Just as a great general turns boys into soldiers, your marketing manager should be churning marketing writers into brand journalists. Though only cream of the crop companies are on this path right now, brand journalism is really the future of marketing – though most entrepreneurs and even marketing managers have yet to realize this hard to ignore fact. If you’ve ever seen Mad Men and cringed at the characters in the show that were resistant to embracing computer technology, so should you cringe at anyone today who thinks brand journalism is an option rather than a destiny.
Brand journalism is a lot like storytelling marketing. If the two were parallel lines, they’d meet at certain points, run the course together for a time, separate, then touch again. Storytelling marketing is a specific strategy executed in a campaign, whereas brand journalism is your umbrella approach to marketing. As a blog post by Scott Malthouse in Epiphany UK phrased it, “with brand journalism, you’re using your brand expertise to position yourself as an authoritative resource. Instead of promoting your products, you’re educating and informing consumers about an aspect of the lifestyle you promote.”
Malthouse follows up with a great example of a data security company. As early adopters of brand journalism, the company launched an online magazine called Naked Security that served up industry news without indulgent self-promotion. First, not only did they come up with a brilliant publication name, they also followed the first tenet of brand journalism: offer useful information without plugging yourself.
There’s no need to plug yourself when by simply existing you’re a beacon of your brand. For example, Disney doesn’t need to plug its brand into the shows it creates that have nothing to do with the brand. By creating wholesome age-appropriate content for a young demographic, they’re cementing the name Disney into the hearts and minds of every new generation.
So the question is how do you get your lowly marketing writers into brand journalists.
The easy solution is you don’t. You, instead, hire journalists with marketing experience to become writers for your brand. You hire editors and task them with creating a publication. You hire art directors that can create an aesthetic for your brand that will appeal to your audience. You bring on visual storytellers that put them on a team with editors, journalists, and art directors to bring your brand to life.
This is what a great leader will do. They’ll recognize the ingredients needed for a recipe, in this case the recipe calls for brand journalism, and they’ll hire a capable and experienced team and set them free.
The other solution is to turn your marketing writers into brand journalists. You do this by training them. First, in journalism and the structure of a newsroom because you’re going to adopt that structure in your content department. Second, you’ll train them in storytelling through different mediums. Introduce ad storytelling, brand storytelling, visual photo and video storytelling. Finally, you’ll run them through a gauntlet where they’ll need to think like storytellers, journalists, and marketers and create mock campaigns.
Essentially, you’re setting up what Apple and other companies already have: a corporate university designed to train employees in the capacity that you need them to perform in. Let’s face it, there’s no university degree that can do this – but this is exactly what today’s marketing strategy needs. Your only viable solution to filling this creative gap is to structure the programs you need to develop the team you want.
However, before you embark on trying to turn apples into oranges, consider that this won’t always be the most cost-effective method. While it’s true that a lowly marketing writer is paid less than an experienced journalist, editor, art director, and visual storyteller, the fact still remains that these people need to be trained. Once trained, you still can’t guarantee they have the internal drive to function in these higher roles, nor that these various roles will be able to ping ideas off each other or integrate as smoothly as their more professional peers.
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