connection strategy” that will set you on a path to success. Unfortunately, content strategy is no substitute for content skills.
Therefore, it’s important to have qualified professionals (i.e. people who have published a successful media product) leading the effort. Outside training, such as the Yale Publishing Course, is also a good idea. You can also find some good tips in a previous post I wrote about publishing best practices.
As I’ve written before, we are entering a post-promotional marketing paradigm in which getting attention is no longer enough. However, brand engagement is only effective if there is a clear value exchange and that requires not only new thinking, but new skills that marketing organizations have yet to acquire.