Adobe and Microsoft have created two of the most impressive examples of brand journalism around.
Adobe’s CMO.com is on my short list of “go to” resources for staying on top of the ever-changing marketing landscape. The website never fails to deliver content of value.
Microsoft’s Stories is beautifully designed and full of engaging and interesting information. I like to check it out from time to time for inspiration.
The good news is you don’t have to be Adobe or Microsoft to engage in brand journalism!
But before we get into how an organization of any size can become a brand journalist, let’s define brand journalism.
Brand Journalism Defined
Brand journalism is similar to content marketing. In many ways they look alike. Yet on closer examination, brand journalism incorporates more of the principles of journalism at its finest and is a bit more varied in its goals. Hubspot, an inbound marketing platform and great example of a brand journalist, has produced a top-notch guide on brand journalism that is definitely worth checking out. In it, they discuss the four reasons and models for brand journalism:
- Brand Awareness – Increasing your organization’s visibility among its customers and prospects.
- Industry News – Writing articles that are not being covered by mainstream media about your company and industry.
- Thought Leadership – Setting up an independent website and populating it with content for thought leadership positioning.
- Lead Generation – Creating relevant content for a target audience as a means to capture and nurture leads and convert them to customers.
The Tenets of Brand Journalism
When I studied journalism in college, I fell in love with the journalistic process of writing a story. While some may argue that this process is not what it used to be, I believe its basic tenets are still intact and certainly alive and well in brand journalism. Here they are:
- Storytelling – Who doesn’t love a great story – the oldest and most effective form of marketing. When I sit down to write, I often imagine I’m gathered ‘round a campfire and how might a story be told in that environment. This helps me hone in on the story within the story – the little details that humanize the topic and make it engaging. It also helps me organize the various bits most effectively.
- Research and Fact-Checking – Researching the subject you are writing about is an important part of writing a good story. While you won’t use all of the research you uncover, the process will help you understand the topic better and find interesting ideas to include. Fact-checking is a hallmark of good journalism. Re-read your article and parse out opinion from fact. Then check your facts by looking at their sources and where the source obtained the fact from. You may need to dig a few layers before you’re satisfied with the reliability of your facts.
- Clarity – Brand journalism is about clean, clear, succinct writing. It uses just the right amount and mix of words to tell the story well. Edit, edit, edit! Remove all unnecessary content. Be mindful of adjectives. They have their place and time, but must be used with great care. For consistency, it’s a good idea to select a specific style for all of your articles – the most prominent style for journalism is AP Style.
- Transparency – In brand journalism, citing a story’s sources and content is critical. It should also be clear who is sponsoring and/or producing the content. On CMO.com, for example, there is no question that Adobe is the publisher, even though it is a separate website from Adobe.com. On The Huffington Post, an online news publication that runs sponsored (brand journalism) content, it’s clear what content is sponsored and what’s not.
- Timeliness – News needs to be timely and so should the stories that brand journalists produce. While some stories have a timelessness to them, for the most part, stories produced by brand journalists should be connected to what is going on in their industry and what is of current interest among the audience.
- Brand Building – Your articles should reflect your brand values at all times. Engaging in brand journalism will build your brand and nurture its tone, style and personality. If you have not engaged in a formal branding process, where your brand values and identity have been clarified, this should be done prior to beginning a content marketing or brand journalism strategy.
Brand Journalism’s Role for Small and Mid-Sized Organizations
The easiest way to get started with brand journalism is to start a company blog and write like a journalist. Journalists are a curious lot and ask lots of questions to find, tell and write great stories.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Company News – Cover news within your company. Talk to people in different departments for ideas. Feature someone in your company and let your customers and prospects get to know your team. Take a page from artist and writer Austin Kleon and “show your work.” If you are a technology company, write about developing your beta. If you are an artist, write about your process and include photos of your work in progress. If you are a restaurant, feature recipes you are testing for a new menu. If you are a local boutique owner, write about a trunk show you hosted. Or, share about your buying trips and the people and cultures you encountered on them. Another possibility is to feature local artisans whose goods you carry in your store.
- Industry News and Events – Feature news within your industry. Use a tool like Buzzsumo to monitor what’s hot and trending in your field. This will provide you with ideas on what kinds of content the people you’re targeting are seeking. You can write original content on these topics or aggregate content others are producing into an article. Also, explore news that may be slightly outside of your industry, but still of interest to your audience. Redbull is a great example.Write about industry events you attend, covering them like a journalist would. Do a roundup of the best presentations and speakers. Aggregate other news outlets’ coverage of the event – if it’s a big event like SXSW there will be lots of news written about it. Write about new products, apps or services you discovered. Talk about how what you learned will benefit your clients. Feature a new company or product launched at the event that is relevant to your industry and audience. If you attended a pre-conference workshop, write about it and include a quote or two from the presenter.
- Your Clients, Partners, Collaborators – Interview your clients and tell their stories. Be sure to humanize them by sharing some details about their lives – hobbies, interests, family, pets, etc. Success stories are especially inspiring! Talk to organizations you partner with to find interesting stories to feature. Write about why you collaborate with these organizations and why you value them. Feature networking groups and professional organizations in your industry. Interview the group’s founders, facilitators and leaders to get their insights.
Examples of Brand Journalism for Inspiration
While you don’t have to poach a reporter from The Washington Post, Wired or other major news outlet to jump into brand journalism (like many of the company’s listed below have done), these examples are full of inspiration and ideas.
- Cisco’s The Network
- American Express’ Open Forum
- GE Reports
- Tory Burch’s Tory Daily
- Thrive Market’s Thrive Notebook
- Andreessen Horowitz
- Go Daddy’s The Garage
I hope you found this article valuable. Your feedback and thoughts are most welcomed.