Brand Journalism is the process of going directly to your critical audiences, taking on the role of a journalist or reporter in telling about your company, your values and why you are a good business partner. Since we are talking about stories, ask yourself: what makes a good story? Think about the last time you were drawn to a book, newspaper article, or a radio or television program. In general you will find the story contained three key elements. First, it had interesting characters, a plot or sequence that was interesting and a sense of drama. Second, it was probably different from other things you had read or watched. And finally, it had to be compelling, dealing with an issue or topic that is important to you.
Committing to Brand Journalism requires fresh thinking and an open mind. A way to start is to look at it as a process in which you take an honest look at how creatively you have been telling your brand story. Now is the time for innovation, planning and understanding how your organization will generate a consistent flow of new content. Focusing on these three elements is a great way to start, and makes the move into Brand Journalism less daunting.
Those are exactly the elements that need to go into developing your brand journalism program. Consider how you are different from your competitors, what do you provide that is unique and what are the values that reflect how you do business. Since no one can be all things to all people, it’s critical that you really develop brand values and messaging that reflect who you are as a company.
Once you have developed these differentiators, think of stories that illustrate how you bring them to life for your customers. What stories can you tell about how employees solved a customer’s problems? What examples can you cite of how the work of a team led to a product breakthrough? How can you use stories to bring each of your values to life?
Here are five elements that will likely be involved. Over time your Brand Journalism program should utilize all of these.
- Feature Stories and Profiles that tell about the company’s activities. Pick topics and start writing, tell the story first and then decide which channel will be the best for getting it in front of critical audiences. I was interested to see a headline this weekend saying that Apple has turned to its retail employees to help solve the map problems on its new iPhone 5. http://tinyurl.com/94d6sts.For a company that has been so successful, having customers get lost because maps are wrong is a big, big deal. The retail employees I’ve talked with at the Apple retail store have generally conveyed a sense of frustration at their limited role, although I have found them universally knowledgeable. Getting them involved in helping customers and telling the story to audiences that trust them about it is an excellent move.
- Direct Customer Communication – Too often companies are reluctant to talk directly to their clients until a problem has reached a crisis level. If you have clients who trust and respect you, they don’t want surprises and want to hear from you in both good times and bad. A VHPR client in financial services recently used this approach effectively when a very small number of their customers had pieces of their identity stolen. While they did not believe the breach came from the bank, the identity thieves tried to use it to change account addresses and to get access to client’s accounts. In addition to working one-on-one with the individuals’ impacted (less than a dozen), the CEO also took the unusual step of personally communicating with clients and encouraging them to be vigilant in guarding their identity. The effort received many positive responses from clients who felt the company was looking out for their interests.
- Industry Leadership – By sharing thoughts on a range of topics of interest to your client base, you gain credibility as a trusted advisor. Not everything your clients receive has to be about you and your needs. As industry and topic experts you can gain goodwill and engagement by sharing your knowledge.
- Presenting a Balanced Approach – Don’t be afraid to weigh in on challenges your industry is facing, even criticizing things that are happening if you aren’t participating. Open, transparent communication is a key part of Brand Journalism.
- Executive Support and Advocacy – It is impossible to have an effective brand journalism program if your leadership team is not visible, supportive and engaged in telling your brand story and reinforcing your values.
An added bonus – Monitoring and Protecting Your Brand
Companies that commit to a brand journalism program by definition have more contact with and connection to their critical audiences on many social media platforms. That gives you a leg up when it comes to monitoring what is being said about you. In addition, preparation of your brand story gives you most of what you will need in the event that something happens that threatens your brand. You will know how to react and have the tools to do so.