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How publishers and media brands can use visual brand storytelling to grow their audience

Just like many other industries, the publishing industry has embraced digital media in order to keep up with audience consumption habits. Those who have mastered visual brand storytelling are capturing viewers’ attention and garnering new audiences by meeting people where they are online and adapting to the new ways we communicate. And the publishers who are organically growing their digital audience are the ones who understand content marketing strategy, visual brand storytelling, and social media marketing.

Digital publishing has grown to represent a $22B industry worldwide and is trending upward with a predicted rise to $35B by 2025. Per user revenue for digital publishers is increasing as well, showing the potential for media companies to attract new paying subscribers in the future.

Digital media creation tools provide a big opportunity for publisher marketing teams to create, repurpose, and scale the incredible media content they already have in formats that drive audience engagement and conversation. With a strategic content marketing plan, publishers can extend the reach of their materials, getting their authors and creators the buzz they deserve in tandem with PR efforts.

Here’s how visual marketing strategies and brand storytelling help media companies engage with their audiences online, and why connecting using the two builds brand community.

How publishers use digital marketing

When the iPad launched in 2010, Wired Magazine built a digital magazine app with their content formatted for the new screen, offering new iPad users the opportunity to subscribe. The online magazine sold 24,000 digital copies in the first six weeks of launch.

In media and publishing marketing, being adaptable pays off. When traditional marketing methods are no longer as effective, it’s time to explore how people consume art and other types of content in the current moment. And at this current moment, that place is online. Pew research from 2021 revealed that eight in ten U.S adults consume content online daily, and 30% of people report they are online “almost constantly.”

During the first half of 2021, one out of every six books sold was a digital book or an ebook, up 22% from the previous year. There’s a shift happening and it doesn’t mean that print and publishing is over, in fact, the rise in digital media means that all of the content that publishers have is ripe for repurposing and sharing in a different way.

Digital marketing provides a platform to promote niche authors to niche audiences by segmenting and strategically targeting readers online, improving author and creator visibility and creating a channel for book sales or subscribers.

Examples of ways that media and publishing teams are using digital marketing include:

  • Media launches like books, films, articles, series, or new columns
  • Highlighting authors or creators
  • Hosting virtual events
  • Attracting new subscribers and audiences
  • Promoting content across platforms
  • Finding new authors, directors, and writers
  • Sourcing new content and calling for pitches
  • Repurposing content into new formats, like podcasts, ebooks, audiobooks, videos, and more
  • Using visual brand storytelling to connect with audiences

The idea of repurposing content across digital platforms is how the GLAMOUR UK team have found success in a competitive environment. “We think strategically to plan certain content for certain platforms, not everything works well in all areas. Each has a different role and therefore different content. We ensure we have a balance in order to exceed dwell time benchmarks on articles and video views,” shares Camilla Newman, the CBO of GLAMOUR UK, Condé Nast.

So, what is visual brand storytelling and how does it relate to marketing media?

Visual brand storytelling is sharing your story as a publisher by incorporating visual content like videos, images, quotes, animations, and other graphics that give your media company a strong brand voice. Using authentic storytelling in media and publishing marketing sets you apart, and today’s audiences want to connect with (and believe in) the organizations they consume content from.

Types of marketing in the media and publishing industry

For media and entertainment companies, marketing means finding new ways to present and distribute content. Content is the commodity. For other marketers, the content is used to promote the commodity itself.

Media and publishing companies are using marketing channels like social media, events, and advertising to share content and promote authors, publications, communities, streaming services, and articles. Content marketing famously pays off and generates ROI, saves marketing teams time, and provides a trackable way to test new channels and platforms.

When it comes to the types of marketing that media publishers should use, remember that it’s all about your target audience or ideal persona. All good marketing starts with a thorough analysis of who you are speaking to, what their interests are, and how they consume content. That guides where, when, and how you can speak authentically and share your brand story in a way that people want to engage with.

Before you begin creating and sharing visual content, develop an understanding of:

  • Your target audience. Who are you talking to? What do they read and share? Where do they live online?
  • Your keywords, phrases, and topics. How does your audience talk about what you offer? Is there a trending hashtag, like #indieauthors or #booktwitter that you want to participate in and include in your content?
  • Your content creation process. How are you creating content that’s customized to each social platform? Do you have shared team folders with branded templates to simply clone and recreate?
  • Content performance and opportunities for optimization. What types of content perform well? Are you strategically analyzing time of day, when your audience is active, and how often you should post to see higher engagement?

