Content Marketing or Brand Journalism – What’s the Difference?

There was a time when paid media was the best and the most effective way to sell our products and services, but not anymore – claimed Joe Pulizzi in his book “Epic Content Marketing.”

Over the last couple of years, effective marketing started to look more and more like publishing. Large brands understood that creating their own content, similar to what media companies had been doing for ages, would deliver better results than paying to advertise around other people’s content. And they started to hire, sometimes into marketing positions, journalists and storytellers – people that understand the needs of the “reader.”

I’m a trained journalist too, and I now use my journalistic skills to create content for Prowly as their Content Manager. For some people, I am rather a brand journalist. For others – there’s no such thing as brand journalism. They prefer to talk about “failing journalism.” What is fueling this debate?

Content Marketing vs Brand Journalism: Something in Common, Something Different

Regardless of all “non-believers”, both the idea of content marketing and brand journalism, are now recognized industry and academic terms and have been around in various forms for years. Brand journalism has come out of the boom of branded magazines aimed at consumers. The continuously expanding list of (online) communication tools at the brand’s disposal to directly reach and interact with their customers didn’t hurt either, as it enabled picking the right content for what the customers are seeking at different stages in the business cycle.

What about content marketing? Michael Brenner (Senior Director, Global Marketing, SAP) defines it as: “delivering the content your audience is seeking in all the places they are searching for it. It is the effective combination of created, curated, and syndicated content.” Joe Pulizzi (The Content Marketing Institute) adds that content marketing is a marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. In his opinion, that is the difference between content marketing and the other informational garbage you get from companies trying to sell you “stuff”. The buying process and the generating of leads are often the main argument why you should not use these two terms interchangeably. Stories written by brand journalists are meant to more strongly connect on a personal level and create a favorable impression of the brand. Its goal is to find and tell the stories that convey a brand’s “personality.”

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Maria Perez, Director of Online Community Services for ProfNet and PR Newswire for Journalists highlights: “Consumers want more from companies than just products and services – they want to know companies care about them, about their goals, their dreams, and their lives. When done right, brand journalism allows companies to connect with consumers more personally than through a traditional ad.” As examples, here we can mention projects like:

P&G Everyday from Procter & Gamble,
Backing America’s Backbone by U.S. Cellular
– and HSBC News and Insight from HSBC Holdings
– Coca-Cola that completely redesigned its corporate website in 2012 and announced the expansion of its Coca-Cola Journey Content Platform by introducing a new blogger network of experts (In addition, Ashley Brown from Coca-Cola announced Coke’s plans to kill the press release for good by the year 2015)
– Cisco which did the same by hiring thirty ex-journalists to write for The Network, a news channel completely owned by Cisco
– Polish e-commerce giant Allegro which launched their Allegro Magazine using our Brand Journal
– and finally, Red Bull owning its very own Media House, printing one of the biggest magazines in the world, and regularly producing documentaries, movies and music.

Brand Journalism vs Content Marketing: What Is Real

I think that the real value here is the quality of information and the skills of professional journalists: being the reader’s advocate, seeking out the good stuff about the brand, fact-checking beyond the source material supplied, sub-editing content specifically to boost click-throughs, and writing for a broader audience in a more neutral way. Brand journalism’s intent is to get you to participate in the brand. Firehead blogger (and journalist) Fiona Culinan puts this even more directly: “A brand journalist can help keep a brand honest”.

And there is something to it. The severest arguments used against brand journalism tend to center on the issue of transparency. To be honest, I think that’s a little bit precious. Professional content marketing and brand journalism put the customer interests at the forefront of everything. I agree with Rex Hammock, CEO of content marketing services company Hammock Inc., who when asked by Joe Pullizi “What would you say if someone said that corporate or brand journalists aren’t real journalists?” – answered: “If content is transparent in terms of source and agenda, then it’s real. Whether or not it’s “journalism” is not really important.” 

Hand-In-Hand

Ultimately, the goal of content marketing or brand journalismis the same – to help companies publish and distribute their own stories to attract and retain customers, to create valuable, compelling information that is useful to prospects and customers. In my opinion good brand journalism – like good traditional journalism – rises to the top. Today, brands are buying media companies and start creating their own media content. Content marketing and brand journalism are full of traditional journalists because that’s where they can count on better conditions. But in the first place, it’s a good message for the consumer because it raises the bar on brand’s communication – it simply makes PR & marketing better.

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