The inevitable impact of the content marketing model is still taking time to be understood in the Middle East, with few companies understanding the concept, and fewer embracing it. However, the recognisable consequence of content marketing, and its impactful value proposition has not gone unnoticed by few forward-thinking traditional publishing houses. ITP Media Group last year launched ITP Live, an influencer marketing division, and then also this month ITP Ignite, a full-service digital content agency. The company already owns over one hundred established and trusted owned media publications and brands within the business, and therefore has a first-hand understanding of the pressure that traditional media has come under. Having successfully transitioned many of their publications online, embraced the way their audiences now consume content and understood the mechanics of modern content distribution, ITP are on a unique path to build a content marketing machine and new media agency.

Much of my time is spent sourcing and reviewing appropriate media partners for brands I work with, and most recently I spoke with consumer publication Lovin Dubai, part of a new media company We Are Augustus. Looking through their media kit we can see some significant data. Lovin Dubai reaches an audience of 890,000 unique readers every month, with two million pages views and four million video views. It boasts a 1.1 million social following and 75% of its audience comes from mobile. Lovin Dubai’s mission statement is “to capture the cultural zeitgeist of Dubai through its food, its people and its stories and to share the secret to living in this amazing city”.

On the flip side let’s compare that to the mission statement of the largest exhibitions organizers in the world with a regional headquarters in Dubai, Informa; “to facilitate the growth and advancement of core client partners by providing optimum business solutions.”

Content is the business model

Lovin Dubai is completely dedicated to delivering value to the audience first. There is no reference to what it sells, or how it generates revenue. Informa on the other hand is clear that its priorities are business and economic objectives. Lovin Dubai has made content its business model.

While the traditional model for many online media companies was to sell advertising space, Lovin Dubai has created a model that takes advantage of display advertising, native content, video content and live events. Their business model is to first build a loyal following by creating engaging snackable content that delivers value to the audience, encouraging them to become a subscriber, before monetizing the relationship through various means. And this is exactly what they do, leveraging their influence to sell access to advertisers in the form of sponsored content, native advertising to experiential activities.

Having first-hand experience of introducing organisational change, I know how tough a task it is to introduce change when a traditional business model is so ingrained into the core of the company culture. It’s an extraordinary challenge to make content a priority, when a mission focuses on the product and not the audience.

Media or Brand?

Informa is one of the most successful global players in its sector. In the past the growth of the company has been largely attributed to its reliance on mass marketing strategies and a traditional business model of selling a clearly defined product, exhibitions space. However, to ensure the continued success and growth of the company the business model needs a reevaluation. The question that needs to be asked is ‘why would a company that sells a product need to reconsider its business model so that it acts more like a media company’.

UBM's sale of assets to Arrow Electronics

UBM’s sale of assets to Arrow Electronics (Source: Folio)

On the podcast Six Pixels of Separation with Mitch Joel, Robert Rose gives the example of Arrow Electronics, one the world’s largest distributors of electronics components, who has acquired 53 of their industry’s trade journals and magazines, both in print and online. Arrow Electronics motive came from an understanding that the primary way their audience, such as electrical engineers, got their post university education was through trade journals and magazines. They recognized that by investing in owned media properties they could continue to educate their market and at the same time have access to 76% of their primary audience when they needed to when they needed to and in areas where the audience attention was.

Arrow Electronics are now the largest media company in the world of electronics manufacturing. The question arises, is Arrow Electronics a media company or a brand, which sells electronic components?

The same questions applies to Hypebeast, an influential authority of all aspects of contemporary fashion and streetwear, advocating avant-garde labels such as Raf Simons, Visvim, and Sansnom. The company, a former sneaker culture blog, now operates an e-commerce platform called HBX that retails everything from Fenty Puma sneakers to GCDS ‘featuring Hello Kitty’ capsule collections.

By being a media company first Hypebeast is in a unique position where once they publish an article about products they believe will be popular, they can capture the data and then simply analyze the information to assess the reaction and engagement from the community. Leveraging technology and big data enables the company to influence buying decisions of their audiences and by using data from their main content driven platform, Hypebeast, they can predict what is most likely to sell on their e-commerce site HBX.

Tanqueray Content Marketing

Theophilus London x Tanqueray G-Funk Party (Source: Hypemaker.com)

In addition to their core business, growth was fueled further in 2016 through their creative services division Hypemaker, which assists brands such as Tanqueray and True Religion in creating campaigns for both themselves and Hypebeast. So, is Hypebeast a media company or a brand, that sells sneakers? The same could be asked of Whirlpool which owns Yummly, or Net a porter which publishes Porter magazine.

Indistinguishable Models

Creating a company today, based on an audience that has opted-in to hear from you and then selling directly to them after the trust has been established is far easier and makes more sense than creating a product focused business and then renting attention on social platforms or through outsourced databases. The decision is easy and the logic is simple, yet, year after year we see companies choosing to rent attention rather than build a direct connection with their customers. It’s a broken system that creates a cycle of on-going inefficiency, a requirement to be at the mercy of changing algorithms and platforms, and built-in a risk of wasting resources by inadvertently reaching out to uninterested or unqualified parties.

There is a paradigm shift in the way consumers engage with companies and marketing needs to be at the strategic core of company organization. Even while a necessary part of the marketing dept. must be to concentrate on the core tactics of content marketing like the buyer journey, lead generation, workflows and so on, the essential goal must be about building a real relationship with our customers and clients, educating them and understanding what their needs are before applying the pressure to buy our products or services. In a technological world where owned media properties can give us trusted access to our core audience as and when we need, is it not time to question whether renting a relationship for short term gain conflicts with the long term objectives of a business?