If any of these aren’t quite up to speed, invest in a quick audit and review of content creation and marketing strategy.

1. Social media marketing

Most publishers are active on social media across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and TikTok, or any combination of these channels. Different social media platforms offer different benefits. Here’s a quick rundown on each platform and the types of content that perform well for media brand storytelling and some Canva templates to help you start creating.

Facebook

Use Facebook to share new book launches, articles, events, and other conversation-worthy content.

Take a look at these Canva templates for Facebook events (pre-sized for Facebook’s dimensions.)

Instagram

Instagram is a great place to share quotes from content, GIFs from shows or movies, author or creator interviews, book club picks, and discussion topics about content pieces.

Use Instagram Posts, Reels, Stories, and animated Instagram videos to take advantage of the app’s features.

Twitter

Twitter is another great place for conversations. Share visual threads featuring new authors or series, participating or facilitating Twitter chats with visual questions, or host Q&As with content creators. Here are newsroom Twitter templates formatted to help share stories visually.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a place for inspiration and the platform is all in on video. Try creating Pins for new articles or series, roundups of favorite books or articles of the month, or sharing tips or quotes from articles then linking to the full post. Find Pinterest Pin templates and Pinterest Video templates here.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the preferred platform for business professionals and is a good place to share articles and industry events within the creative professional community.

TikTok

Publishers like Cosmopolitan and Vogue each have over 500K followers on TikTok and others like Netflix have already reached more than 20M followers. By incorporating pop culture and memes and jumping on trends, these media companies are connecting with Gen Z and Millennial audiences in a meaningful way.

Did you know Canva has TikTok video templates and TikTok end frames? Video creation doesn’t have to be as daunting as expected.

2. Event marketing

Media brands rely on launch events to create chatter about new book releases, articles, series, or other campaigns. Use author stories, excerpts from creators’ work, and engaging author bios to generate excitement for events.

Using digital marketing tools like your CRM or content management platform, you can segment your audience and target groups who have:

  • Purchased books by certain authors
  • Watched related programming
  • Subscribed to related content channels
  • Engaged with similar content in the past.

By identifying those audiences or communities most likely to be interested in events, you’ll have higher conversion rates, better engagement, and better overall attendance.

3. Organic content marketing strategy

Organic content marketing drives natural traffic to your website using SEO strategy. By incorporating SEO best practices in articles, they attract viewers who are already searching for these key terms. When combined with social media, content efforts exponentially increase their reach and drive brand awareness.

Here, The Economist features a bold social media visual for this featured article and author Li Jin’s personal Twitter thread provides an inside look at the story behind the story.

4. Paid content strategy

Paid content marketing can be direct social ads, boosted organic posts, or paid content subscriptions and premium content. Paid social ads or Google AdWords campaigns can drive new, relevant audiences to key articles or website pages like a newsletter or subscription signup.

News media outlets and publishers can monetize digital content by offering content subscriptions or individual paid articles.

Benefits of visual content for publishers

Visual marketing content helps media and publishing teams hit their goals. Maybe more importantly, though, when done correctly, it saves teams time and effort (and headaches) and leads to business success.

1. Ability to repurpose content into new formats

Publishers have an arsenal of content at their fingertips ready to be repurposed into social media posts, ads, blog posts, emails, podcasts, videos, ebooks, and anything else your media content team can think up.

Repurposing media content saves marketers time, just ask @marketwithmiranda.

2. Improves retention and engagement with audience

When people follow publishers on social media or subscribe to email lists, they regularly receive content and see social posts from their favorite media companies. Engaging with a publisher regularly on social media tells the algorithm to show this content more frequently, establishing a relationship with the audience members.

3. Increases brand awareness and followers

Content marketing campaigns have the potential to organically grow and generate hundreds of thousands of impressions from a single social media post.

Upworthy uses Canva content creation tools to scale their visual social media content to their large (and growing!) audience and increase brand awareness. Their Instagram has almost 3M followers and engagement levels are well above the industry average, with their recent posts generating over 20,000 likes and hundreds of comments.

4. Embraces creative nature of media content

Publishers and media brands live and breathe creative projects. It’s the marketing angle that presents a challenge and requires digital publishers to infuse strategy into their creative work. Visual content provides an opportunity to maintain creativity while also adapting the work to be more engaging for audiences who are used to consuming content quickly and in an interactive way.

