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Spartans - prepare for glory! - King Leonidas, 300

Now more than ever, marketers and brands want to connect with influential consumers through trusted and relatable sources - in ways that really resonate. They understand that the best way to connect is to inspire. And they know that they have to draw on partnerships as they shift their creative excellence they have developed to content excellence. In other words, advertisers need to think like publishers. Wait, what?

Aren't publishers struggling economically to grow their audience? Don't they have to also be experts at tapping into emerging social distribution channels? What does it mean to think a publisher today?

It means...

People want stories. Interesting stories are at the heart of what consumers want to read, share, and interact with. Facts and figures can be compelling, but they aren't memorable. What they remember is the story. The feeling it gave them. The way in which they either relate to or disagree with it. The writers on xoJane do this well through thoughtful, provocative essays on everything from My Parents Adopted a Murderer to I Inspired a 'Bad' Version of Myself on 'The Newsroom.' The raw, real, honesty is what keeps readers coming back every day for more.

But the story alone is not enough.

They also want a strong and compelling point of view. This draws audiences in and creates a reaction. Yes, it can be polarizing, but it can also be magnetic, and at times transformational. When Dogster writes a story called Responsible Dog Breeders are Rare, But I Found One and So Can You, it's certain that a lively and heartfelt debate is soon to follow.

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No one likes a one-sided conversation. It's also not fun to only interact with people who agree with you. Some of the most interesting content is what ignites debate in the comments. And as long as readers feel safe, they'll share their experiences and thoughts, effectively creating a chain reaction of storytelling. They'll come back again and again, continue the conversation, and interact with the brand. This is otherwise known as a marketer's dream.

And in order for readers to feel comfortable sharing their stories…

There needs to be great writing or production quality. Authenticity and quality matter. The reader needs to trust the publisher and believe his or her stance. The reader needs to feel the passion. That's why Remodelista and Fashionista have such dedicated, loyal audiences. Readers know they can trust their recommendations. Visiting those sites is like asking an old friend for her opinion and always getting a great answer. Meaningful relationships like that aren't created overnight. They have to be earned and fostered.

Which is why publishers must:

Be human. It sounds obvious, but if publishers want to create meaningful relationships with their readers, they need to be real. No one wants to read marketingspeak. They want a conversational tone from experts. They want to feel like they're on the inside, and that they belong there.

Create, but don't forget to distribute. Finding a way to get people to invest the time required to move from considering a relationship with a brand to being an advocate is one of the biggest challenges advertisers face. The best way to do it? Create content they'll treasure - and have a distribution plan that takes in account media consumption habits. That means leveraging your media relationships to purchase integrated content from influential content creators, distributing the content through rich media experiences and displaying it across multiple devices. Then ignite social distribution through things that drive engagement. Guide your media partners to craft headlines that make people curious; shoot and design images that people want to remember; and create a wow factor that people will want to curate.

If a publisher writes something that resonates, people are going to share it. On Facebook. On Twitter. On Pinterest. On Instagram. And just about everywhere else you can imagine. We trust our friends, so when they share, we click.

David Tokheim is SVP of Media Solutions at SAY Media.

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