Elements of Brand Journalism

Content marketing is most helpful to businesses with three key goals: building brand awareness, building trust and educating the audience, according to research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. Those are all goals that brand journalism can help you achieve.

Branded content that tells a story resonates with us on a human level. Brand journalism builds that meaning into your overarching content strategy. Relatable stories, compelling visuals and aspirational goals communicate your brand more effectively than a product demo alone. Brand journalism shows consumers the difference your company can make in their lives, in the industry and even in society at large.

Let’s look walk through the elements of brand journalism, and share a few ideas for how you can incorporate them into your content strategy.

What Is Brand Journalism?

Brand journalism is content produced by a brand, but it doesn’t focus on selling the brand’s products or services. Brand journalism focuses on telling stories connected with your brand, such as highlighting how front-line employees are living out the company’s values or detailing the steps an organization is taking to close wage gaps for employees from historically excluded groups.

“Brand journalism is not a commercial,” says Nick Paranjape, owner and creative director at Video Story Productions. “It’s solid reporting and writing, showcasing your brand by using your own people and your own products.”

For many companies, brand journalism extends to bypassing traditional PR channels to publish and generate buzz around your own content. “Before it was a buzzword, I used to call what I did ‘print-ready PR,’” says Kanya Stewart, who spent years as a freelance brand journalist and is now director of communications for the National Association of Black Journalists.

Brand journalism is content that allows you to take ownership of your company’s narrative.

Brand Journalism vs. Content Marketing

Content marketing and brand journalism each communicate important aspects of your business to consumers, but brand journalism is much more targeted in its approach. Brand journalism falls under the larger umbrella of content marketing, but it’s focused on generating brand awareness at the top of the funnel.

“Folks need to be open to your ideas before they can be open to your products,” says John Ville, senior director of content marketing at OneTrust. Even smaller companies with shorter sales cycles can use brand journalism to provide context for their products and services.

Brand journalism and content marketing are each important parts of a comprehensive marketing strategy with important roles in generating demand and driving the buying process. But while content marketing encompasses the entire marketing funnel, brand journalism drives the most benefit at the top of the funnel.

5 Elements of Brand Journalism

Brand journalism is a specific type of content that drives brand awareness. Here are some of the most important elements of brand journalism.

Timely Topics and Verified Sources

Just like traditional journalism, brand journalism relies on precision and truth to be successful. “Journalism is about the timeliness and accuracy of a piece,” says Tierra Smith, a journalist and brand manager who tells minority-focused stories through her media company, Wins for Black Girls. The same journalistic ethics apply to brand journalism, she says.

Like mainstream journalism, timeliness is an important part of brand journalism. Understanding the communities within your target audience can help determine which topics you need to address and how they fit with your brand.

“The brands that do really well are the ones that are tapped into the culture the audience is in,” Tierra says. “You can respond and react in a way that feels authentic to that community.” Companies can use brand journalism to share their values in light of social circumstances, as many have when responding to issues and causes such as the renewed Black Lives Matter movement.

Take issues in your specific industry into account, too. For instance, the Rocket Community Fund, a project of the Rocket financing family of companies, uses brand journalism to acknowledge the systemic barriers to home ownership and make a commitment to overcoming them.

Unique, Engaging Stories From Vetted Sources

Brand journalism is all about storytelling. Every company has stories to tell, and those stories have the power to resonate with your target audience.

Inspiration and material can come from many sources. One avenue is case studies of successful clients or customers. Tell human interest stories about how clients are using your product or service to do good in the world. A story published in CMO by Adobe demonstrates how Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer remained agile and purpose-driven during the pandemic. Without directly promoting any of its products, Adobe creates content showing how those products can be used to do good.

You can also draw engaging stories from within your company. These might be stories about what the brand is doing to create change within the organization, like many of the stories on The Coca-Cola Company’s main page.

Or they could be stories about individual employees, like this one from T-Mobile about how employees from Ukraine stayed in touch with their families during the border crisis. The piece mentions some of T-Mobile’s products or solutions, but they’re deeply embedded within a powerful human interest story.

