What content marketers can learn from media companies

Media are brands and brands are media in the new attention economy

File under: steal these ideas. This recently released strategic growth plan from The Texas Tribune has lots of relevant tactics for publishers looking to transform their operation. But it also happens that this same advice is exactly what brands should be doing as they evolve their playbook to stay relevant in the new attention economy.

The original document lays out the full plan, but here we list out some of the best takeaways. Some are obvious, some are easier said than done, but all are worth thinking about at least for a minute or two.

Your audience is your most valuable asset

In the health and wellness category, Northwell Health has centered its entire marketing focus on being more relevant in the day-to-day lives of people in their community. Pictured here is a day in the life of their target audience mapped.

Exposure to audiences and earning their permission to interact is a first and crucial step toward relevance


  • Convene and connect your community in real life. Live events can spark and reinforce relationships.
  • Embrace partnerships where you have access to new, built-in audiences – especially unconventional ones.
  • Package content for internet consumption. (Think: what gets clicked, what ranks in search, what looks good on mobile).
  • Participate meaningfully in the community. Serve the community you want to sell to.
  • Ensure your team reflects your audience. Or the gap between the two can cause issues.
  • Don’t build castles in other people’s sandboxes. Build your own sandbox (and ask for emails addresses from sandbox attendees!)

Keep your friends close and your customers closer

For $20, REI customers can become lifetime members of the REI Co-op. The benefits include discounts and special access among other perks. As a result REI has an addressable relationship with a community of 17 million people and counting.

Owning your future means owning the relationships with your audience – which is why smart publishers and brands are embracing the membership model


  • Find ways to make readers feel like part of a club (not just a customer). Think swag, discounts, exclusives, first-access, and rewards.
  • Give members access to truly special content experiences: Specialized newsletters, forums, live chats with subject matter experts, event passes, access to beta tests, etc.
  • Motivate your members to mobilize your message. Make your membership stand for something, whether it be a perspective or an actual cause. Incentivize vocalization.
  • Make subscriptions a priority: “Newsletters are a direct pipeline to engagement and member conversion.”

Make it a tech stack, not a tech silo

No, it doesn’t have to be this fancy, but it is a good idea to map out your tech stack against your marketing lead flow. There’s actually a ton of interesting martech stacks mapped out at this link.

Too many brands and publishers are toting around legacy tech stacks, cobbled and bolted together after years of unrelated decision-making. End that now.


  • Invest in the boring parts of technology, like subscriber preference management. (Reducing friction + updating = increasing participation.)
  • Ensure your CMS has an evolutionary roadmap. Don’t get mapped into a proprietary framework with little incentive to improve.
  • Plan art, stories and the reader experience for mobile first. Avoid making it just about removing desktop functionality, build up from the ground in mobile.
  • Experiment with new ways to interact with readers. Even conference calls seem like interesting technology when used correctly.
  • Don’t just collect data, connect your audience data from all sources and synthesize it to address advertiser targeting needs, editorial product improvements, and conversion. (Read: actually invest in this versus cobbling it together for presentation’s sake.)

Experiment like a startup

The American Chemical Society recently launched C&EN BrandLab – an in-house content studio and agency designed to better serve their advertisers.

Stop waiting for permission to launch beta ideas and new revenue streams. Just because it’s not traditional doesn’t mean it can’t work.


  • Adopt a “product” culture: “Think beyond the story to the tools, platforms, practices and teams that support and amplify” your message and mission.
  • Consider making sponsor opportunities around content experiences for non-traditional (and non-competitive) entities.
  • Offer a premium member service or set of tools worth paying for. Beyond your core business offering.
  • Think about what an annual event or series of micro-events might look like for your organization – and how you might have them paid for or sponsored.
  • Create an editorial strategy board who can help make connections to unexpected partnerships with access to audience or revenue streams you might not currently be considering.

And finally, there’s only one idea we’d add:

Embrace the pilot. Big ideas can’t (and shouldn’t) come through as top-down mandates, all at once. Instead, bet small and learn big to evolve your way to sustainable success.

To dive deep on the rest of the full strategic plan that inspired this list, here’s the link. R


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