Branded Content 101: The Rise Of Brand Publications

Pineapple mag  via Coffee Table Mags

Pineapple mag via Coffee Table Mags

by Dana Kelly


The evolution of blogging and the rise of the influencer class has fundamentally changed the way consumers, specifically Millennials, consume media. Increasingly, we are able to curate our newsfeeds, news cycles, and the content that is delivered to us. Google, our go-to information hub, receives over 4 million search queries per minute from the 2.4 billion people that are online. That’s one big data party. With this kind of volume, it’s only natural that digital communities are formed, which are then strengthened by social media and shifting cultural norms that glorify content sharing and curation. We use brands, and their online personas, to construct our own self image. The brands we buy, wear, and follow tell our peers who we are, and what we stand for. This is the springboard insight for all branded content.


As we grow more comfortable sharing our lives with our communities online and offline, we grow more passionate about endorsing the products, content, and brands that we buy into. The more shareable a brand’s narrative, the more eyeballs it can attract using its consumers as a vehicle.


Lifestyle brands have the most natural integration into branded content as so many Millennial eyeballs gravitate towards the aspirational, mobile-friendly visuals on Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. But we’ve moved beyond the days of a one-off sponsored brand post on any given blog. In order to be truly competitive in a sea of content, brands need to invest creative resources into capturing their audience’s attention and giving them a reason to share their brands’ stories.

The Journal  by MR PORTER

The Journal by MR PORTER

Five O' Clock  by Harry's

Five O' Clock by Harry's

MR PORTER is a best-in-class example of a fashion brand that, paired with the rise of editorialized menswear and the advent of Men’s Fashion Week, has captured a hugely dapper demographic with its weekly online and print publication, The Journal. The weekly features aspirational fashion, arts and culture stories relevant to the menswear e-tailer’s sartorially inclined consumer base, or 2MM male web viewers per month. MR PORTER's sister site, Net-a-Porter also has a print publication, Porter, on newsstands all over.


In a similar vein, Dollar Shave Club is launching The Bathroom Minutes, an online blog with an expanded print magazine for the brand’s subscribers. The primary objective for this publication is to build a community of customers through lifestyle content, which features employee and subscriber submissions. Featuring user-generated content is another community-building tactic that brands like Dollar Shave Club use to engage their audience to share their own branded content. The grooming space is becoming especially saturated with heritage brands competing for the same debonnaire audience, as exemplified by Dollar Shave Club competitor Harry’s, which is spearheading its editorial efforts with the online magazine 5 O’Clock. The list goes on, and the content becomes more diversified with celebrity and influencer integration.

This explosive and experimental growth for lifestyle brands in the editorial space has paved the way for less-traditional brands. Airbnb’s print publication Pineapple explores the intersection of travel and anthropology, while King Arthur Flour boasts impressive blogger by-lines in its publication Sift. Even mattress brands are hopping on the quality content bandwagon. Mattress startup Casper is making it a brand priority to invest in its editorial vision. The brand hired former editor in chief of the New York Observer and founding editor of Gawker, Elizabeth Spiers, to lead the in-house publication Van Winkle. Brands that you might have never considered topical or aspirational are now becoming editorial tastemakers and household names.


Pineapple magazing by Airbnb

Pineapple magazing by Airbnb

Let’s face it, if your go-to flour brand and mattress company each have their own publications, we’ve entered an age where it is expected that every consumer brand is producing their own content. We now demand this commitment to content from our favorite brands if they want a stronghold on our attention. According to an Edelman Consumer Marketing Study, nearly 90% of global online consumers want brands to share content online. If brands are able to supply enough content and address timely and functional matters, their content has the opportunity to be present and relevant in their consumer’s daily lives. But at what cost? Many brands have neither the time nor human resources to produce content in-house. Nearly 62% of companies today outsource their content marketing, many of them turning to media companies with cultural cache such as Vice or Refinery29 for custom content creation and distribution.


Given the current state of affairs, the following considerations can help align your brand with a branded content strategy:


  1. Consider your brand’s narrative.
  2. What publications does your brand currently pull inspiration from?
  3. What type of content is your target consumer engaging with online?
  4. Can your brand narrative authentically integrate into existing online series and trends?
  5. Do your consumers currently contribute user-generated content to your brand on social media?
  6. Do you have any consumer insights that could steer the creative? i.e. is your product used during a certain time of day, or does it alleviate any common stresses?
  7. Can your brand fill a calendar year of content on its own? Or does a seasonal media partnership feel more appropriate?
  8. Can your product or brand be art directed in an appealing way to consumers?
  9. How can you drive consumers closer to point of purchase through digital content?
  10. How can you play to different social platforms’ storytelling strengths for your brand?


Once you can see that a content strategy makes sense for your brand, be prepared to build a more engaged brand audience, and extend your consumer base to new people who can discover your brand based on content that resonates with them.



Dana Kelly is a content strategist by trade and subscribes to the notion that life, lifestyle, and the left coast are what matter most. The California native spends most of her days at Mistress, and has a deep love for words, wine, and great in-flight entertainment.