How can marketers benefit from ‘brand journalism’?
Originally written in 2015 & updated for 2018.
As long as people have been communicating, we’ve used stories to relate to each other, make sense of things, and help us make decisions. In recent years, the rise of content marketing has enabled businesses to use the tools and techniques of journalism to tell their company stories, or use external copywriters and journalists to tell their stories for them. Enter the world of ‘brand journalism’…
The Story is the Essence of Communication
Digital marketing technologies have advanced at such a rate that we’re now sharing greater amounts of information and ‘stories’ on line. With the popularity of social media, blogging, forums, review/comparison websites such as Trip Advisor, we’re finding that we’re making more and more decisions based on those stories. A lot of this has to do with our (consumer’s) need to find out information for ourselves and make an informed decision about a product or brand before we decide to purchase – so we look to ‘experts’ and other people’s reviews of a company/product in order to form our own opinion.
The rise of Brand Journalism
The publishing industry overall is undergoing enormous changes, and with it is the decline of traditional print media, which brings new online opportunities for brand journalism. But it can be confusing understanding exactly what brand journalism is – is it blogging, is it PR, it is journalism? One thing’s for sure: it’s not traditional reporting.
In simple terms it pulls together journalistic principles and skills, together with brand storytelling and corporate content, to create, curate and share information, improve how companies tell their stories, and what stories they decide to tell – ultimately to engage and educate the brand’s target audiences with relevant content.
It’s said to be a less ‘salesy’ approach and therefore more credible and authoritative, rather than the usual ‘buy me now, my products are great’ promotional drivel that we’ve seen companies churn out for decades.
But it’s not necessarily content marketing, either. True, the two are interconnected; but brand journalism looks at how an audience can benefit from the content, and means companies are no longer just pushing out sales messages, but thinking and acting like publishers. This is because journalists naturally approach content differently from a marketer – they think about the audience/reader first, and this is a mindset that marketers are being seen to adopt more and more, as more companies create blogs and other informative, relevant content for their audiences. Despite this, many people still believe that brand journalism favours the brand: the content comes from the brand’s point of view and the storytelling is subjective, being of course favourable to the company’s interests.
Here we can see a real link between brand journalism and native advertising – the latter being promoted, paid-for content that is produced in a journalistic, editorial style, which informs the audience but benefits the brand too.
The modern marketing department = real-time news room?
Marketers don’t need to panic – you’re not going to lose your jobs to journalists! But if you’re keen to introduce brand journalism into your communications mix then you need to apply journalistic skills when creating your content. If you’ve worked in PR, blogging or content marketing then you’ll already be equipped with the essential skills such as content planning, research, and copywriting.
Building a connection with your audience
As we – consumers – and businesses become more social, brand journalism can help companies to create interest among their audiences, leaving behind outdated press releases and aggressive marketing techniques, in favour of a more long-term, natural approach. There is an opportunity to build a connection with readers and improve your reputation; if people visit your website or see an article by your brand on a news site, and identify with the content, you can improve your company’s image and become a trusted leader in your industry – but it takes time and won’t happen overnight.
Act like a journalist
In today’s digital media-rich environment, there is no longer a place for ‘traditional’ corporate communications that ‘push’ promotional messages out to the masses. Marketers need to think about how brand journalism can support their strategy, as well as the shift in thinking that adopting this technique requires – to ‘pull’ an audience in, in a way that makes them feel connected to your brand. By acting like a journalist, you can create credible content that adds value.
Alternative opinion: Can the words ‘brand’ and ‘journalism’ really co-exist? Is it an oxymoron?
Nicola Prior, a trusted friend and respected PR & Marketing professional, gives an alternative view and poses the question: “There is often a massive chasm between a brand (and what it is trying to say about itself) and journalism. Therefore is “brand journalism” an oxymoron in the media world?”
For me, it is a way a describing a new approach to marketing and thought leadership, combining content marketing with a more journalistic focus. It’s very likely that the media world may scoff at the idea of ‘brand journalism’ and may never use the term in this context. It would be interesting to hear people’s thoughts!