In recent years, effective marketing has started looking more like professional publishing.
Savvy brands are creating their own narratives and platforms, rather than paying to advertise around other people’s content. As companies hire more ex-journalists and professional storytellers—people who understand the value of creating “reader-first” content—the lines between marketing and journalism are being blurred.
Differences (and similarities) to consider
Brand journalism has risen from the boom of branded magazines aimed at consumers. Companies are increasingly creating content crafted exclusively for their niche audience. It’s not so much about selling as it is building awareness and cultivating brand affinity.
As Maria Perez of ProfNet highlights: “Consumers want more from companies than just products and services—they want to know companies care about them, about their goals, their dreams and their lives. When done right, brand journalism allows companies to connect with consumers more personally than through a traditional ad.”
As for content marketing, Michael Brenner defines it as: “Delivering the content your audience is seeking in all the places they are searching for it. It is the effective combination of created, curated and syndicated content.”
Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi adds: “Content marketing is a marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
The buying process and lead generation are two common reasons cited why you should not use these two terms interchangeably. Stories written by brand journalists are meant to strongly connect on a personal level and create a favorable impression of the brand. The goal is to find and tell the stories that convey a brand’s “personality,” as opposed to moving prospects along the sales funnel.
(Image via Prowly Magazine)
Brand journalism in action
Here’s a flavor of how companies are using brand journalism to share, promote and distribute content:
– P&G Everyday from Procter & Gamble
– Backing America’s Backbone by U.S. Cellular
– HSBC News and Insight from HSBC Holdings
– Coca-Cola, which completely redesigned its corporate website in 2012 and announced the expansion of its Coca-Cola Journey Content Platform by introducing a new blogger network of experts
– Cisco hired 30 ex-journalists to write for The Network, a news channel completely owned by Cisco
– Polish e-commerce giant Allegro’s Allegro Magazine
– Red Bull owns its own Media House, which prints a magazine and regularly produces documentaries, movies and music.
The approach, format and presentation might change from business to business, but brand journalism content is more inspiring, uplifting and entertaining than salesy. Even without overt salesmanship, however, some still question whether this constitutes true “journalism.”
The arguments used against brand journalism tend to center on the issues of ethics and transparency. Even if “brand journalists” aren’t using the hard sell, they’re still working at the behest of a brand—and therefore pushing something, right? To some, that very structure violates the principles of objective journalism.
Rex Hammock, CEO of content marketing services company Hammock Inc., had this to say to people who questioned whether brand journalists are legitimate: “If content is transparent in terms of source and agenda, then it’s real. Whether or not it’s “journalism” is not really important.”
Content marketing and brand journalism do share certain traits. Both hinge upon compelling storytelling. They both, ideally, should be reader-centric, fact-checked, crisply edited and visually appealing.
Ultimately, the two approaches share the goal of creating valuable, compelling content that is useful for prospects and customers. Brand journalism and content marketing have differences, but they are complementary, symbiotic components of communication strategy—and both are well worth investment.