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Every year, marketers have a new buzzword that they’ll throw around to prove they are more in the know than any other marketer. The new terminology tends to die out as quick as it erupts, but brand journalism has stuck around – and for good reason.

The phrase ‘Brand Journalism’ first came into popular use in 2004, when McDonald’s Chief Marketing Officer, Larry Light, said that “no single ad tells the whole story”. Instead, Light said that McDonald’s had employed a new marketing tactic called ‘brand journalism’. In 2020, Forbes Magazine published an article by Light explaining how the once-controversial tactic is still alive and well in 2023.

Image of woman looking at her phone reading a blog post by Maker Street Studios about Brand Journalism, Probably.

Brand Journalism, Defined

Brand journalism is a technique that employs the tools, tactics, and strategies of traditional journalism to sell a brand’s story. It takes the fundamentals of journalism and places it into a corporate setting (which is why it’s sometimes referred to as corporate journalism).

Instead of advertising a product or service with a single (and repetitive) creative message, brand journalism allows a company to position and highlight its value from a different angle. It creates a channel for companies to tell stories that share the brand without rubbing it in the face of a consumer. Brand journalism should embody these characteristics:

  1. Timely and compelling storytelling;
  2. Balanced, well-investigated, fact-based findings that meet journalistic standards;
  3. Relevant to the reader’s world and clarifies complicated matters;
  4. Encourages discussion

Over the years, customers have wisened up to the realities of advertising and its constant intrusion. The second a product advertisement is seen online, instinct will reflexively scroll to the next post or video.

What makes brand journalism different is its approach to storytelling. At the very core of communication is the desire to tell and listen to stories. Brand journalism uses this understanding to engage readers by using their own interests and concerns to create articles that foster emotional connections to the brand. Solid storytelling through brand journalism means people can satisfy their appetites for self-directed research and information gathering.

Content Marketing vs Brand Journalism

Brand journalism is often confused with content marketing. Some marketers have tried to draw a hard line between the two but in all honesty, it isn’t so dry cut. The two techniques borrow from each other quite a lot. The difference lies in the outcomes.

Brand journalisms goal is to:

Build awareness and affinity for the brand;
Create context for subsequent brand messaging;
Organically acquire relevant audience

Content marketing aims to:

Capture and nurture interest;
Generate leads and conversions;
Build loyalty with the existing audience

Maker Street’s 4 Step Guide to Brand Journalism

Narrow down your audience

It’s the first step to pretty much every type of advertising: find out exactly who you’re talking to. It’s always tempting to stay somewhat vague so your article appeals to as wide of an audience as possible. We aren’t broadcasting this writing on national television, though, we’re publishing it to the internet where everything is targeted, traced, and tailored. Narrowing it down to a single person or the idea of that person makes for a far more compelling piece while also giving you a clear foundation to start writing from.

Identify their concerns

Now that we’ve narrowed down the audience to a specific type of person, we need to work out what makes them move. What problem are they facing that your business can help fix? Identifying this problem will give your business a purpose and create an underlying sense of understanding and compassion with your reader. In 2021, if we have a problem, we’re likely to ask google as the first port of call.

So, what is the query that would bring your audience to the article?

Focus on language

When you’re talking about a variety of topics, it’s important to make sure you have a consistent tone of voice across all outlets. As the old adage goes, consistency is key. Though it is important to keep reflecting on your tone of voice as your brand evolves. Who is your audience and how does your business engage them? What do they best respond to? It’s imperative that you find the tone for your brand that levels with the audience and encourages them to give you their business.

Now write your story

Once you’ve done your homework (and the previous steps), this is where you get the ball rolling. You know who you’re talking to, why you’re talking to them, and how you’ll speak with them. Now is the time to grab their attention and work out what you want to say to them.

It’s important to remember to focus on their points and how you can help them without the upsell. This isn’t an ad, it’s a beautifully crafted piece of the bigger story – your story. Expand your brand beyond product placement

Brand Journalism, Summarised

Brand journalism is a way of ushering customers towards your brand and not about selling your product – done correctly and the sales will come. In fact, you aren’t selling your product, instead you are selling the idea of what your product can bring to your customer. Brand journalism allows a business to acquire relevant audiences with potential interest in the offering. It sets up the pretext for subsequent brand messaging that can build trust and investment in your brand to forge long-lasting relationships with your customers.

Brand journalism addresses the realities of the audience. A brand can mean different things to different customers based on location, age, work, etc. In a world of hyper-segmentation thanks to mobile media, one-size-fits-all advertising rarely works, if ever. Brand journalism is a fantastic way to add a multi-dimensional layer to your business while simultaneously circumventing the advertising burn-out of a post-digital world.

Take this article as an example. We’ve centred this piece around the prospects of brand journalism and how it can help businesses forge long-lasting relationships with their customers. We aren’t selling a product, but we are highlighting the value that a product we create can bring to our clients.

So, forgive us for the upsell but if you’d like to chat about all things branding, drop us a line.