NR Competitive Research BrandiNG/MARKETING PROGRAMS OF MEDIUM AND FLIPBOARD

Chi Kuan

To better understand the content platform industry as well as to get a clearer picture of News Republic's current competition and potential directions for improvement, I've looked into two of the market leaders in the "content aggregator" category, Medium and Flipboard. In this research, these two platforms will be discussed separately, including a brief introduction of their products, brand positioning, marketing channels, a summary of their various marketing campaigns, and other observations. Finally there will be a conclusion sharing my findings as well as some thoughts on future branding/marketing ideas for News Republic.

MEDIUM

Introduction

Medium is an online publishing platform where people can read/ comment/ share articles as well as write their own content. It has a huge collection of publications from both amateur and professional writers, with 30 million website visitors a month, according to the CEO Ev Williams.

brand positioning

Medium's brand logo features the letter M colored in different shades of turquoise and green, to symbolize the refreshing experience it wishes to provide for its users. The 3D design of the letter emphasizes "depth" as the differentiating point of Medium compared to other networks, strengthening the association of high quality to the brand.

Their brand positioning is embodied in their short but strong slogan: "Move thinking forward." Medium aims to provide a advanced reading/writing experience for their users through its platform, focusing on simplicity, content quality, and social network span.

Their visual designs are always clean, simple, and professional-looking; usually featuring a blown-up photo with one single line, to create the right brand image that showcases its abilities to provide distraction-free user experiences.

While News Republic advertisements focus mainly on the benefits and functions of the app, Medium goes for a different tactic. It tries to sell the ideal of creating a space for people to speak up freely and express meaningful thoughts. Through compelling emotional narratives like this one, Medium convinces their users that their voices will be heard.

Marketing Channels

Medium has its own Medium channel, a Twitter account, and a Facebook fanpage. Considering it concentrates mainly on text content, they have no official presence on YouTube except for user-generated content like tutorials or user feedback.

This is Medium's main communication channel to their writers, where it announces version updates, introduces new functions, and provides useful writing tips. They have very high engagement over here, with 1.3M followers, and hundreds to thousands of likes for each post.
Medium uses Twitter mainly just to share popular or trending articles from their original website to its 2 million followers.
Their Facebook has significantly less activity, with around 240 thousand likes in total and less than 50 likes for each post. Like Twitter, this page is used primarily for article shares, but with additional pictures.

Campaigns

#MakeTheInternetSmartAgain

Its #MakeTheInternetSmartAgain campaign was present on both Twitter and Facebook. It was a series of "We believe..." slogans, posted only in text on Twitter but accompanied with graphic designs on Facebook. This campaign focused on conveying the central belief of their mission. Again, as their previous branding efforts, clean-cut, visualized, simple, and strong. It received about ten times more likes and shares on Facebook compared to other posts, and hundreds of retweets on Twitter.

#Medium2016

Medium celebrated the end of 2016 and sought attention from their followers by giving out cute presents for the quickest correct answers to trivia questions posted on their Twitter account. It also tweeted a series of popular articles and random facts about Medium, which got a lot of positive responses.

Other observations

Medium has two monetization options for its publishers and best-performing authors. They can earn advertising revenue by hosting Promoted Stories, which are Medium posts produced by its brand partners. The other choice is the Creative Exchange program, which provides financial incentive for its writers by connecting them with brands to execute high-quality content campaigns on behalf of or in association with brands.

According to Journaling Tools, Medium's biggest advantage is its massive userbase. People "come for the tools, and stay for the network." A lot of established writers, celebrities, and politicians are already active on Medium, which makes this network even more attractive to potential new entrants.

Their current problem is the lack of a strong revenue source. It is important to note that they currently are not doing embedded ad sales in order to stick with their values of providing distraction-free reading experiences. Previously they relied heavily on Promoted Stories, but just a week ago they decided to lay off 50 staff members and also announced plans to launch a consumer subscription product for exclusive material and extra features. Whether this new idea will be profitable is yet to be determined.

FLIPBOARD

Introduction

Flipboard is a news and social network aggregation company based in California. It aggregates content from social media/ news feeds/ photo sharing sites, presents it in magazine format, and allows users to "flip" through the content. Readers can also save stories into Flipboard magazines. The company claims to have 100 million users to date.

brand positioning

Flipboard's logo features an F, with squares that indicate the special magazine-format outlay, which is one of their key characteristics in the app. Red is generally an attractive, energetic and powerful color, and it is used here to imply excitement and passion of pursuing one's interests.

