Talk Brand Journalism to Me

Authentic Content Oct 24, 2019

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 96% of the most successful B2B content marketers state that readers regard companies as a trusted resource before making decisions. Well, that’s a heavy number if you ask me.

So let’s get straight to the point. There are tons of brands out there which produce content and tons of readers who need to make their way around an ocean of information.

Building a bridge between these two takes time. And trust. Oftentimes, the problem is that the content produced is not even qualitative.

In Intercom’s article “Doubling down on content”, John Collins, Director of Content, writes beautifully that “the current vogue for content marketing tends to be a game of diminishing returns which puts companies under pressure to publish something, anything, according to an artificial schedule.”

This resonates deeply. Publishing anything just for the sake of it is passé.

But as marketers, what can we do to break this pattern?

In a fast-paced, overloaded content landscape, we should start off by knowing that there are still several sustainable ways to drive a (personal) brand forward.

If you’re a company in the early stages of growth, creating the right content strategy can set the foundation for success for years to come. And even if you’re far ahead in the process, you know you still have to be memorable at every step of the journey.

If you’re a content marketer, building your personal brand in a quantifiable way matters just as much.

Why? Let’s face it — good content has become the foundation of customer engagement and that’s because it has managed to find a way to make marketing function in a sustainable way.

In a time when capturing readers’ attention is a commodity, it has become crucial for companies and marketers to tell authentic stories — stories that challenge, change perspectives, and educate. Guess what? Bullshit is no longer tolerated.

Journalism, Revisited

Look at it this way: content fuels marketing but journalism fuels quality content. In a nutshell, they’re all inter-related.

If we put content and marketing together, we get a mix of consumable media that helps us achieve marketing objectives such as selling a service or product.

The only missing link here is that for content to actually work, it needs to stick. And for it to stick, it needs to be properly written and researched so that it becomes educational and valuable. This is where journalism should come into play.

Also, here’s another catch — where content marketing is concerned with utility, brand journalism focuses on the story, making effective marketing appear like professional publishing.

This concept called brand journalism basically means using a narrative to connect a brand to readers. By doing this, companies can tap into people’s love for stories to build authentic connections.

Ten years ago, when I first started my first editorial job, I didn’t think that online content writing would become such a crucial aspect of any organization — and one that would close deals in a sales cycle.

But journalism as we know it is in a time of transition. And now it’s applicable for brands as well.

Today, many traditional newsrooms don’t have the resources to support content at scale and this is where brands come in to re-imagine cool marketing strategies, producing quality content in the form of articles, e-books, and comprehensive guides.

Under these circumstances, the journalist with marketing skills comes into the picture, becoming the most wanted species in the content jungle. For good reasons.

Create Memorable Stories

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘content is king’, but at the same time, we’re well aware that it’s becoming more difficult to create memorable content that stands out in such a competitive space.

Hundreds of thousands of content pieces are churned every minute, silencing brands and distracting readers in the process.

This is exactly why the concept of brand journalism is here to shift mentalities about the way we consume content — prompting companies to move away from shallow, bite-size pieces to dedicating more time to in-depth content.

Because, to stand out from the crowd, companies need to use a mix of journalism and content marketing strategies to make their voice heard, and aim for a more sustainable strategy.

In such times, publishing valuable content has to become a priority.

And before I move on, one last thing. Here are some of my favorite companies that take kickass content to another level:

  • Intercom: the one and only guru that revolutionized messaging
  • Zest: the all-you-can-read platform for stellar content
  • Mailchimp: the bread and butter of email marketing
  • Dropbox: beautiful articles that challenge perspectives
  • Slack: an eclectic content salad that is simply refreshing

With regards to content marketing itself, I wrote an article earlier this year that sheds light on the evolution of SaaS marketing from being incredibly sales-driven to its crucial position in most companies today.

Think Like a Journalist, Write Like a Web Guru

We create content that may be around forever — and that’s a good thing. This is called evergreen content or content that is continually relevant and fresh.

To create such content, we need to up our game as to how we want to expand its longevity.

Remember, evergreen content never loses its value because it focuses on enduring ideas that will have currency for weeks, months and even years, retaining its relevance because it addresses universal topics.

Of course, quality is important but so are distribution and SEO. Because more sophisticated search algorithms are here to filter content, the way you create content becomes more complex as well.

For instance, HubSpot, the popular inbound marketing platform looks at the visibility across a topic, as opposed to a specific keyword.

According to the company, “by organizing content within topic clusters instead of individual disjointed posts, you’re able to capture a large amount of search traffic across an ever-increasing pool of relevant keywords.”

If you’re going to adopt this strategy, you will able to align your brand with several recognizable core topics.

More and more companies are increasingly creating content crafted exclusively for their niche audience. But content shouldn’t be about selling a product — it should be about building awareness and cultivating brand affinity.

In this case, hiring ex-journalists, who advocate creating “reader-first” content is a great way to build up your content strategy.

Remember that brand journalism involves telling journalistic stories that make readers want to know more, stories that don’t sound like traditional marketing copy.

It means having conversations with readers and offering compelling stories they can easily relate to.

Here are some ways to make sure your content is qualitative:

  • First, brainstorm, then ideate.
  • Find your story. Look for statistics and data to support your ideas.
  • Focus on evidence and back up your articles with facts that show your expertise.
  • Pair your stories with SEO.
  • Think about implementing content clusters.

For me, content needs to have editorial value; it needs to be read as an informative, educational story that is not linked directly to a product.

In the digital world, a content marketer needs to act like a journalist.

How can a journalistic mindset help?

A content marketer with journalist skills has exclusive access to stakeholders, conversations, and decisions. They have the ability to identify and create compelling narratives from these exchanges.

Checklist for creating quality content:

  • Focus on long-form content to differentiate between you and your competitors.
  • Write relevant and sharable content.
  • Your content may be around forever. It’s called “evergreen content” and it can bring loyal readers to your website.
  • Paired with SEO, evergreen content is the powerhouse that brings you organic traffic for an extended period of time.
  • Be original. Be value-driven. Think data and numbers.
  • Create opinion-based content.
  • Build a narrative.

Put readers first

In terms of building up the content strategy, I am referring to Intercom, my all-time favourite — which has inspired content marketers around the world to craft a solid strategy and is centered around the following marketing principles:

Content, then marketing

• Grow with editorial principles

• Be brand relevant (have an opinion)

• Never lose sight of the real goal

I am personally a big advocate of this approach because I’ve realized that there is an ocean of branded content available out there that can be futile. As a consequence, it becomes difficult to build trust between companies and readers.

However, if you’re focusing on content that adds value, you can expect to earn the trust of the audience.

Remember: to stand out from the crowd and become the go-to source in any industry, your content proposition needs to include a mix of journalism, storytelling, and thought-leadership.

Peer into the mind of your readers, connect with them and make sure you write content that’s helpful and inspirational.

After all, what readers are looking for is solutions to their problems.

Content can be a great vehicle for telling your story. Embrace the journey!

If you enjoyed reading this article, let’s connect on Twitter and Medium to get updated on my future posts!

Andreea Serb

Andreea has an immense passion for storytelling and how it drives change in the tech space. When she's not busy typing away, you will always see her reading a good book.