By Darren Gilbert

“More industrial related brands or those focused on niche markets realised that, unlike main stream product offerings, they had to find a way to engage with potential consumers,” says Wright.

What is brand journalism exactly?

For Andy Bull, lecturer and author of Brand Journalism, it is “a hybrid of traditional journalism, marketing and public relations” and is a response to “the fact that any organisation can now use journalistic techniques to tell its story direct to the public”.

Wright explains further: “The idea is that instead of producing content with a definite brand hook or link back – companies or brands rather produce content that is able to answer questions posed to the audience or general public,” she says.

This means that brand journalism aims to answer the fundamental question: why should the reader care? “Good brand journalism solves a customer’s problem or provides useful information they’re actively searching for,” explains Adelle Horler, group head of content at New Media Publishing.

At the same time, brand journalism “focuses less on conversations and ROI and rather on answering serious consumer questions”, adds Wright.

Does it differ from traditional journalism?

Brand journalism sounds a lot like what you’d find by means of your traditional journalism channels. And that is partly true. To do brand journalism well, you need the skills of the modern journalist. However, Bull believes there is a difference.

“There are serious issues over balance, independence and fairness that must be addressed,” he writes. Taking the example of customer magazines, you need to please two masters: your line manager in the publishing house and the client who is paying for the mag. You’re attempting to create valuable content while simultaneously serving the ambitions of a brand.

For Wright, though, there shouldn’t be a difference. However, this is more around the quality of content that is produced. “Journalism seeks to provide the audience with relevant news that they should care about. Brand journalism seeks to do the same,” she says.

Horler agrees: “Like a traditional journalist, a branded content creator wants the consumer to feel something, to be informed or [to be] entertainment.” The point of a brand journalism piece is to inform and educate people to make better decisions rather than drive consumers to a brand.

Who does brand journalism well?

A good example of brand journalism is Woolworths’ TASTE magazine. Published by New Media Publishing, through recipes and advice, the title explains what you can do with Woolworths food products. Yes, it’s pushing their products – but it does so in a subtly without putting the reader off.
By providing such content, Woolworths are providing customers with valuable information, which allows for a far more compelling temptation to buy rather than a straightforward product push, says Horler.

From an international perspective, Whole Foods Market – a chain of health food stores in North America and the UK – uses this method successfully. The brand uses Twitter to distribute information and to interact with their audience. Bull writes, “It engages in conversation with individuals … offers useful information not connected to its brand … [and] offers recipes on its website.”

What are your thoughts on brand journalism? Do you use it as part of your marketing strategy? Tell us in the comments below.