Its slogan: "Your Personal Magazine." Two aspects are obviously its main selling points: "Personal", the highly customized content, and "Magazine", the attractive format which is unique to Flipboard and cannot be seen in any other aggregator app. It caters towards and fulfills the needs of customers who want all their interests stored in the same place, organized well, and in a beautiful presentation.

The way they present their content is a huge differentiation point that makes their product offering stand out. To users, "flipping" through contents like a magazine is intuitive and easy, and to advertisers, full-pages ads look prettier and are way more effective than thumbnails.

Their visual design has a very similar look to Medium: huge blown-up pictures accompanied by simple call-to-action captions. It aligns with their easy-to-use product and strengthens the associations of design, simplicity and art with the brand.

Marketing Channels

Their channels include their own blog on Flipboard, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account and a Facebook fanpage.

This is the official Flipboard channel for communicating official announcements and featuring popular content. Its MagMaker community, similar to the Medium channel, is a blog that provides its MagMakers the newest update information and tips and tricks to make great magazines .
Flipboard's official YouTube channel has almost 8000 subscribers, about three times more than what News Republic has. The videos are well made, organized, and presented in consistency with their brand elements and other marketing programs.
Its Twitter account is used as a more intimate community for casual conversations and popular content shares. It has 511K followers and very high fan engagement; it was literally flooded with retweets and tags right after the newest v4 update.
Flipboard's Facebook page is not as popular, with a little less than 164 thousand likes, and around 10 likes per post (mostly article shares).

Campaigns

The "My Magazine" campaign is a series of videos introducing various magazine creators and their values. Instead of celebrities, they chose to feature professionals and artists who are passionate about their missions and ideals, aiming for a more powerful emotional impact. The video itself is very clean and artistic, again perfectly aligning with the brand and product image.

They also made some #FlipTips, a series of cute tutorials and function intros that not only taught, but also intrigued their audience.

#MagsTurn3 was a promotional campaign on its three-year-anniversary, in which they announced Flipboard's major milestones and also made featured posts for the best articles and MagMakers.

This campaign was present on both their official blog and Twitter. The hashtag was used in hundreds of tweets, and featured posts were shared by the MagMakers themselves and many others onto social media platforms like Facebook.

Other observations

Flipboard pushes advertisement revenues through sale of full-page ads, and more recently, video ads. Full-page ads are similar to magazine ads, and they don't cause distractions like links and flashing ads on other platforms. The new video advertisements let users see video and audio full page ads for select brands.

In 2014, they also enabled a shopping section for readers that features curated magazines from brands including Levi’s, Cisco, Estee Lauder, and Land Rover. These magazines act as online shopping sites, and include articles and images that feature catalog-style sections that can be used to showcase and then sell these products.

Flipboard has been growing fast, gaining more than 100 million users on their platform, but they are still struggling on profitability. The CEO states that it would at least take one more year for them to reach positive earnings, but the future looks very positive with their revolutionary v4 release.

Conclusion

After looking at the marketing strategies of Medium and Flipboard, I've noticed a few things in common which I believe are critical to their success.

  • Emotional connections with their audience

Their advertisements are not about explaining how to use the app or telling people how popular it is, but about tackling the emotional aspect and showcasing the simplicity of their user experience designs. I think News Republic can definitely try going more towards this direction, starting with a clear, powerful slogan and building strong, consistent marketing plans around its core values.

  • Prominent brand presence

Due to their highly promoted mission statements behind their products, Medium and Flipboard both have great brand awareness and highly positive images. This has been accomplished by clear guidelines on all their marketing efforts as well as coherent messages, designs and campaigns throughout all of their communication channels. In other words, the content they post are very well controlled. Flipboard is especially strong on YouTube, with a very well-organized channel featuring their campaigns and tutorials. As News Republic shifts from a news aggregator to a content aggregator, it would be a challenge to create the right brand positioning due to very little flexibility with the brand name. We do have our own YouTube channel already, so it would be easy to start with organizing the content, deleting duplicate or irrelevant videos, and produce new campaigns that are more closely related to our product.

  • Strong influencer communities

Both Medium and Flipboard have active communities with their influencers and content creators on their own site, as well as other channels on popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. As for NR Spark, the website only leads to the signup page, and the only communication channel with our writers is the Facebook Igniters Group. Managing our creators on a Facebook group might be hard to organize and seem less professional, so I believe that to maintain activity engagement and loyalty of our content providers, an official channel on Spark would be a great way to improve our communication with them.

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