For decades, the go-to method for advertising a brand was to create a single, repetitive message and hammer the public sector with it. After all, if consumers hear something enough times, they’re going to want it.
It is a marketing practice that is a decade past its expiration date. Marketing has become far more than trying to push a single thought into the brains of consumers and making it stick. It has evolved into a grand storytelling event that engages consumers, making them want to remain loyal to a product or service.
This marketing practice is known as brand journalism.
So what, exactly, is brand journalism? Simply put, it is the use of journalism skills to communicate with consumers on behalf of a brand. What brand journalism is not, however, is a glorified product message fancied up to look like a real news or feature story. In order to be effective, brand journalism must find an evolving, compelling story and share it with consumers. It can be delivered through sponsored content, blog posts, social media, live events or a combination of these mediums.
The content being delivered via this method must remain fresh in order to be effective. As with journalistic storytelling, brand journalism must engage consumers using different subjects, topics and messages that benefit the target audience.
Brand journalism should never be confused with traditional journalism. In fact, many traditional journalists dislike the term brand journalism because they feel it taints their profession. True journalism is delivered without an agenda or opinion, just solid research and plenty of fact checking.
Brand journalism, on the other hand, always has a marketing goal in mind. It is the perfect marriage between journalism and sales, and what brand journalism is trying to sell more than anything is confidence and loyalty in a company and its leadership.
So how can readers tell the difference between brand journalism and traditional journalism?
While it is not the practice of all media outlets to do so, most will identify brand journalism pieces as “sponsored content,” or include a tag that indicates the content is “from our sponsors” or “presented by,” following the name of the company which produced the content.
Some companies are even starting their own online “news” outlets in order to promote their brands through this method. Among them is Chevron, which in January launched the Richmond Standard – billed as an online daily community news source. While the site contains news from the community, it also includes articles focused on promoting the Chevron brand. The site is, however, upfront about its intentions, which is a vital key in successful brand journalism. Consumers are accepting of brand journalism and its goals so long as there is not an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes when presenting it.
As someone who is a trained “traditional” journalist, I do not believe that brand journalism is going to be the undoing of traditional journalism. I firmly believe there is a place for both traditional and brand journalism, as well as a place for journalists who wish to write both kinds of content.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.