In today’s marketing environment, it can’t be all about you.
Many organizations have turned to brand journalism—telling stories of general interest, rather than hard-selling the company message—to improve their reputations, engage customers and gain positive media mentions.
Coca-Cola, American Express and Adobe are among the companies that employ journalism-style, data-based, educational and non-promotional content in their online newsrooms, on their websites and in direct communications to customers.
Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility, joined the brand journalism crowd with the launch of illumination, its online news site.
It put its hopes on brand journalism to prompt the public to see the utility in a new light, Greg Efthimiou, Duke Energy head of content and employee communications, says in a PRSA article. It had plenty of good news to offer about green energy, employee deeds and conservation tips.
“The result was higher engagement on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and surprisingly eager responses from overworked journalists looking for a story idea or high-quality content to plug into news holes,” Efthimiou says.
Media outlets picked up the story of Cordy Williamson, its senior vegetation manager known for calming property owners upset at the utility for cutting trees too close to power lines. The New York Times featured Williamson in its Vocations series.
When adopting the practice, make a conscious shift from marketer to journalist.
Brand journalism requires abandoning the sales and marketing style familiar to many corporate communicators and adopting a journalistic style to gain the long-term trust of consumers and stakeholders. An emphasis on education and mutual values aligns the organization with its customer base.
To accomplish that, Efthimiou recommends:
- Tackle the tough issues. An environmental accident in 2014 at a shuttered North Carolina power plant owned by Duke Energy unleashed up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River on the North Carolina-Virginia border. The team examined the Dan River coal ash spill, its most serious reputational and environmental crisis in decades. It described the environmental damage and included critical commentary from local leaders.
- Embrace video. Its Old coal-fired power plants go boom!Video—which shows implosions of its coal-fired power plants accompanied by the Skidmore College Orchestra rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”—ranked among the most popular features when Illumination launched.
- Ban tired visuals. The humongous cardboard checks as photo-op props remain a PR and marketing staple. Good visuals stir emotions or prompt interest. Gigantic checks don’t.
- Please the audience, not senior executives. Be candid with top-tier leaders when their ideas fall flat. “There is no quicker way to dilute the power of branded content than to cater to executives’ wishes rather than your audiences,” Efthimiou says.
- Identify categories of brand journalism content. Consider your buyer personas—the types of people you’re trying to reach—when selecting topics, says Dan Lyons at HubSpot. HubSpot seeks content for mid-level marketing professionals and CMOs, Lyons writes in the CMO’s Guide to Brand Journalism. Define which subjects are off-limits, such as criticizing competitors. Bashing rivals might be fun, but it could appear petty. Praising a competitor, on the other hand, could be a smart move, Lyons says.
- Start slowly. Build the site gradually to reduce the difficulty of developing something new. “Starting with walking seems obvious, but not everybody does it. It not only builds your experience in a manageable way; it also helps gain essential internal cooperation,” writes Todd Blecher, communications director at Boeing.
- Measure your efforts. Measurement can gauge readership and ROI and help identify what content to develop. Examine metrics such as page views, time spent on site, comments and inbound links. A social media listening service that offers comprehensive monitoring and measurement of social media networks, blogs and online news sites provides additional data and insights far beyond Google Analytics. “If readers key in on Product A, you don’t want to write content on Product C,” says Mike Murray, founder of Online Marketing Coach. “You want quality content that you can measure.”
A version of this post first appeared on the Glean.info blog.