At this point, it’s expected of companies to engage in some kind of content marketing. Whether they use blogs, podcasts or newsletters, they want to get their name out there and engage with prospects and customers.
Sometimes, the relationship between the content and the company isn’t super noticeable.
Take Dollar Shave Club, which in 2015 launched MEL Magazine, an irreverent online publication for men that seemingly bore little connection to the direct-to-consumer razor blade brand that spawned it. The magazine ran without ads and didn’t even attempt to lure readers to Dollar Shave Club’s e-commerce site.
Ultimately, Dollar Shave Club cut MEL Magazine loose, as the parent company apparently didn’t see enough return on its investment.
This episode begs the question: Just how explicit should the relationship be between a company and its content marketing efforts?
Is it wiser to have a company blog — perhaps one that’s tied to clearly defined business objectives — or to dedicate resources to a separate, standalone publication that runs with editorial independence?
If you’re mulling this question over, consider the following ideas.
Tips for Starting a Media Brand for Your Tech Company
- Build it from scratch (unless you’re big enough to acquire one).
- Let it run with editorial independence.
- Give it its own name (but don’t hide the connection).
- Don’t discount brand equity and awareness.
- Think like a B2C media company.
Buy or Build?
Developing an audience from scratch is hard. It often involves nurturing flyby visitors into regular readers, which requires both time and patience — not to mention consistently publishing content that adds genuine value to people’s lives. That’s partly the reason why some tech companies decide to acquire media companies that have already found success rather than build their own from the ground up.
In 2018, the sales engagement platform Outreach bought Sales Hacker, an online publisher specializing in content, courses and conferences for B2B sales professionals that garnered 150,000 monthly unique visitors by the time the deal took place. And in 2021, Hubspot, the publicly traded maker of software products for marketing, sales and customer service professionals, acquired media company The Hustle, whose daily tech and business newsletter was reaching over 1.5 million subscribers.
With both of these deals, the tech companies were able to get direct, first-party access to large amounts of highly engaged users who would possibly benefit from their core offerings.
It probably goes without saying, this likely isn’t an option for smaller startups. Or even for ones that have a unique point of view that can’t realistically be found in any existing publication. If that’s the case, the move might be to build their own media operation.
Branch, a startup that makes mobile marketing software, didn’t have a lot of brand presence of its own when it launched Mobile Growth. Under the name of its new media entity, the team began interviewing industry leaders, conducting surveys, creating e-books and, eventually, events. Dan Ahmadi, the company’s vice president of international marketing and demand generation, said on the Growth Marketing Camp podcast that creating a “neutral side brand” gives companies “tremendous power in shaping the industry.”
Content Marketing or Media Arm?
A few short months after Chris Toy co-founded the freelancer platform MarketerHire in early 2019, the team had to decide on what to name its weekly newsletter and accompanying blog.
The name “The MarketerHire Newsletter” was suggested. But ultimately, Toy said, the company decided to give it a more playful moniker to contrast the straightforward name of its core business, so it settled on Raisin Bread.
But the different name also served to give the newsletter and blog “more of an independent feel,” Toy said, one that would allow Raisin Bread to stand out of the shadow of its parent company and find the necessary breathing room to establish its own voice, so it would “not seem like it’s a self-serving thing.”
Because “consciously or subconsciously,” Toy added, “there’s a big difference when you’re reading a company’s piece of content or newsletter versus if it’s branded separately.”
In other words, establishing a separate, standalone media brand gives a sort of editorial license to the team to focus on value rather than business objectives. And also, it helps readers get into the mindset that says, “This content I’m consuming is news, not marketing.”
If it simply went by “MarketerHire Newsletter,” the expectation of readers would be different — perhaps more guarded and less trusting.
By making its content offering into a separate, distinctive brand, though, MarketerHire signaled to readers that Raisin Bread was striving to be a more objective editorial operation, and be the “best newsletter for marketers” it could be, according to Toy, rather than something that’s just dutifully filling space on a company website that’s very obviously focused on delivering leads and sales.
Hide the Main Company or Embrace It?
