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Three retail brands that are becoming media companies [Plus, Four Hot Tips for Content Marketers]

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While content has always been ‘king’, it now plays a central role in search engine optimisation and social media management. In this five part series, Grant Arnott outlines why and how online content has become a powerful online tactic for achieving commercial goals. [PART FOUR of FIVE]

For longer than any of us have been alive, advertising primarily revolved around paying a fee to leverage mass or niche audiences built by publishers and media outlets.

There’s undoubtedly a strong market for this – it’s how Anthill and many others put food on the table – but there’s a major shift occurring driven by digital publishing.

To build an audience today, you don’t need a gargantuan printing press or a television studio or five floors of reporters. The barriers to entry to publishing content online are nil, and thus brands are capitalising on the more affordable content delivery systems today to bypass advertising.

Enter content marketing – where brands and retailers are bypassing media and creating their own forms of audience engagement to build authority and value.

Gilt: How a retail brand became a masthead

Though I have mentioned this already in a previous article, one of my favourite exponents of this is Gilt – the largest private online sale group in the US. With humble beginnings as an online version of New York’s sample sales in 2007, Gilt has grown rapidly to become a globally recognised online retail brand, attracting millions of shoppers daily to its limited time members only sales.

Gilt recognised early that content meant everything to its discerning fashion shoppers. In Gilt’s case, content is everything – from the curated selection of sale items to the site design, the product imagery, descriptions and messaging, Gilt exemplifies excellence in content marketing.

Sharp management at Gilt began poaching recognised and respected editors and reporters to transform its content from marketing copy to high value editorial, and the results continue to drive benefits. Gilt has become a symbol of authority in fashion and its other categories including food and homewares in a short space of time. Now Gilt has launched its own publication, Dujour, further building on its stature as a publisher and a brand. Dujour.com hosts a high quality lifestyle magazine featuring style tips, feature pieces and many of the hallmarks of more established glossies.

It’s a wake-up call to institutional mastheads that they don’t necessarily ‘own’ authority any longer, and media fragmentation will create greater opportunities for content marketers to carve out their own slice of audience. It’s happening already. The tip is to create content not overtly branded or promotional, but engaging, informative and entertaining, in order to establish authenticity and authority. Gilt has done an amazing job of this, and its content marketing strategy helps drive higher and higher revenues through its e-commerce sales.

Refinery 29 and Vimofo: Fashion house, wine label or media brand?

Following the reverse of Gilt’s progression from retailer to publisher, Refinery 29 built a mass following as a fashion news and trends site and is now leveraging that audience engagement by delivering e-commerce. Recognising that loyal audience members are more likely to buy direct from the source of the best content, Refinery 29 has invested in top e-commerce talent to turn direct sales into an additional revenue stream to supplement its advertising model.

Closer to home, online retail reveals some excellent exponents of the art of content marketing. Vinomofo, an irreverent wine daily deals brand (now part of the CatchOfTheDay Group), began life as a forum and information resource for wine lovers. When the light went on that this highly engaged and loyal audience would make a great customer base for a wine retail venture, the business took off. Now, Vinomofo continues to combine its stature as a wine lovers resource and a retailer to deliver a most efficient, engaging business model.

There are a number of other examples of excellence in content marketing, which we’ll summarise, in our final instalment, where we’ll also focus on harnessing user-generated content to power authenticity, authority and engagement.

Meanwhile…

What Can You Do To Build And Engage Your Audience?

Here are four hot tips.

Don’t think ‘promotion’, think ‘authority’

Content marketing is not a twist on promotional activity. Successful content marketing is about building a loyal following through establishing authority, adding value and creating original, compelling content on a regular basis. The value comes with the alignment of that quality content with the products and services you offer.

Do develop a customer-focused strategy.

If the goal is to stuff your site with content because you’ve heard it will boost search traffic, you might score once in a while but you’ll never win the game. Canvas what your customers are interested in and looking to learn about, and provide a content strategy that works to engage and intrigue customers, gives them a reason to keep coming back to your brand and also aligns them with your offering.

Don’t cheap out on content.

It can be a leap of faith, so do some testing if you can before rolling out a large-scale content strategy. However, cheap aggregated content really can devalue your content marketing initiative and skew your ROI.

Do utilise social media

Use your content as a listening tool to gauge what customers want. Visit the other sources of media they peruse, and focus on the subject matter and trends of most interest.

Want the next in the series? To read this series from the beginning, click here.

Grant Arnott is a business media veteran with over 12 years experience, and a sought after expert on e-commerce and content marketing. He is publisher of the E-Commerce Leaders’ Playbook, Power Retail, Power Content and also serves as chair of the Online Retailer Conference and judge of the Online Retail Industry Awards. This article is the second in a five part series.

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