Some sources say that content marketing and brand journalism are interchangeable terms, synonymous with other terms like “brand storytelling” or “inbound marketing,” but that’s not quite true. In the same way that the lead journalists of Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, who recently broke the Paradise Papers, are not brothers despite similar last names, content marketing and brand journalism are not quite related either.
Though we also help clients with content marketing, our primary product offering, my editorializer, is a brand journalism solution. We offer this solution because we believe that brand journalism has its own particular qualities, challenges, and nuances, different from those of content marketing.
In other words, brand journalism is its own unique thing, not “the thing that sells the thing,” as one of our favorite authors, Andrew Essex, said in his book The End of Advertising. In this article, we’re going to address the differences between content marketing and brand journalism, and why it’s important to understand the difference. To make this easy, we’re going define these words as simply (and non-jargon-y) as possible: we’re stripping them down and analyzing.
What is Content Marketing?
Content + Marketing = Using content to market what you sell to potential customers by providing information, useful advice, or responses to common questions.
First, let’s just get straight to the question we get asked all the time, as producers of editorial content: What is content anyway?
Content is any sort of consumable media, ranging from videos to photos to written text to infographics to GIFs to podcasts to entire magazines or brochures. Put simply: content is what keeps your mind busy. Editorial content refers specifically content created by a journalist and achieves journalistic objectives (which we will get to later).
And marketing? The term has been around so long you likely don’t need a definition of it, but just so we’re clear: it is the sum of the steps you take to bring your product to market. It can consist of designing beautiful packaging so that customers notice your product or sending emails to the right people to inform them that you sell what they need, regardless, the end goal is to sell something.
So, logically, when we put these two definitions together, we get content marketing: the use of content (consumable media) to achieve your marketing objectives (sell your product or service).
What is Brand Journalism?
Brand + Journalism = Using editorial content to show off who you are, or rather what you represent and care about, by providing information, inspiration, or entertainment to audience members.
Let’s talk about brands. A brand is essentially anything that you can form an opinion, an image, or a perception of. It can be a person, a group, a company… Simply put, if it sends you a message about itself and gives off a certain image, something that allows you to identify and categorize it, it’s a brand.
The “brand” is simply an exterior trace of categorization. We humans love categorization, and, for a myriad of psychological and sociological reasons, we instinctively seek to categorize everything almost systematically. We look for indicators to efficiently categorize others because the world just makes more sense that way. From the clothes we wear to the pictures we post to the people we frequent, all of our daily actions and adjustments to external appearance give others an understanding of our “category,” like which group we belong to, and beyond that, an understanding of who we are and what we care about.
Extend this logic to a company and we have a modern consideration of “brands.” Thanks to the content brands share and the messages they send, we understand who they are and what they care about.
And journalism? When you read “journalism”, you might imagine a reporter on television standing in a crowd during a demonstration, the column you read in the newspaper every Sunday, the magazine articles you read on the beach, the voice that informs you of what’s happening in the world on your way to work, or the series of photos you saw that described an event in pictures. All of these examples are representative of journalism because they share a common creator: a journalist, a professional trained to produce “newsworthy” content that is in line with the ethics of the profession (facts only, strong sources, for the public good, etc.).
Newsworthy content is anything that affects public wellbeing (a change in political leadership or the passing of a new law, for example), is of public interest (from “hero” stories to the opening of a new commuter line) or may impact a particular group (new airplanes for travel lovers, a book release for avid readers, etc.). These stories are by definition extraordinary and impactful; they are created based on their ability to interest audiences and hold their attention.
Put these two definitions together and you create a new objective. The brand (an image machine that you judge based on what it does and shares) uses journalism (creating newsworthy, ethical – read: factual – content) as a very clear, intentional way of showing people what it cares about. Its goal, contrary to that of content marketing, is to help customers understand WHO they’re doing business with by providing an authentic illustration of the brand’s purpose and going beyond WHAT it sells.
Why should you know the difference?
Simple: An understanding of the goals and objectives of content marketing versus brand journalism help you better structure your communications and content strategy. Your product sales and image are both important. One contextualizes and explains your product or service features and the other gives you personality. Customers want to see both sides of the coin.
Choosing a company to do business with can feel a lot like hiring the right employee. Beyond the CV with a list of a candidate’s experiences and knowledge, you likely want to get to know the person behind it before making a final decision. Will the person be a good fit for your culture? Does this individual share your team’s values? Even a comprehensive and descriptive CV can’t answer these questions. The candidate’s personality and the feeling you have about them after meeting (and a little scrolling through their social media) are often what determine whether or not he or she may be a good new hire. The same goes for a company. Content marketing responds to a customer’s need to know that your offerings fulfill a particular want or need, but brand journalism is an illustration and authentic demonstration of your brand’s personality. In complement to content marketing, brand journalism goes beyond convincing sales arguments and further humanizes the brand. Customers need to be able to get to know you, to associate you with beliefs, concepts, ideas, and current events, and to have a reason to be proud to continue to associate themselves with you.
Understanding the difference between content marketing and brand journalism helps you set the right objectives and reflect more deeply on content creation. Use content marketing to open the door and introduce yourself, and brand journalism to build an ongoing relationship based on your shared loves and values. Easy, right?