While MEL Magazine didn’t hide the fact that it was bankrolled by Dollar Shave Club, it didn’t gesture toward it, either.
That may work for some brands looking to assert absolute editorial independence. But for many B2B brands in the tech space, making the connection between the media arm and parent brand known may help in establishing transparency and trust. And it may even bring extra benefits to the parent company.
Many standalone publications will include the phrase “powered by” or “sponsored by” or even just “by” to let the reader know the tech company that’s ultimately responsible for paying the bills.
“It sort of suggests that the larger tech brand is a thought leader in the category,” Amit Bivas, vice president of global marketing at Optimove, said on the Finite podcast.
In 2017, Optimove, which makes customer relationship management software, launched its standalone publication, called PostFunnel.
“Yes, it’s unbiased,” Bivas continues, “but it’s run by the people that understand this space better than anyone else.”
Giving a content marketing arm a separate brand name, but with a note that it’s “by” a larger tech company, gives that tech company some credibility in the space, while still letting the content marketing arm maintain editorial neutrality in the minds of its audience.
Leads or Brand Equity?
Some companies differ on how they want their standalone media brands to support their main business.
Some expect it to bring measurable contributions. Raisin Bread, for example, is measured on its ability to generate customers for the MarketerHire talent platform, according to Toy. It also sells ad inventory on its newsletter to help “feed itself.”
Others, like monday.com, the work collaboration software maker, treat the standalone publication as more of a brand equity play.
In addition to maintaining a blog on its main website, where it talks about itself and promotes its products, monday.com owns a separate publication, called Startup for Startup, which produces podcasts and blogs for people who lead and work at growing startups. It’s meant to be a resource for other startups, a place where leaders discuss the startup landscape more generally.
According to Matthew Burns, startup ecosystem leader at monday.com, Startup for Startup is given full creative control and doesn’t experience editorial interference from the larger company.
Lior Krengel, who heads Startup for Startup, said that the goal of the operation is not to bring people to monday.com. It happens sometimes — and she’s certainly not against it — but the team isn’t measured on that. Instead, it’s measured on its own engagement metrics, such as bringing in more readers and listeners.
But, looking downstream, she does notice that engagement with one benefits the business of the other.
Often, in the context of sharing insights meant to benefit other startup leaders, Startup for Startup’s content mentions challenges monday.com faced as it scaled its company. Naturally, this peek behind the curtain gets some people intrigued about the product itself.
“We’ve had stories of customers [who] decided to use our product after learning more about the rationale about how it’s built and the DNA of our company,” Krengel said.
She added that Startup for Startup is not directly used as a growth engine for monday.com’s business, but everyone understands that engagement with it “does provide goodwill and value for monday.com.”
Whether a standalone publication should be more or less subtle in its desire to get people to try the core of the business is something only the company can answer. The most important thing is to have the editorial offering create genuine value for the audience, even if they never end up spending a dime.
B2B or B2C?
Even if a company that’s looking to establish its own standalone publication is in a B2B space and more narrowly focused on its interests, it doesn’t have to be boring.
In fact, it can look at the playbook run by B2C media companies. After all, B2B prospects are humans, just like the people who read, watch and listen to consumer-oriented content.
That’s how ProfitWell approached its content marketing.
As reported by Wistia, ProfitWell, which sells revenue automation products for businesses, studied and modeled itself after media sites like Netflix, Hulu and Bloomberg. It created a standalone network of podcasts, called the Recur Network, designed to look and feel like a consumer-facing media product, but that would appeal to its business prospects.
“Launching the Recur Network really came down to us deciding to be more like a media network and less like a traditional SaaS blog,” Patrick Campbell, the founder and CEO of ProfitWell, told Wistia.
“Producing informative content that’s also just as entertaining is really good for our brand,” Campbell continued. “Each of our shows attracts a lot of subscribers and engagement, so they’re really helping us differentiate ourselves.”
For some tech startups, thinking like a B2C media company could mean adopting a more playful, authentic personality. For others, it might mean wading into less-obvious content channels, such as TikTok. But for all, it likely means taking bigger creative swings, not held back by the outdated expectations of the musty company blog.