5. Amplifies stories that matter

Visual content performs better online than text-only posts and people retain visual content far more effectively. Content with images causes people to feel emotional, motivated, excited, or compelled to take action more, too.

When publishers work hard to tell important stories, they want those stories to be shared and heard by as many communities as possible. Using content marketing strategies, newspapers and publishers can amplify the stories that enact change and make a difference by shifting perspectives.

Brands using visual storytelling in media marketing

Media brands understand the value of storytelling. Storytelling is as powerful as the way it connects with its intended audience and the impact it has on viewers or readers. When publishers take the time to analyze and get to know their audiences, they can better predict which stories will resonate with which followers.

Visual storytelling is most impactful when it is designed for the audience and created and edited in an authentic way. When media and publishing brands connect with communities online, having moderators and brand social media managers who are part of the group they want to speak to, it improves trust and overall engagement.

Here are three examples of visual brand storytelling in media that improved content engagement and helped grow brand awareness.

1. Netflix: Niche Social Media Accounts

Many media and publishing marketing teams are using a popular content creator strategy to skyrocket their online engagement – niche audiences. Mega influencers and content creators often attribute their success to finding their niche early, and catering to a specific audience of highly engaged followers. Then, they’re able to grow that following to others in the same niche because social media algorithms favor content and accounts with high engagement rates.

Netflix’s marketing team has developed niche social media accounts for audiences within their greater Netflix audience, like @contodo, @strongblacklead, and @netflixisajoke. Rather than posting niche content to their main social media account, @netflix, Netflix has developed branded accounts for different cultures, communities, interests, and countries that feature the streaming provider’s content, memes, interviews, and links to new shows.

2. The Atlantic: Instagram Stories

The Atlantic has nearly 1M followers on Instagram who are highly engaged with their posts. This digital magazine has a strong social media strategy, and uses Instagram to:

  • Share “behind the byline” stories on Instagram highlights
  • Feature designed article quotes
  • Promote content using visuals and headlines
  • Showcase new authors and stories

They use interactive Instagram Story templates to send social media audiences to their

digital magazine website and email inbox to read featured stories.

3. Penguin Random House’s All Ways Black: Instagram Reels

All Ways Black is “a community dedicated to Black literature,” that shares book recommendations, author events, and educational content. The @allwaysblack Instagram is curated by Cree Myles, who creates Instagram Reels and relatable posts to connect with the community.

Best practices for using visual marketing in media and publishing

Visual marketing and brand awareness go hand in hand and strategic design factors into engagement and conversion. Use these best practices for marketing in media and publishing to best optimize content for your audience.

Use clear brand or personal brand guidelines

Maintain a cohesive style throughout visual content and create a visual brand style guide if you don’t have one already.

Reuse and repurpose content into different media types

Take content that performs well organically or has consistent views and repurpose for other channels. By repurposing content and owning certain keywords or topics on multiple channels like video and web search, brands increase their reach and visibility and improve overall search engine performance.

Create a combination of short-form and long-form interactive content

Let the platform or distribution channel guide media types. If the audience is reading an article on their phone, it should be digestible and optimized for mobile, but if it’s an annual report with complex content, they’ll need to read it later, on a larger screen and take time to interact with the data or insights.

Embrace multimedia content like video

The top reason brands use video content is to increase brand awareness. Video content is also the top media type marketers are using in 2021. The most effective approach to telling amazing brand stories is through video. With its blend of music, movement, pictures, and other elements, video engages individuals deeper than other forms of communication, such as audio or text. Canva's video editor can help tell your own brand stories through video.

Experiment and test content types, channels, and platforms

Testing out branded content on various channels, to different audiences, and while incorporating different types of visual storytelling helps to bring marketing teams closer to consistent growth and engagement.

Find content creation tools that are collaborative for publishing teams

Developing a content creation workflow that is scalable and efficient is the first step to reaching new audiences. Use content design tools that include team collaboration features, templates, and file management to streamline the content production process.

Media and digital publishing marketers who want to see their stories surface online have taken the time to get to know the landscape and their audiences. Meaningful content impacts those who see it and organically makes its way around the web through shares, reposts, text messages, interview clips, likes, and comments. Tell the stories worth telling and add in visual content strategy and audiences will grow.

To learn more about growing your franchise and building a lasting franchise brand, read: Managing the content revolution — how media brands are growing audiences and publishing faster.

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