The accidental brand journalist
My first marketing mentor was fond of saying, “The old is forever new.”
Last year I made a discovery that brought those words to mind after nearly 25 years.
I was reading a lot of great stuff by David Meerman Scott when I came across his ideas on brand journalism. It was a revelation for me. Many of the new media principles he advocates were what we did for clients in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
That was when I started my career at a direct marketing agency. Besides traditional lead generation and direct order campaigns associated with direct marketing, we created many ongoing customer relationship programs for business-to-business clients.
The primary communication vehicle for these programs was the business newsletter.
In those days we didn’t have digital media. No email or social media. The Internet had not yet been invented.
We worked with now-passé tools like the telephone (land lines), desktop publishing software, print media and direct mail. But many of the fundamental strategies and approaches we used in developing and implementing those programs are the same as those of modern day brand journalists.
I noticed this recently while reviewing some of those programs. This slide deck is an overview of two business publications, their content strategy and implementation, showing early-stage brand journalism at work in the pre-digital era.
At the time we developed these newsletters, there were a lot of self-proclaimed newsletter experts publishing lame corporate mouthpieces filled with promotional fluff. But we positioned our publications as branded news of interest to readers in key target markets. The content focused on:
- Sector-specific economic trends
- Technical applications and innovations
- Industry trends and regulatory developments
- Customer stories
This set our clients apart from other newsletter publishers in their industry. And it helped them realize their goals of creating long-term customer relationships, referrals and sales growth. The communication programs lasted years, some for decades – long after advertising or promotional campaigns ran their course.
Traditional media meets new media
Looking through the brand journalism lens, these traditional media programs have a lot in common with new media principles:
- The content informs and entertains readers
- The content answers questions and solves problems
- A newsroom model is used for planning and creating content
- They use a journalistic writing style, not promotional copy
- They are ongoing programs, not finite campaigns
- They bypass traditional trade journals to reach customers directly
- They tell brand stories that align with corporate branding
For years I was never quite sure how to talk about these programs. They colored outside the lines of traditional direct marketing’s sales/lead generation response focus. I was caught somewhere between direct mail and relationship marketing.
New media thought leaders discussing the merits of brand journalism helped me bridge that gap. It made this old dog feel a part of something new. Quite by accident I discovered I am a brand journalist.
Tell me what you think. Is brand journalism exclusive to digital media?