With newsrooms continuing to shrink and newspapers in some cities shutting down, what’s a brand to do to be top of mind with consumers? The solution, some pundits might respond, is brand journalism.
Brand journalism is when a company disseminates information it would have wanted a journalist to publish or air when it wishes to. The primary intent is to promote expertise and enhance reputation by telling good stories that cut through the clutter and have the audience paying attention. The difference between brand journalism and content marketing is the intended outcome.
The first recorded application of brand journalism can be traced back to 1895 when John Deere began publishing The Furrow, a customer-centric magazine that supplied readers with helpful information about farming whether they used John Deere plows or not. Today it has a readership of more than 2.3 million.
Brand journalism aims to build top-of-the-funnel awareness with its audiences by setting an anchor point and context for follow-up. Content marketing is much more intentional and aggressive in capturing leads as quickly as possible and then targeting primary prospects.
In terms of key performance indicators, brand awareness looks at audience size, impressions, perception, time on site, page views, comments and share of voice. When compared to content marketing, its KPIs include lead generation, bounce rate, social sharing, referrals and behavioral conversions.
Against this backdrop, brand journalism usually results in longer guides and narratives or pillar content. That audience can subsequently be targeted with tailored pieces to generate more engagement.
Here’s where content marketing can enter and is perfect for the follow-up.
One popular advocate of brand journalism is Patagonia, with its rich and personal stories about outdoor life. There’s no push to buy as the brand is in the subtext. The stories are real and transparent and align with readers’ core values even if they aren’t skiers, mountain climbers or outdoor adventurers.
It’s understandable to think that the absence of aggressive marketing and a call for action would result in few sales—if any—but numerous studies have shown otherwise. Back in 1967, surveys showed that repetition of central themes was an effective marketing tool. But this was when print and the major TV networks were the preferred media outlets.
Brand journalism offers an antidote for this avalanche of messages in a subtle yet credible way. It also turns marketers into conversationalists and informs consumers that the brand is multi-dimensional and not one-size-fits-all.
It should also be noted that brand journalism isn’t the panacea for all industries. Those with fast-moving consumer goods rely on clear, direct messages and compete in a landscape of small profit margins and volume sales.
However, they, too, can benefit on occasion with an occasional infusion of brand journalism and storytelling. Consider the popularity of certain cooking shows aligned with products by celebrity chef hosts like Rachel Ray. Besides offering every kitchen utensil and accessory imaginable, she even offers dog food.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of PR firm 5WPR.