Earlier this week we reported on the not-so-new phenomenon of “brand journalism”, or writing original content designed to inform readers while simultaneously promoting your brand. The overwhelming response to the post tells us that the issue is critical to many PR pros as they consider the roles that they play within a rapidly changing industry.
Now that we’ve established the importance of original, value-added content, let’s move on to the next question: How do you, as a brand representative, find the best stories to raise awareness of your brand among your target audience?
In the words of PRNews’s Bill Miltenberg, “the lines between PR and marketing are growing ever more blurry”, and he brings us some simple suggestions for effective brand journalism via CE Publishing editorial director and 2012 Content Marketing World Conference speaker Dan Grantham. Check out his five key points:
1. Give your brand character. What does the phrase “value-added content” really mean? It means that dull content is worthless. Without a distinctive voice, you’re going to have trouble drawing in the readers that you need to be a successful brand ambassador. In other words, don’t be afraid to be bold (within reason, of course).
2. Expand your content palate and avoid the hard sell. Remember the guiding rules of brand journalism: not every story needs to tie directly into the products and services associated with your brand. The more often you mention the brand itself, the more your content will start to feel like a series of commercials—and that’s exactly what you don’t want to do.
A great example raised by Grantham is Degree anti-perspirant’s The Adrenalist. Most of the site’s content has very little to do with sweat or associated body odors–it’s really just a collection of stories on extreme, guy-friendly topics like deep-sea diving, mountain climbing, and swimming with sharks. But it’s still branded content.
3. Gain knowledge from your team members. UK marketing journalist Andy Bull writes that the most important aspect of brand journalism is “an understanding of what your customer wants/needs to know,” and the professionals who work in your company’s marketing, sales and customer service departments have a wealth of direct experience that can help you gain a better perspective on which stories will really engage your readers. Reach out. Work with them.
4. Provide appropriate context (show, don’t tell). Again, readers don’t like the hard sell. They don’t want to hear a litany of reasons why they should choose your product—they’d much rather read or watch a story that shows them why the product works so they can feel like they’ve reached that conclusion based on a compelling narrative rather than a relentless sales pitch.
Display your product improving its users lives—then you won’t need to sweat to convince your audience.
5. Reshape the “bad stories.” When working in a team environment, you’ll eventually experience some creative conflict with individuals who want you to push their stories—stories that you wouldn’t necessarily choose yourself.
Grantham suggests that successful brand journalists can reshape these stories by taking the emphasis away from their weak narratives and repositioning them as lists, infographics, quizzes or flow charts. It’s a bit vague, but it’s something to consider.
A final point from Jason Boies of Radian6: Don’t worry too much about being objective. Avoiding the hard sell doesn’t mean softening your focus–at the end of the day, readers don’t expect you to be completely impartial, because they know that you’re telling stories on behalf of your brand. If you try to hide that fact, you’ll come off as dishonest.
PR Pros: What do you think of these points? Do you have any of your own to add to the conversation?