When producing brand journalism, it’s important to vet your sources. Like mainstream journalism, content published by your brand has to be accurate and verifiable, and a lot of that comes down to who you talk to.

“What’s their agenda? Are they proven and respected in their industry?” asks Andrea Emerson, a self-employed brand journalist helping technology companies scale through compelling content. “Some of my go-to sources include trade associations and global research firms.”

To build trust with your target audience, you need to provide content that is timely, accurate and helpful.

Omnichannel Delivery

A signature element of brand journalism is omnichannel delivery. Modern brand journalism pioneer Larry Light contends that brand journalism is essential for preventing brand monotony. While old-school marketing tactics dictate a narrow-minded approach to defining the brand, brand journalism is all about reaching people where they are.

In a digital world, your audience will be spread across multiple channels, including your website and social media accounts. Brand journalism creates customized experiences on each of those channels, optimizing how clients and customers interact with your brand.

Alignment With Your Values

Brand journalism provides an opportunity to showcase what people love about your company, especially the values that employees live every day. The content you produce should align with your stated values, promote your company culture and display a clear point of view. “You want to define yourself before someone else has a chance to define you,” Tierra says.

This type of brand awareness is crucial for driving sales from ethical consumers. Patagonia, for example, is widely known for its sustainability initiatives. The company expresses that commitment on its brand journalism site, The Cleanest Line, by sharing the stories of climate activists.

More consumers are shopping with their values in mind — intentionally using the power of their dollar to support causes they believe in. Brand journalism is your outlet for communicating what you believe in so that consumers can make informed decisions.

Community Engagement

When developing your brand journalism strategy, don’t confine yourself to the marketing team or established thought leaders: Reach across the business to ensure that every voice has the chance to be heard.

Sharing stories from the bottom up adds authenticity when your brand connects with audiences. The experiences of lower-level employees are often more reliable and trustworthy because, to a general audience, they’re much more relatable. “If your employees can’t vouch for you, your story’s not going to make it,” Kanya says. Brand journalism can be a powerful tool for recruiting, too, by telling better stories about real people.

Before opening his own video content agency, Nick ran media relations for a local health system. He asked nurses and hospital workers to share their stories from the front lines, and his inbox lit up with responses from employees who wanted to participate. “We turned it into telling stories about the hospital,” he says. “Everybody loves a good story.”

3 Benefits of Great Brand Journalism

Brand journalism resonates with your audience in a different way from traditional marketing, and that produces important consumer-driven outcomes. Here are three benefits of brand journalism.

Builds Brand Awareness

Your brand journalism content sets you apart from the rest of your industry. And when you’re in a crowded space, the extra effort won’t go unnoticed.

Of course, it does take that extra effort to stand out. “If this could appear on any other SaaS blog, then I don’t want it,” John says. “What is our uniqueness? What is our angle?” Once you’ve found that point of view, lean into it.

Generating brand awareness comes from consistent messaging and meaningful stories — and brand journalism delivers both.

Establishes Trust Through Authenticity

Authentic brand journalism builds trust with consumers. A branded magazine offers opportunities to share thought leadership and build a committed following. Showcasing brand stories on your social channels helps consumers relate to the people who make up your brand. Videos, images and podcasts can all communicate your messaging in ways that are true to your brand.

“When executed well,” Andrea says, “brand journalism results in a heightened level of trust with target audiences, positioning the brand as a reliable expert.”

Drives Customer Loyalty

Brand journalism empowers consumers to write themselves into the brand story. If people can see themselves using your product and understand the greater purpose behind the brand, Kanya says, you can earn customers with greater loyalty and longevity.

The more people recognize your brand and what you stand for, the more likely they are to increase their relationship with you. Building a foundation of trust based on authentic, branded content will keep those consumers coming back for more.

By combining all the elements of brand journalism into your content strategy, you can expand your reach and build greater relationships with your audience.

Clare Chiappetta
Clare Chiappetta serves as editorial coordinator and staff writer, with a specialization in HR and the future of work. She earned a master’s in English from Southeastern Louisiana University, and continues to explore the world through books, films and music. Test your most esoteric pop culture references on her.

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