Tom Critchlow
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Branding in the age of Content

How is branding different for a content-first business?

June 27, 2017

I’m in the middle of two projects right now to re-brand content businesses and I’m thinking through the nuances and differences vs branding a traditional business. Here’s some things I’m thinking about right now. I’d love to hear your thoughts. @tomcritchlow or comment below.

First - what do I mean by a content business? The definition is broad but any business that generates a large amount of content, and where content is the product. This could be anything from a media site like racked.com or an affiliate business like nerdwallet.com. There’s obviously a large range in the middle too.

The primary difference is that content businesses are often horizontal vs vertical. A vertically integrated company like for example Warby Parker or Allbirds has a much easier time branding because they own the whole consumer experience, from the brand awareness top of funnel content, to the retail experience all the way down to the packaging and unboxing (and customer support and loyalty post-purchase).

This type of branding is the type of branding we typically talk about when you read case studies and learn about branding.

So how do the rules change for a content business?

Typically a content business is horizontal - i.e they aim for a large surface area of touch points and generate large amounts of content. But the typical experience with any piece of content is shallow and transactional. Take Nerdwallet for example. They’re a dominant force in the online personal finance space and cast a very wide net. They write on anything from the best credit card to 5/1 arm mortgage rates to small business loans (and much more!).

A user experiences content primarily through organic search - Nerdwallet has ~90% of their traffic from organic search. This traffic is mostly transactional - users are looking to get an answer and get out (ideally through an affiliate link which is the Nerdwallet business model).

That’s not a bad thing - Nerdwallet has a strong business. But it poses challenges for branding because Nerdwallet owns so little of the user experience.

So for a horizontal content business how would you think through a branding project? These are not answers but rather conversation starters:

What is your experience with the brand of content? Any good examples to share? Would love to hear your thoughts below or on twitter. Holler at me!

Update - my friend Elan from design strategy firm Midnight had a great quote “every page is the about page when users discover your content from search” which I think is a great way of putting it. Don’t underestimate the number of people who land on your content and have either no knowledge of your brand or a very limited understanding of it.

Update 2 - Sean Blanda just posted a great thread on content + brand. Good food for thought.


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