Brand journalism and content marketing are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. The similarities between content marketing and journalism are closer to gymnastics meets, with the balance beam, bars, and floor work. It’s all the same sport focusing on skills and techniques, but different events.

That’s how brand journalism and content marketing work. In journalism classes, newsrooms, and magazine offices around the globe, journalists hone invaluable skills like interviewing, writing concisely, and researching often-complex topics. Feature writers dig deep into subjects, while news writers practice getting the details right on a tight deadline. The end goal of journalists is to educate, inform, and find the truth.

Content marketing is a little different, mainly because the end goal ostensibly is: to sell something. However, true content marketing – not brand journalism, not advertising, or sales materials – is designed to educate and inform prospects and customers and establish the company as a thought leader. For the most part, it’s a feature article environment, except the “features” are white papers, e-books, special reports, case studies, customer success stories, and blog posts, to name a few.

But the skills and techniques are the same. Good content marketing requires careful research, including digging through third-party sources like research firm reports. Interviews are required to mine subject matter experts for information about the products and customer pain points and tease out compelling customer details to create case studies. And writing goes without saying – whether it’s a piece meant to be read or a script to be filmed, good writing is a hallmark of successful content marketing and journalism.

The problem lies in the “marketing” part of content marketing. Many companies staff their content marketing departments with marketers – and only marketers. While marketers do an amazing job creating campaigns, managing projects, and writing advertisements and sales materials, those without a journalism background often struggle with the side of content marketing that requires journalism skills – the storytelling side, if you will.

Brand Journalism Is the Shortest Path from Journalism to Content Marketing

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The heart of journalism is gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. Journalism takes many forms, especially today with all the multimedia approaches to delivering information. What was once just the purvey of a printing press has expanded to broadcast (radio and television) and the Internet. Journalists write anything from quick-hit news articles to deeper investigative reporting pieces and longer feature articles.

However, journalism does not just inform. From its earliest days, journalism has sought to entertain readers and media consumers. In 1924, William Randolph Hearst launched the New York Mirror, he stated that the paper would provide “90 percent entertainment.” And the other 10 percent was going to inform – but not bore readers.

Today, the line between journalism and entertainment, or journalism and advertisement, is, at best fuzzy. Brands like Red Bull have published their own magazines; American Express runs a successful information site for small businesses. Even Adobe, the brains behind the ubiquitous PDF software, has its own website for chief marketing officers. Are these advertisements? Entertainment? Content marketing?

What Is Brand Journalism?

The simplest answer to the question, “What is brand journalism?” is that it is all three: a tidy mix of entertainment, content marketing, and advertisement. Brand journalism has become a common method for companies to raise brand awareness.

If you Google “brand journalism,” you’ll likely find a plethora of definitions. WhatIs.com says:

“Brand journalism is a mix of content marketing, public relations and corporate communications. Rather than directly promoting a brand through traditional marketing methods or focusing on making a sale, brand journalism – sometimes referred to as ‘marketing through journalism’ – focuses on building stories and other content that highlights a company or organization’s value from a different viewpoint.”

Whatis.com

One of the misconceptions about brand journalism is that it’s just a corporate blog. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A corporate blog is a starting point for brand journalism, but it needs to be more than just product announcements. Many companies use their corporate blogs for company news, tips, and tricks for their products, and the occasional “thought leader” piece – for example, a company that sells antivirus software may write blog posts about preventing identity theft offline.

When companies embark on brand journalism initiatives, whether it’s a website, video series, or print publication, their main goal is to build awareness. It starts people on a journey with the brand and attracts a relevant audience. But make no mistake; there is no selling in brand journalism. It’s all about the audience and what they care about.

That’s why brand journalism isn’t “just” a corporate blog. It’s often a completely separate-looking entity that doesn’t even mention the company sponsoring the content or does so sparingly.

For example, let’s look at one of the most popular B2C examples: Red Bull. The media holdings have surpassed the popularity of the energy drink! While Red Bull sold over 6.7 billion cans of energy drinks in 2018, Red Bulletin, the company’s lifestyle magazine, has a print run of 425,000 per issue in the United States alone.  The Red Bull Media House includes Red Bull TV, Red Bull Records, Red Bull Radio, Red Bull Photography, and other properties. This is brand journalism at its finest – and one that B2B companies can emulate.

In the B2B world, Adobe’s CMO.com is one of the properties that neatly straddles the line between brand journalism and content marketing. The site is geared toward Chief Marketing Officers, and its articles focus on all types of issues that may concern them: marketing technology, consumer trends, and predictions. But the only way you know that CMO.com is not an independent marketing magazine is because the logo, in very small type, is “by Adobe.” There is one link to Adobe in the website’s header. That’s it. It’s very low-key branding, but it leaves an imprint in the minds of CMOs. When their marketing directors come to them with several marketing analytics solutions, these CMOs will subconsciously remember that Adobe is a leader in the industry.

Why Content Marketing Is Different

To be fair, content marketing is a little like brand journalism – and often incorporates brand journalism strategies into content marketing strategies. But if brand journalism is the introduction of the brand to a customer and a way to educate, inform, or entertain the customer without any hard selling whatsoever, content marketing is what reels them in and helps them make a decision.

Content marketing isn’t selling, either. But unlike brand journalism, content marketing mentions the product or service, either in passing or as a focal point of the piece. It may encompass elements of brand journalism; part of a content marketing strategy can include brand journalism.

For example, German software giant SAP (best known for its flagship enterprise resource planning software) launched a podcast, A Call to Lead, in early 2019. It’s based on a leadership event the company has held for years. This podcast doesn’t sell anyone software. It’s geared toward women in technology, and each episode interviews a different female leader. This is actually genius; not only does it provide a way to educate and inspire women who work in technology, but it also subtly puts SAP’s brand in front of these women.

But the podcast is only one piece of SAP’s content marketing strategy. It uses the best parts of journalism: interviewing, finding an angle, and presenting information, and it intrigues listeners. SAP also employs dozens of other content tactics: white papers, customer success stories, infographics, videos, solution briefs, and more.

I could sum up the difference between brand journalism and content marketing in one phrase: call to action. White papers, customer success stories, infographics, solution briefs, special reports, and more all have calls to action at the end. They all say, “For more information on WidgetERP, contact your WidgetWarez authorized reseller or visit www.widgetwarez.com.” (Note: WidgetWarez doesn’t really exist.)