Over the past year the discussions about what content marketing is and isn’t as well as the role of content within marketing and PR functions of a business have been interesting to watch. Especially the discussions around whether brand journalism and native advertising fit in the content marketing mix. Here’s my take:
Content Marketing is all about customers and providing them the information they need to inspire action. The themes that align buyer interests and brand goals as part of a content marketing strategy can inspire the focus of any content or media whether it’s part of a brand journalism effort, native advertising or content marketing program – just in different ways.
Storytelling is content-type agnostic. To me as a marketer, brand journalism and native advertising within content marketing can work because storytelling is relevant for both brand and consumer focused messaging. Understanding how your buyers discover and consume information will often reveal the value of multiple touch points that can be satisfied with a mix of owned, earned and paid media. These efforts can run concurrently and integrate.
Native ads and brand journalism are pieces of the content marketing puzzle. It’s expected that a brand will communicate about itself and particular expertise. When 3rd party media (earned or sponsored) run stories that support that expertise, they provide additional support to the brand narrative as the best answer solution. Brand journalism can accentuate the “back story” of why the company has particular expertise.
As an example, let’s say we have an initiative to attract new business by differentiating the company (or marketing agency) according to new and trending capabilities that will be needed to help clients succeed. These skills and domain expertise are the secret sauce to help companies achieve marketing goals in the coming year.
Brand Journalism – In such a situation, I might publish stories on and off site about our agency education programs around certain skills and highlight how certain staff have applied them to be more successful marketers. No direct “selling” would be involved. Profiles of staff that possess these skills as well as examples of their innovative application by early adopter clients could be posted to the company newsroom or blog.
Native Ads and Earned Media – Concurrently, I might run sponsored editorial in digital publications with readership that align best with our target audience talking about the upward trend of these skills and the differentiated value they bring to client marketing programs. Both earned media through contributed articles or story pitching as well as native ads would be appropriate, depending on the publication.
Content Marketing program – Then at the same time, as part of a directed content effort to reach a particular target audience of potential clients, we’d also publish an eBook, blog posts and crowdsource community content around the importance of those skills for successful marketing. In our case, there would almost certainly be an influencer component to this as well.
Interactions with these types of information (brand journalism, native ads, earned media and content marketing) provide brand and buyer focused messaging that support different stages of the funnel. They also provide additional signals to support credibility and authority that complement content marketing efforts.
The issue with most companies in the content marketing game is that all of their content is directed towards a linear buyer journey and conversion. The addition of earned media, sponsored editorial and brand journalism can provide a force multiplier effect or booster rocket thrust to content marketing efforts.
It comes down to empathizing with customer expectations about different types of content and how they work together.
Understand customer expectations – I think it’s safe to say that with native advertising and earned media, readers expect fair and balanced – unbiased information. With owned media in a content marketing program, it’s acceptable for a brand to communicate the value of their products and services, albeit, not in a sales way, but more helpful). With brand journalism, it’s like earned media except the subject matter is the brand – what would a journalist (who isn’t a dissenter) write about your company?
My point (finally!) is not to discount brand journalism or native advertising as exclusive of content marketing programs. Think about the mental state of buyers and how they discover, consume and act on information. Create a competitive advantage by creating content beyond normal distribution channels to add credible signals and authority to support brand messaging.
Of course, this really only works if the messaging across earned, owned and paid media are coordinated and integrated – yet customized to the context in which buyers will interact with them.
What do you think? On target? Off base?