My first marketing mentor was fond of saying, “The old is forever new.” I think he would be fascinated by the concept of brand journalism today. He’d consider it old-school. Except for the technology, of course.
Back in the 1970s he founded a direct marketing agency that was among the first to produce hybrid direct response-branding programs via newsletter publishing. Many of the fundamental strategies behind those programs can be found in brand journalism definitions you hear today.
David Meerman Scott is probably the most prominent marketer to advance the idea. His definition:
“Brand journalism is Web content that delivers value to your marketplace and serves to position your organization as one worthy of doing business with.”
When I joined the agency in the late 1980s, the bulk of client work focused on communication programs – not campaigns, but ongoing programs – that published this kind of content to targeted customers and prospects. Obviously Web channels were not available then. We were limited to print media, and newsletters were the obvious platform.
Branded content strategy
What set these newsletters apart from others at the time was the content strategy. They featured news of interest to the audience and branded case studies where the customer is the hero. The editorial content for each issue featured:
- Sector-specific economic trends
- Technical applications and innovations
- Industry trends and regulatory developments
- Customer stories
Here is an overview of two of these newsletter programs and how they employed brand journalism in a pre-digital world.
Brand journalism today
These print media programs have a lot in common with content marketing best practices. Here’s how:
- The content informs and entertains readers
- The content answers questions and solves problems
- A newsroom model is used for planning and creating content
- They use a journalistic writing style, not promotional copy
- They are ongoing programs, not finite campaigns
- They bypass traditional trade journals to reach customers directly
- They tell brand stories that align with corporate branding
What does this mean for today? On the Web, publishing is the new marketing. To succeed, marketers need to stop thinking in terms of marketing campaigns and start publishing content that builds trust and credibility with desired customers. That means, yes I’ll say it, thinking like a publisher.
Your customers are not looking for advertising on the Web. They are looking for answers and ways to make their life better. Brand journalism is your opportunity to build an ongoing relationship with them.