How Top Brands Win at Content

“Brands as publishers” has long since slipped into the ether as yet another throwaway line for conferences and industry articles. But there’s a real move afoot by some of the largest brands to become quasi-media companies in their own rights.

The question they’re often left with is just how to do that. Executives from American Express, Unilever’s Degree Men and eBay shared their rules for success at Contently’s Social Content Summit. The gist: Find the right content hook, play to passions, operate as a newsroom, evolve your strategy and tell real stories. 

Find the right content hook
Talking deodorant is a tough sell. Many brands are trapped with rather, well, utilitarian products. The obvious choice: talk about what the product enables. In the case of Degree for Men, that meant playing to common interests among men, like sports and working out. Degree introduced The Adrenalist website in July 2011. The content there focuses on extreme sports and athletes who are constantly pushing their limits. After 18 months in the market, the site has garnered 2.4 million visits, 7 million pageviews, and visitors spend about 1 minute on average on the site, doing about 2.9 pageviews per visit. Last year, it created a series of videos of extreme sports athletes. Those “Masters of Movement” videos got 38 million views and a 34 percent completion rate.

“There are just so many websites that people are looking at every day, and if you can tap into their passion points and get them to consume your content, then you can better connect them to your brand,” said Lauren Passero, associate brand building manager for Degree Men.

Tap into passion points, monitor and evolve
AmEx has been able to tap into the passion points of small businesses with its Open Forum community. The point of the site is to help small businesses and entrepreneurs succeed. It started as an event that AmEx put on for small businesses where iconic entrepreneurs like Richard Bronson were asked to speak. What AmEx realized was that the Richard Bransons of the world are important, but there are other experts that the Open Forum community could benefit from. Today, the site provides about 50 pieces of content per week from experts in the legal, customer service, cash flow and accounting side of business.

AmEx monitors posts that are doing well and evolves the content and authors based on what’s working. The metrics for success are different for each story. For some, shares may be important, while other stories just aren’t designed for sharing. For example, a recent piece around tips on how to fire employees, Roen said, isn’t something AmEx expected to get shared.

Operate like a newsroom
Because both AmEx and Degree Men have pretty narrow scopes of focus for their content hubs, figuring out something new and fresh to write about becomes a challenge. Both companies have between eight and 10 writers that operate very similarly to a media company’s newsroom. They bounce ideas off one another during meetings and set an editorial calendar for the week based on what’s going on in the world, what’s trending on Twitter and the time of the year. They also discuss methods of distribution.

Tell real stories and nail measurement
For eBay, however, the challenge is very different. Because the company operates in so many places in the world and is a marketplace for so many different types of products, eBay’s challenge is figuring out how to narrow it down and choose what’s most interesting. The company has several blogs, like eBay Fashion and eBay Motors, and is using them to tell the stories behind the products that eBay sellers sell. For example, the story of Ed Church did especially well. He was reunited with a bike he sold 32 years later — on eBay.

“Social is a part of our DNA,” Reeth said. “Everything we do we are testing, measuring and iterating. We also get rigorous to understand traffic, sales, new customers coming through social, volume of purchases over time and want to drive hard commerce metrics. But in order to do that, we need to have a relationship with people, and our content is what drives those relationships.”

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