Name some of the biggest brands out there. Apple. Nike. McDonald’s.
Now name some of the biggest editorial outlets: The New York Times, Time Magazine, Fox News.
What are the differences between these groups? The answer is there are fewer every day, and that that’s good news for business and for digital marketers, whose carefully curated “branded content” has for too long been lumped into the category of “advertising.”
Today, every purveyor of journalism is in a cutthroat competition for both advertising and consumer attention, and the creation of content that fits and spreads the message of their brand is the key to meeting that challenge. In that sense, most of what we read in any media outlet is branded content, whether it’s labeled “reporting” or “advertorial.” Which is not to diminish the value of quality reporting. But let’s be honest. Pundits spouting opinions? Walt Mossberg talking about a new Blackberry? This is hardly investigative journalism.
Irrespective of what it says about the current state of journalism, this trend is unequivocally good for businesses. There’s never been a better time than now to become a creator of branded content, so long as you follow the rules of good storytelling, and try to be decent in the process.
Branded content can bring people to your website who might not have otherwise been interested in your company. If you’re an expert in aviation, well, why should a reader of aviation science and technology articles find better ones in, say, Popular Mechanics? You likely have the experts in-house. Why not leverage their smarts, and turn out some high quality content that competes with “editorial”?
To be sure, journalists and journalism outlets can make the case that they’re editorially independent from their owners while branded content producers cannot. But remember the first version of Slate, one of the pioneers of web journalism? Who owned it first? Microsoft. They said they were editorially independent, but did that site not increase the hunger for smart political commentary, read via Internet Explorer on PCs with Intel chips and Windows?
Ethics will always play a part in content creation. Or rather, it should. Good morals always produce stronger content in the end. But there is nothing unethical about creating content around the idea of your company’s products or services. And sure, you may never get to the point where a reader trusts and appreciates your content more than what’s in The New York Times. But you’ll only gain more parties interested in your products and services by doing your best to create great content, and paying the best writers and editors to produce it.
So maybe it’s time to get into the content creation game, and to focus less on routine (and routinely boring) marketing e-mail blitzes. You can only tell people why your company is great so many times. Eventually you have to show them, and branded content is one of the best ways to do that.