At first blush, the words “brand journalism” might seem like a contradiction of terms. But, like traditional journalism, marketing and advertising is about telling stories. And the most successful brands are those who tell their stories well. Put another way, all companies are media companies insofar as every company has a story to tell.
Selling your brand's story, however, can be a little tricky. For one, people don't always trust advertisements. Nobody wants to be “sold” something. Yet, companies still have to get their messages out there. So what's to be done?
Luckily for brands, consumers are warming up to advertisers these days. The Facebook “like” and Twitter follow illustrate how the “social consumer” is willing to engage brands. And think about it, most people do follow at least a few brands on their social channels. In fact, the “social consumer” expects to interact with the brands they know and love. Like never before, there is an opportunity for brands to connect - provided, of course, it's done right.
First of all, in order to be done right, brand journalism should be transparent. Brands that aren't upfront about what they're selling will see their message tarnished. It stands to reason their sales will probably take a hit, too. Commercials, marketing, and advertising are all accepted. Sneakiness is not. Nobody likes being tricked. People like it even less when said trickery is aimed at their wallets.
Secondly, a quality message will always be embraced. Take for example this Old Milwaukee advertisement starring Will Ferrell. We can see it's a commercial. We know it's the beer maker's message. Still, the piece is a quality product - not to mention really funny! Old Milwaukee is obviously trying to sell cans of beer here, but, it's also a great video. Personally, I'm not watching this because I like Old Milwaukee beer. Truthfully, I've never even had an Old Milwaukee beer. I'm watching this video because it's a quality piece of content.
And finally, there is the matter of trust. Take for example Straw, a restaurant in San Francisco. Like most businesses, Straw promotes its brand online. When baseball season kicked off in April, Straw took the opportunity to share a picture of hot dogs from different major league ballparks. Now, Straw didn't share this in conjunction with a hot dog special it was running. They did it because they thought their followers would find it interesting. This kind of content doesn't immediately return an investment. But, that doesn't mean it's not worth sharing. More importantly, by sharing content that isn't directly and blatantly tied to a sale, they're able to build trust with their audience.
And that's just it. Provided the messaging is interesting, the social consumer will tolerate advertising and engagement. Spamming, on the other hand, will not be tolerated.
Thomas Hynes is manager of blogger relations at PR Newswire. You can find him on twitter at @thomashynes.