Marketers Using Brand Journalism to Improve Customer Engagement
Photo: Marc Weinstein, Ascent Communications Photo Credit: Courtesy Ascent Communications
Marc Weinstein, Ascent Communications | Courtesy Ascent Communications

Startups launching marketing campaigns should start acting like news organizations if they really want to attract attention to their companies.

More and more companies are combining marketing strategies with journalistic practices to achieve greater awareness and customer engagement. This hybrid, called brand journalism, is quickly gaining wider acceptance among organizations as a powerful branding strategy that relies on creating content on topics that matter to their constituencies. And as we continue to embrace digital communications to connect and engage with each other, the lines of distinction between journalism and marketing grow fuzzier.     

Companies embracing brand journalism have found that storytelling helps give them a competitive edge in connecting with their audience, whether it's customers, employees, investors, partners and even the media. Meanwhile, postings of banal press releases and self-promotional videos are noticeably absent on many corporate websites, as their marketing departments have concluded that hardly anyone pays attention to these tactics anymore.

Brand journalism isn't anything new. It's been around for years, sometimes known as corporate journalism. In fact, there are legions of those who are using their journalistic skills for marketing purposes. Many are former journalists who quit the daily grind of the news business for corporate communications gigs or had nowhere else to go to ply their craft as a result of the ongoing downsizing of jobs at news media companies.

Nowadays, more companies are equipped with in-house news operations that publish or broadcast well-researched and highly informative stories on industry issues and trends, no longer the province of newspapers and other media outlets. Companies such as McDonald's, Verizon, Microsoft, Nissan, Cisco, Intel, Red Bull, Hubspot and others have hired former journalists to operate these corporate newsrooms. Who better to tell stories for business interests than professional storytellers.

Conversely, well-respected media outfits like Forbes,The Washington Post, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed have published or aired content supplied by brand journalists working at some of America's largest companies.

Young companies, which tend to have limited resources for marketing, don’t need the marketing war chest of a Fortune 500 company to play the brand journalism field. All that is required is to have either employees or someone outside the organization produce and distribute content that people will want to read, watch or listen to. 

Brand journalism is clearly a reaction against archaic and irrelevant marketing tactics. Today's consumers, arguably more sophisticated than their predecessors were a generation ago, are rejecting companies shoving products down their throats with message-pushing advertising and other marketing practices, better known as "interruption marketing". 

Recognizing that news is another form of content to draw attention, companies are creating journalistic material that is appealing to their audience. For example, one major telecommunications company is cranking out daily stories about the latest tech innovations and thought-provoking industry issues, topical and timely news that once was strictly the domain of mainstream media.

Corporate news centers typically focus on creating content to achieve certain marketing objectives, which include:

 •       Generating sales leads -- Develop and use content to help create sales leads that will hopefully bring new customers.

•       Reporting on industry news -- Coverage of a company's activities and its   industry, providing content that can be used by print, broadcast and online media outlets.

•     Thought-leadership positioning -- Creating content that is designed to convey a company's stance on an important business issue.

•       Building brand reputation--Story creation is focused solely on creating greater awareness of a company, not selling stuff.

What does this all mean for the future of journalism? Will there come a time when we rely on non-media corporate entities to take over the job of creating and disseminating news to the masses? In a word, no.

While it's no big secret that traditional news organizations-both large and small-are struggling to remain profitable as advertising dollars are being diverted to social media and other new communication channels, there will always be a need for those who toil in the Fourth Estate. However, those making a living in or pursuing a journalism career today have fewer options to work in traditional news outlets, as more print publications succumb to economic and technological changes.  

For at least in the foreseeable future, brand journalists will be devoted to informing and educating their audience on various business topics but shy away from covering controversial stories or those that fall outside their organization’s area of interest. That will remain the job of reporters and editors working in traditional media companies.

As brand journalism flourishes in an increasingly digitally connected world, its impact on communications will be quite significant, as it serves to find common ground between the often adversarial but close relationship of marketing and journalism.  

[The author is Marc Weinstein, CEO of Ascent Communications (www.ascentcomm.net), a marketing/public relations agency specializing in creating results-driven communications for technology companies.]

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