Joe Lazauskas is the co-founder and CCO of Faster Times Media, a content studio and consultancy that helps businesses create exceptional articles, videos, blogs, and social media updates. Say hello on Twitter @joelazauskas or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Content marketing has become a powerful way for brands to build long-term relationships with customers while still generating short-term results. As a first step, many marketers are building out new brand publishing initiatives, often with the help of a content studio staffed by editors and journalists.
Smart content marketers will tell you that brands need plenty of their own content published on their own sites. But that’s not the only option. One very effective new tactic is custom branded content campaigns that appear not on the brand’s site but on the sites of popular niche publishers.
At a recent talk, Chris Ahearn, the former president of Reuters Media, said that while the big publishers are still alive, they’re bleeding badly. Meanwhile “small” digital publications are doing brilliantly thanks to a stranglehold on a niche audience.
Although, some of the so-called “small” publications are not so small anymore. Trend-setting fashion site Refinery29, with local coverage in six markets, has 2.6 million visitors a month who average almost ten page views per visit. The site has an extremely loyal user base. Fifty percent of their users visit at least six times per month and 20% visit at least thirty times a month.
Refinery29 was long run by an innovative four-person team, but has quickly grown in the last three years into a 65-person publishing force, complete with what Director of Brand Integration, Anna Plaks, calls a “mini ad agency” that develops custom content campaigns with brands to run on the site. As a trendy fashion site, Refinery29 knows how to make people want to buy clothes.
So what do these branded content campaigns look like and what can marketers learn from them? Here are a few of their best.
The Guess Generation
Guess came to Refinery29 looking for a custom content program that would drive sales and amplify their brand’s social media presence.
Guess was going back to its roots with a new campaign celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their iconic three-zip Marilyn jean. They brought back the star of its classic ads, Claudia Schiffer, and released a line of their iconic pieces with modern updates. Refinery29 suggested a trends piece featuring thirty young fashion influencers wearing iconic Guess looks and reflecting on Guess and the ’80’s. “Something that we thought was really interesting about Guess was the heritage of it. All of our users grew up with Guess,” VP of Sales, Alison Koplar explains. “So, we thought where can we first connect modern-day Guess with the Guess that we all knew and wore growing up?”
Refinery29’s brand integration team works deeply with editor-in-chief Christene Barberich to create branded content that their readers will love. This is why they write and shoot all of the content themselves. “We’d rather shoot it ourselves to ensure that it is in our voice,” Plaks explains.
The process works. The month-long “Guess Generation” program garnered a million impressions. It succeeded on social platforms, too. The thirty fashion influencers featured in the program promoted the piece, and Refinery29 created overlays of the piece for Facebook and Pinterest to maximize its shareability. The result? More than 2,500 social actions, 1,300 shares on StumbleUpon, and influencers sharing the piece on fashion blogs across the web.
Macy’s StyleBlogger Contest
Refinery29’s most successful editorial initiative in their seven-year history is probably their annual “Styleblogger” contest.
It also happens to be a piece of branded content.
This year, in a quest to build exposure of their millennial-targeted Bar III line, Macy’s partnered with Refinery 29 to host their Styleblogger contest, in which millennial style bloggers competed to be named the “Styleblogger” for Macys’ Bar III line. Another winner won a blogging job at Refinery29.
It turns out that among Refinery29’s 2.6 million loyal readers quite a few had their own style blogs. Eight hundred blog submissions came in within the first two weeks to compete for readers’ votes, and the contestants went to work promoting themselves.
Twenty thousand people voted via Facebook Connect, and the R29 judges pared the contest down to five finalists, who competed in weekly challenges to be named the winner. Readers were hooked, spending ten times more time on the Styleblogger page than the rest of the site. The contest was the biggest traffic driver to the site for two months and built incredible brand awareness for Bar III. As a bonus, it generated two great feel-good stories.
Stoli’s 30 Under 30
With Stoli, Refinery29 created the “30 Under 30” editorial series, which detailed the top thirty professional twenty-somethings in New York and L.A. The series was a precursor to a New York versus L.A. party battle, where young, attractive partygoers on each coast flocked to R29 and Stoli-sponsored parties. There they got to snap some shots of minor celebrities like actress Sophia Bush and designers Yigal Azrouel and Erin Fetherston sipping Stoli cocktails.
The party recaps were posted online, and the public voted on which coast parties better. “30 Under 30” got of half a million page views and when the piece was shared, 2,700 people liked it on Facebook. It also sparked serious engagement, with almost 100 people commenting on the piece.
Refinery29 is perfect for fashion brands, but there are publications in every vertical capable of doing what Refinery29 does. Forward-thinking sites like The Atlantic are jumping into branded content, and many more popular sites are capable of taking the leap, though they might not see the opportunity yet. A smart content marketer can help brands identify those opportunities and execute.