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The Difference Between Journalism and Brand Journalism (and Why It Matters)

graphical image showing brand journalism is different than traditional journalism

Do you know the key difference between brand journalism and traditional journalism? A lot is being written about the need for business to employ journalists, but it’s not as simple as you might think. As brands begin to adopt a publishing model as they move towards content marketing, an essential understanding is required about how editorial standards differ between business and news.

Friction between journalists and marketers is on the rise.   Traditional journalists are railing against native advertising but don’t necessarily distinguish between advertising and marketing. Others insist journalists are better suited for content marketing than copywriters. As someone who possesses both marketing and journalism credentials, I can see the sense in arguments on both sides. But I also see the debate isn’t very helpful for brands trying to establish a content marketing strategy. So let me give you some clear guidelines on what’s required for brand journalism.

Tell the truth

First and foremost, brand journalists must tell the truth. Credible reporting is a hallmark of journalism and there’s no reason why brands shouldn’t be held to the same standard. The credibility lost when a brand abuses the trust of their consumers can be catastrophic to business.

Be transparent

Businesses can produce content and maintain journalistic integrity; there’s no reason why they can’t. Citing references, conducting research and providing a balanced view of your topic sends a strong signal to prospective customers that you’re delivering a valuable service. Again, transparency goes a long way to building the trust necessary to cultivate loyalty within your target audience.

Tell stories

There’s nothing more snooze-inducing than marketing copy. Yes, consumers want to be educated and informed but they also want to be entertained. They’re not interested in you; they’re interested in how you can help them. Tell a story and you’ll have a lot better chance of keeping people moving through your content.

Be persuasive

Telling the truth and being transparent are classic traits of journalism. Being persuasive, however, runs counter to most journalists’ dedication to objectivity. Good reporting lets the reader form their own opinion based on the information provided. The best reporters never let their own opinion leak into a story. This is where brands must depart from traditional journalism. The job of a brand journalist is to persuade the reader to make a decision that benefits the company. News reporters don’t include a call to action in their stories. Brand journalists must always include a specific request to the reader that, when actioned, will benefit their business.

Tell the right story

Journalists are after the “big” story. Brand journalists need to resist the temptation for a big story and look for the right story – the story about your company, products or services. It requires discipline to resist a topic when it seems everyone else is commenting on it.  Unless the hot topic is directly related to your business, there’s no point in jumping into the fray. Brand journalists must remain focused on conversions.

Support brands

My personal opinion is brand journalists should never slam another brand. If consumers feel like you’re doing a smear job on your competitors, they’ll become suspicious of you. Think about the low opinion of tabloids and you get an idea what I’m talking about.

Brand journalism done well gives you the opportunity to position your products and services against a competitor without ever mentioning them. A good example is to imagine competing against Henry Ford and the Model T. Ford famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

A good brand journalist can exploit that limitation without every mentioning Ford. Instead, they can speak about the different colours of paint offered for their cars and make sure that information is featured in the appropriate content. Consumers are smart enough to connect the dots.

What does brand journalism look like?

To give you an idea of how brands incorporate journalism into their content marketing, here are some good examples of different types of content developed with a journalistic eye.

Do you know how much your commute is really costing you? is an example of a blog post using journalistic practices. The blog is for a property development company in Perth but the post makes no mention of a specific project. Instead, it focuses on a topic that would be interesting to people considering buying a new home and uses current research to provide independent opinion on the cost of commuting.

Announcing ezytire: A Complete Online Marketing Tool for Tire Retailers is a classic case of brand journalism crossing over into mainstream media. The press release for ezytire from Tireweb Marketing was written like a newspaper or magazine article. As a result, the “story” got picked up in hundreds of publications, many of whom provided valuable backlinks to the ezytire website.

Lush Digital is producing a series of interviews with thought leaders in a variety of business and government roles. What makes them compelling is that James Lush interviews each person as if he were running a television program focused on business leadership. No one in the interviews is pitching digital marketing or endorsing videos even though that is where Lush Digital makes their money. Check out this interview with former iiNet CEO Michael Malone.

If you want to understand the power of storytelling in marketing, Jonathan Crossfield is doing a masterful job. Check out his blog on the topic, Why Stories + Examples > Facts + Statistics for an explanation that’s also a fantastic example.

I could go on forever providing examples but you get the idea. In a world where everyone is hungry for original content, the brands delivering honest, well-written news written in a journalistic style are going to be published more frequently. It’s this earned media that consumers prefer over traditional marketing.

Remember, it’s not the job of a brand journalist to be objective, but they should be honest, transparent and tell the right stories. Ultimately, brand journalists need to persuade their audience to make a decision that somehow benefits their company.

What other qualities does a brand journalist need?