brand publisher
Marketing Content Strategy

Afraid of Becoming a Brand Publisher? Let Disney Show You the Way

6 Minute Read

Virtually nobody makes it through childhood without watching, and falling in love with, at least one Disney movie. Watch those movies with young kids as an adult, and your perspective takes in two experiences at once: you’re able to see the slack-jawed amazement in the kids watching the movie with you, and you relive your own fond memories of watching Disney movies over and over until the VHS tapes wore out. (This is what happened to my copy of Peter Pan.)

What does this have to do with being a brand publisher? More than you might think. As an “entertainment conglomerate,” Disney’s experience isn’t completely translatable to the publishing decision-making most businesses face. Disney’s brand is, after all, dependent on the creation of original content. By contrast, most brands see content as a tool for selling products or services, or simply generating interest among a consumer base.

In fact, some marketing leaders remain hesitant to embrace the strategy of positioning their companies as thought leaders, even as mounting research calls for increased creation of blogs, videos, and other original content.

A shining example of the return on these long-term investments can be found in a living room where adults and children are watching a Disney movie together. (Hint: It has nothing to do with the kids.) Just look around at all the adults savoring their nostalgic return to the world of Disney. I mean, even the opening credits trigger an emotional reaction that precedes the content itself:

No, your brand probably won’t become the next Disney, no matter how hard you try. But by learning from Disney’s example, you can build a strategy for brand publishing that leverages digital opportunities and wields storytelling to considerable effect.

First, though, you have sell yourself—and your boss—on why brand publishing makes sense.

Why Brands Resist the Publishing Model

On one side of the debate, marketers are feeling mounting pressure to act more like traditional media production and publication companies—that is, Disney et al. Their professional guidance says to create large volumes of original content and publish it under the imprint of the brand. They focus on their marketing efforts, knowing related sales and other ROI will eventually come.

Brand decision-makers don’t see it that way. Their focus is on the company’s products and services, as well as the overall brand and its mission. To them, marketing is a necessary evil that acts in service of their efforts. But this service comes at a cost—and for some, the cost of brand publishing can be far too high. It makes sense if you see it from their perspective: as brand marketing demands more resources, including time and money, it inevitably takes those resources away from other parts of the business, such as product development and sales.

In the end, these decision-makers decide that transitioning to brand publishing is too expensive and that it lacks clear benefits. So, instead, they opt for a compromising approach that continues to market through content in traditional digital forms: the company blog continues to get updated, social media is managed on a daily basis, email newsletters are sent out, and so on. These are valuable actions on their own, but they lack the cohesion and potential that a larger publishing strategy could offer.

The differences between traditional marketing and publishing are subtle, but they’re important, and they dictate where you land on the Content Marketing Continuum.

Embracing the Content Marketing Continuum

The Content Marketing Continuum is a spectrum onto which all brand marketers fall. At one end, you have Visionaries, which are brands that have built a storified organizational culture: this is where Disney falls, as a conglomerate that has built its own story around a commitment to storytelling across multiple generations.

On the other end, you have Bystanders, which are brands that are creating content without any larger narrative implication. This is a mode of marketing too many brands are happy to settle for: content is created in service of the products, rather than the brand, and the use of campaigns and other long-form storytelling strategies is largely ignored. A piece of content doesn’t relate to others, or to the brand, outside of its connection with the products and services to which it refers. While this is better than nothing, it isn’t enough to stay competitive with brands implementing full-scale publishing strategies.

Content Marketing Continuum

Practically, the need for a brand publishing strategy refers to building content that has inherent appeal to a target audience, rather than content that merely reaches a large audience. As Harvard Business Review pointed out, this inevitably requires greater latitude for experimentation. Instead of sticking to tried-and-true strategies and content types, marketers need the green light to think outside the box and develop compelling content before figuring out how it can serve the brand’s content strategy.

As a decision-maker for your brand, you probably just groaned. After all, this suggests a lot of extra work, hassle, headache, and expense. But by focusing on different metrics to indicate your ROI—shifting away from sales and conversions to measure brand lift, brand visibility, engagement, and other revealing statistics—you can build your own case for becoming a brand publisher.

What You Can Learn From Disney

We’ve all learned important life lessons from Disney movies, but the company has plenty to teach grown-up brand marketers, too. At the top of the list: brand matters. People will go to a Disney movie regardless of what the reviews say, because they have high expectations. Disney represents not only a quality form of entertainment, but also a seal of approval that parents can rely on to be family-friendly.

Disney recognizes that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. As a marketer, you need to understand this, too, in regard to your content strategy. Content that fits into a larger story has a cumulative effect, building something over time. This is why brand publishing is so important: products may come and go, content will change, but the story your brand tells is an asset worth continual reinvestment. Content can sell more microwaves while also generating goodwill among your clients.


Image attribution: Ricardo’s Photography

Meanwhile, building deeper connections with your audience should never be dismissed. Just as Disney now reaps the benefits of deep emotional relationships with millions of consumers around the world, other brands have a chance—albeit on a smaller scale—to build relationships that generate repeated sales and conversions, as well as brand advocacy, increased brand recognition, and other long-term dividends. It takes time for this investment to pay off, but any brand with dreams of staying solvent should have an eye on the long-term game plan.

Any brand might lean on a certain product or service as its main source of revenue. But business is still business: If that product or service falls out of favor, only a bad CEO would double down and resist change. Successful companies are the ones willing to pivot as the market changes. Why not build a brand publishing strategy that is able to do the same?

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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