As a marketer, are you playing the long game?

When you think about your audience, are you focused on quick wins? Do you think in terms of short campaigns and this month’s numbers? Or are you in it for the long haul?

Your job isn’t just getting someone to show up. It’s getting them to stay – and to keep coming back.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

I’m talking about the emerging idea among marketers that “brand affinity” is the end-all, be-all marketing goal. In other words, our work as content marketers is to create loveable brands that consistently produce such fascinating, helpful content and resources that our audience clamors for more.

What Is Brand Affinity?

If we’re brand affinity content marketers, we shouldn’t just create one-off pieces — one great article or fun video or fascinating podcast episode. That’s not enough to hold our audience’s attention. We can’t just think about our work in terms of sprints or campaigns. Instead, our job is to create in-depth, long-running content that will attract an audience and keep them around.

But producing that kind of magnetic, affinity-building content is no easy task. You can’t do it by hacking the system or relying on a few old tricks. It’s a marathon.

So how can we, as marketers and managing editors, build brand affinity (and not fall off course in a sweaty heap around mile three)?

I knew just who to ask. I called Molly Donovan, who spends a lot of her workday thinking about brand affinity. She is the managing editor of Marketing Showrunners, a company that trains marketers to create affinity-producing audio and video shows for brands. I asked Molly what she has learned about brand affinity and building an editorial process that stays strong for the long haul.

Here’s Molly’s definition of brand affinity:

It’s a shift in what we prioritize as marketers. Brand affinity is about building deeper relationships with customers. We do that by creating something that’s worthy of attention, not just something to get people in the door.

How Do You Measure Brand Affinity?

A lot of brands focus on KPIs — “Did we hit our numbers?” (Basically, how many people showed up?) But it’s a lot harder to quantify whether you created something that really resonated with your audience.

Molly says that making content the central, overt part of your marketing strategy could actually relieve part of that marketing pressure. She told me she’s pushing back on some of the popular vanity metrics. “My goal when I make a piece of content is for someone to bookmark it — for it to help them. It’s not really about how many people saw it. You need to decide, would you rather have more people passively interact with it? Or fewer people more deeply interact with it and find value?”

Essentially, she’s moving away from measuring likes, follows, visits and toward more comprehensive measurement of long-term engagement and value: “If you focus your resources on actually creating something that’s valuable for your target audience, they’ll keep coming back. It’s a cyclical effect.”

That process is high-touch. We’re not talking about automation here, and there is no silver bullet to understanding your audience or consistently creating the content they need. Molly and the Marketing Showrunners team get on the phone with their audience — every few months, they put out a request for one-on-one video calls to learn more about their audience’s challenges, needs, and feedback on Marketing Showrunners content.

It’s easy to measure likes and pageviews, and harder to measure long-term brand affinity. But Molly says it’s worth it to serve the audience and achieve the brand’s goals: “You have to decide — would you rather have more people passively interact with your content, or fewer people actively engage with it and get deeper value?”

Here’s an example of a piece that helped Marketing Showrunners build brand affinity — an article Molly recently published, “There’s No Magic Bullet in Marketing.” “It generated a lot of conversation,” she says.“It was the first piece I’d written where I saw a string of comments on LinkedIn, and people tagging other people. I felt like there was a community of people I’d resonated with.” And, she says, that piece led to spin-off ideas, more articles, and more questions to answer.

If you’re considering whether a piece of content could be an affinity-builder, ask yourself: Is this topic something I can address in a one-and-done way? Or does it open the door for a longer conversation? In Molly’s words: “The best ideas create other ideas as byproducts.”

Doing the Hard Work of Building Brand Affinity

“Our overarching goal is to help brands create their audience’s favorite show, which helps them become their audience’s favorite brand,” she says. “We want to teach chess, not checkers.”

Here’s what she means by that. If you want to create a show, you probably need to learn the basic production tactics: what kind of microphone to use, which podcast hosting platform to choose. That’s checkers. It’s table stakes. What Molly and the team at Marketing Showrunners are more interested in is the art of show-making  — the strategy. Getting better over time. Chess.

“People know that podcasts are big, and that video is exploding, so often marketers hear, ‘We need to make a show’ and that’s the end of the conversation. So they play checkers.” But, she says, “the hard part is making a good show. The point isn’t to just have a podcast because everyone else has one. We’ve ended up with this sea of undifferentiated podcasts and videos. That was never the point. The point was to get people to stick around with your brand — to create a show that’s worth returning to. There’s no magic bullet.”

Why You Should Create an Editorial Mission Statement

I love the idea of “teaching chess instead of checkers.” But what really stuck with me was how the Marketing Showrunners team has incorporated that mission into their everyday editorial planning. “Your mission can get blurred sometimes when you’re trying to have a robust editorial calendar,” she says. “So we codified the challenge of ‘teaching chess instead of checkers’ and put it in our team document on Tettra (their internal knowledge sharing platform). It has informed every editorial decision. It’s our true north.”

The mission statement is front and center. “Whenever I write something, I pull up the page on Tettra that has the strategy and mission in big bold block letters.” She says she filters every potential piece of content through that key mission statement. A blog post might be interesting, but if it doesn’t meet their key mission, they won’t publish it.

Because the Marketing Showrunners team has a clear shared mission, they don’t waste time pitching each other posts that are too focused on the tactics of marketing (the “checkers”). And, Molly says that the mission also keeps each in-progress draft focused. She mentions a recent piece that had a headline and overall topic that fit the mission, but veered a little too tactical and prescriptive at the end of the article. In the editing process, she refined the piece so that it was more true to the brand’s mission.

This is a good tip for any size editorial team. Decide on your simple mission statement. Print it out. Frame it! Or post it on your digital workspace as Molly did. Writing based on a mission will keep your content helpful and synchronized, and it might stop you from publishing just for the sake of publishing.

The Role of Managing Editors in Building Brand Affinity

Like me, Molly graduated from college during the last recession, and she has watched the media landscape and job market evolve for managing editors. “In college, I thought of a managing editor as someone at a magazine or publishing company. But I’m so happy it’s evolved since then. Now, if you’re a creative person, you can do the same role at a lot of different kinds of companies. Every company can develop a media presence. That wasn’t true 10 or 15 years ago.”

She sees brand affinity as a significant opportunity for those marketers. “Brand affinity is definitely the future of marketing for every brand. Every company wants brand affinity; we just didn’t have a name for it before. We don’t just want ‘awareness’ (useless eyeballs). We want people who will keep returning.”

The real brand affinity revolution will come when we can change the conversation about measurement. “Right now, affinity is still difficult to measure. That causes a disconnect,” she says. “Executives want more revenue, so they put pressure on the marketing team to generate more leads. The only way marketers can show they’re contributing is through vanity metrics that don’t really tie to revenue. Marketers are in a tough spot.”

Marketers can solve the measurement problem by leading the conversation about the value of brand affinity. “What we need is a more collaborative conversation between the leadership team and marketers. Brand affinity takes time. Generating affinity is more helpful than generating awareness, but it’s slower. If you give marketers more time, you’ll see extraordinary results.”