Brands today are now publishers. That's not news to anyone reading MarketingProfs.
But how many people have really thought through what that implies? Yes, it means that brands need to think about their customers as an audience, they need to produce a wide variety of content that talks to and with this audience, and, of course, they need to employ people capable of producing the aforementioned content.
But it also means that brands, like all publishing concerns, need editors.
Today, Tom makes his living helping companies build content marketing campaigns around the cartoons he draws (you can see some examples of how that works on his Marketoon Studios site). But he learned the crucial power of editing while working as a product marketer (at method, General Mills, and elsewhere)—and editing not just when creating content but particularly in the process of designing and developing the products themselves.
Thinking Like a Publisher
"At method," Tom told me, "we thought about ourselves more as publishers. We would create material that was worth sharing and…we'd share that with the audience; and if we struck a chord, then they would share it and become our biggest advocates."
Interestingly, when Tom was describing his time at method and the lessons he learned there, he wasn't simply talking about marketing collateral; he was talking about the products themselves, products with such unique qualities and arrestingly understated design that they had "conversation power" baked into them.
To get that conversation going, though, Tom and his colleagues realized that they had to focus specifically on that small segment of their potential audience who would be so enthused by the products and the message that they would spread the word of their own accord.
Deeply Meaningful Beats Blandly Appealing
Such focus, naturally, requires editing. You have to take all the things that you want to put into your product and all the claims you want to make about it, and pare them down to what Tom referred to as "the core streamlined thought."
"Editing is crucial," Tom said, "to focus less on quantity and more on fewer pieces that are very well done and have a higher likelihood of resonating and connecting and being shared."
Though one could easily make the argument that this editorial approach is the best way to develop and market products, Tom pointed out that at method, as at many other firms, such focus was also an economic necessity.
"There's often the thought in big brands that to be a mass market brand you have to kind of appeal to everybody.... At method, we couldn't afford to do that because our marketing budget was so small. So instead of trying to talk to everybody, we tried to focus on our niche audience and speak to them in a very powerful and deep way."
In the end, he says, "We found that by not trying to be blandly appealing to everyone, we could be deeply meaningful to a few and that was much more powerful."
Advocacy and Evangelism
We don't usually think of people becoming particularly passionate about cleaning products, which is what method makes. And yet, thanks to its focus on the niche customer and judicious editing in its products and in its marketing, that's one thing method was able to achieve: Fans would send in pictures of themselves with the products, and at least one customer was inspired to start a thriving blog committed exclusively to his love for method's wares.
Such spontaneous expressions of goodwill around the brand are the holy grail of contemporary, conversational marketing, which, as Tom explains, is "about consumers feeling so passionate about your brand that they feel like they own it."
"If we can make fans feel...empowered, like they own our brands," Tom says, "and advocate on our behalf, then we've really done our job as marketers."
If you'd like to hear my entire conversation with Tom you may listen above or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
Published on September 19, 2012
Tom Fishburne, who started cartooning on the backs of Harvard Business School cases. His cartoons have grown by word-of-mouth to reach 100,000 marketers every week and have been featured by The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and The New York Times. Tom is the founder of Marketoonist, a content marketing studio that creates cartoon-based campaigns.