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The Rise of Brand Journalism & Content Marketing

pineapple brand magazine

Pineapple, AirBnB’s own branded travel magazine. No ads, $12 per issue.

Think about the last time you saw an ad in a magazine or on TV that actually tried to convince you to buy the product. (Assuming that you read things on actual paper or watch TV that isn’t Hulu or Netflix.) #Sorrynotsorry to any present-day Luddites, but the Internet has given way to ever-changing methods of communication, increased consumer awareness, and the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

It’s easy for someone to ignore banner displays, pay for ad-free radio services, and skip through YouTube or TV commercials. We are constantly being distracted by anything that is bigger, better, or flashier. For the most part, we are the children of the Internet, unable to recall a time within the past decade when we weren’t connected to some type of device. We are a generation of anthropomorphized magpies. (Besides, the past 8 years were spent obsessively watching Mad Men, so we all know the classic advertising tricks by now.)

blog quoteLong gone are the days where a company is straightforward in advertising their products or services. Even AT&T has a campaign that doesn’t outright sell coverage plans or disparage competitors, but rather informs the public in a PSA about the dangers of texting and driving. Waning attention spans have made it perfectly clear: businesses and marketing agencies need to be a lot more creative and interesting if they want to stand out.

We’ve all seen it, creeping into every available digital corner — sponsored content, deliberate storytelling, subtle techniques that compel consumers toward a defined theme. There has been a marked shift in how businesses allocate their marketing dollars. Instead of operating under the sole purpose of shilling a product or service, brands and companies want to be known as defined personalities that are both relatable and engaging to their consumers, as well as distinguishable from their competitors. At the very heart of digital marketing, original, high-quality content that is timely, informative, and easily sharable can make a company the best authority on a particular topic within that industry.

The best way to get someone’s attention is to tell a story.

Larger corporations have been buddying up with more “newsy” social media partners for years (McDonald’s and Buzzfeed, anyone?), but mid-sized businesses have been more hesitant to get started with brand journalism, content marketing, or search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. It doesn’t alleviate the reluctance and general confusion amongst marketing agencies and their clients when these terms are often used interchangeably. Within the marketing field, these three areas have clearly-designated definitions but work very closely together to form a powerhouse of impact — shiny enough to capture the attention of even the most distractible of magpies.

Brand journalism goes beyond conventional social media marketing. Its goals are to create content with value that drives the audience toward a positive reaction, and, most importantly, to utilize strategic placement that shines on a business’ personality.

Content marketing provides and shares information for consumers that is seen as “evergreen” (retains its value and impact over time) and highly useful. Not only does content marketing share information about a company’s products and services, but it also encompasses news and personal pieces that are relevant for that specific industry.

Search engine optimization (SEO) takes both brand journalism and content marketing to give websites the oomph needed to rank higher in search results — and to turn simple inquiries into measurable actions. The more technical side of marketing, SEO is reliant on analytics tools and monitoring updates in search engine algorithms to produce a direction for the content.

Constantly creating original content isn’t easy, and it requires marketers to think like journalists — gathering complex material within a specific area of interest and translating the idea into clearly-focused, digestible content is not a small task. The hybrid, short-form writing style takes hours of research and presents the factual information in a way that is formatted to drive traffic to the client’s website and services.

Don’t call it blogging.

This extensive creative process isn’t to be confused with blogging, which can often be a form of content marketing for many businesses. Call it composing content. Call it mastering the art of guided storytelling, or even call it the organization of purposeful media.

People generally do not like being told what to do, which is a resounding challenge for marketers (who would very much like their professional efforts to be fruitful). But when acknowledged correctly, this resistance can be a great tool for the purposes of content marketing. In the age of Do-It-Yourself (DIY), there is more of an impact when consumers are given the resources to cobble together a solution for whatever problems they have put into the Google search bar. Navigating through spammy search results with irrelevant information and flat-out being told how to spend money is a great way to drive business into the welcoming arms of competitors. Instead, strategic partnerships with reputable platforms (digital publications or high-traffic niche blogs) that produce original content can teach an audience what they’re hoping to find out. However, not everyone is cut out for the logistical nightmare that is a DIY project and low-cost solutions are often temporary in effectiveness — chances are that they will eventually adopt a stance of “Buy, not DIY.”

To make the most of the advertising and marketing budget is to cultivate a mutually-beneficial relationship with the desired audience and the inner-workings of the business’s industry. The closeness-communication bias confirms that people are more willing to listen to and communicate with their friends rather than with strangers. With brand journalism developing a business’ brand personality and reputation, SEO targeting specific search terms and boosting rankings, along with top-notch content providing pragmatic information, interested consumers will end up counting that business’ services as their top choice.

The Internet won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. It’s time to take a look into developing a solid content marketing strategy.

Image credit: Coffee Table Mags

Benjamen Hicks is an SEO Account Manager at Chicago Style SEO, a full service internet marketing firm. Connect with him on Google+ and Twitter.

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