Brand journalism is growing quickly, and, while its definition and role are debated, it is growing in lockstep with the wealth of emerging digital and social business tools. The popularity of brand journalism is strongly aligned with the following trends, none of which show any sign of slowing:
- The direct interaction between businesses and individual customers on a public forum, thanks to social media.
- The development of marketing content created to address specific search queries (search marketing).
- The surge in specialty content development for discovery at various stages of the sales cycle, predominately online (content marketing).
- The customer expectation that they can easily research products or services before making a purchase, and publicly voice opinions after purchase, too (see #1).
Increasingly brands are using journalists (or non-journalists using journalistic techniques) to uncover stories specific to their industry, product, or service. Brands use these journalistic skills to develop a cache of original content that can be remixed and redistributed at will. Considering the dire state of employment for trained journalists in traditional newspaper roles, becoming a “brand journalist” isn’t such a bad arrangement for the journalist.
How the relationship between brand and journalist evolves is key. Transparency is important, but so is the autonomy to follow stories that matter — and for many businesses this juxtaposition is new. For example, if the brand journalist is covering the industry, must they avoid writing about the competition? Brand journalism should aim to have the same standards of integrity as traditional journalists in the process of developing “niche news.” Ultimately, the content must be strong enough on its own merit — not sales-y or marketing fluff — if it hopes to earn the audience’s respect.
Brand journalism works when you combine the inquisitiveness of a journalist with the broader understanding that traditional marketing and advertising no longer work.
How does brand journalism work? Simply. It provides information and news to the people interested in very specific topics.
More businesses are hiring journalists, bloggers, and other writers specifically to contextualize their products and services in terms of their industry and competition. Yet, these savvy businesses remain a small percentage (currently 9%). Many more hire outside businesses like SixEstate to handle the entire process.
When Brand Journalism Works Well
How do you know when brand journalism is working? The common metrics of success include the following:
- Increased online traffic, and therefore visibility, for a brand’s business — whether that traffic goes to their official site, blog, or other marketing microsite or social platform.
- Increased media placements in traditional outlets (newspaper, radio, or television) because the business or solo professional is increasingly viewed as an expert. (Not to be missed: most of these placements are the result of a quick web search.)
- Increased loyalty — the first measurement in the form of audience growth, the second in audience retention, and ultimately in the measurement of sales and repeated sales.
Brand journalism’s greatest strength is that it serves prospects, existing customers, and employees alike. That’s because when done well, brand journalism delivers valuable information people want, need, or seek. It is becoming increasingly competitive for businesses to think like media companies because, increasingly, they ARE media companies.
Katie McCaskey is SixEstate's content director. She tests real-world application of content marketing techniques using the cafe she co-owns as a laboratory. She was Tech Editor of Chief Content Officer, 2010-2011, and contributes to the Content Marketing Institute. Connect with her on Google+ or @KatieMcCaskey.