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There’s a reason someone should have trademarked the profession – what you stand to lose from buying into the hype…

There is a saying, “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”. The same can’t be said for Brand Journalism. Admittedly the media industry has evolved at such rapid pace in the last five years the rules of the game have changed somewhat, but the principles must remain the same. As one of the main professional bodies representing journalists, The Australian Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance asks of its members for honesty, fairness, independence, and respect for the rights of others. As a ‘Journalist’, who works for a Brand, surely we are talking about a completely different kettle of fish. I’m not saying it’s impossible to uphold these values, but I’d hazard a guess it’s easier walking a tight rope at night.

You could accuse me of arguing semantics, but I’d much rather the new function be called a Content Marketer, Content Strategist, Content Curator, or even Director of Content. This would be a better reflection of their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). While Journalism is under relentless pressure, it retains a nobility in its goal to hold brands to account. This cannot be cloned in a self-regulating environment, hence there will always be a need for someone to present stable analysis of current happenings.

Now we have that clear, one more thing needs to be sorted out. Just because you’re not a ‘Brand Journalist’, it doesn’t mean as a Director of Content (or whatever title becomes synonymous), you have a dirty job. There is no reason to cleave to the journalist title for fear of negative assumptions. While the function tries to mimic journalism, it is ‘marketing’ plain and simple. You can’t say nobility is a retained adjective, but done well, it still adds a great deal of value – to the business and its stakeholders. With many of these roles filled by trained former journalists, the important thing to remember is, you don’t want to alienate traditional media by buying into the hype you are the next Wall St Journal just because you now have a trained journo on staff.

The trick to successfully integrating this new role into the Marketing Team is therefore setting the right KPIs. They must display:

Effective leverage of the knowledge capital existing within the organisation: Despite content marketing being increasingly recognised as essential for engagement, it takes up only 26 per cent of the overall marketing budget for B2B marketers. Therefore being able to drive outcomes largely depends on tapping the intellect that already exists. They must partner with knowledge workers, alongside the CMO, PR and Comms Leader, and Digital Community Manager.

Content strategy creation that ties directly to the sales cycle: Fifty-seven per cent of companies have acquired a customer through their Blog, but an astonishing 80 per cent of all internet users go directly to a search engine once online. Without the right content you can’t find the Blog in the first place. Search engines run on content and a PR strategy that includes SEO has a 275 per cent higher ROI. This is the reason content creation ranks as the single most effective SEO tactic by 53 per cent of organisations. Today a customer has mostly made up their mind about what they want to do from the content they have perused and consumed online before speaking with sales, so it’s critical they connect or else risk losing the lead at the last moment.

Discernment of a balanced view of created and curated material: Seventy-one per cent of B2B tech marketers cite lead generation as their top content marketing goal, but a market who sees straight through bias material won’t engage if the material is not genuine in its positioning. This is why 58 per cent of B2B marketers rank whitepapers as the most effective way to draw customers in.

Demonstrated ability to traverse a variety of modes and mediums: Content must be harnessed in consultation with key audiences. They need to be a part of the plan. Ninety per cent of consumers find custom content useful and 78 per cent believe that organisations that provide custom content are interested in building good relationships with them. It’s why companies that Blog 15 or more times a month get five times more web traffic. You are proving through your content your intention is to put customers first.

Digitally savvy, confident monitoring and reporting analysis of trends and sentiment to the C-suite: #FACT – 27,000,000 pieces of content are shared each day. #ANOTHERFACT – The C-suite doesn’t care! You need someone who can elevate the conversation – someone who can make the words and images make sense to an audience preferring to think in dollar signs and decimal places.

If there’s one thing someone who makes a living out of content knows, words matter! Don’t start off your marketing transition on the wrong foot by calling your ‘content pro’ the wrong name.

- My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

3 thoughts on “Marketing’s shiny new thing – can Brand ‘Journalism’ succeed?

  1. Though I mildly disagree with your case against brand journalism, I think you’ve hit on all of the important elements of content marketing. Thanks for laying it out so clearly.

    You are right to question the term “brand journalism”, but it’s a far better way to describe what we’re aiming for than content marketing. The terms represent two different things in my mind.

    A brand journalist creates a news site that serves its niche and does her best to keep the marketers at bay. Think of the hospital that provides daily news to its patients by quoting its doctors.

    Or the credit card company that offers up blogs, articles, white papers and videos on how to run a small business without once mentioning its own product. The latter site exists: It’s called American Express Open Forum.

    So while I will concede that very few companies practice brand journalism well, there are some who are leading the way.

    The term “content marketing” scares me because it implies that content can only be used as a slave to pushing product. What about building brand reputation or projecting thought leadership?

    Still, I concede that “brand journalism” is a weak term, one that invites misunderstanding and scares the daylights out of the c-suite. How about brand publishers? Well, that has its problems as well. But they’re both better than content marketing.

    • Thanks for your feedback Mark! Really appreciate your thoughts. I think in essence we are advocating the same thing. I’m not against ‘brand journalism’ as a concept, more the assumption that they can behave in the same way as a traditional ‘journalist’. I would also say that ‘marketing’ should by rights lay claim to “building brand reputation or projecting thought leadership”. I don’t think of marketing as custodian of product alone. The question about the ‘hospital that provides daily news to its patients by quoting its doctors’ is this: are they doing it altruistically, or is the publication funded from the hospital’s marketing budget? Once again, I’m arguing for a delineation in terminology, not against the concept itself. I like what American Express Open Forum is all about. I think lots of brands could learn from that example. Also have to say I’m a big fan of PR Daily, so I’m honored you’re a CommsPro.me reader!

  2. Pingback: How Do You Tie Your Content Back to Your Vision? | Gloria Wilhelmina

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