Brand storytellers know that strong parallels exist between journalism and content marketing. After all, the heart of both professions is telling powerful, compelling narratives designed to inform, educate, empower, or inspire.
And these days, when traditional media is squeezed in what it can cover, it’s often brands that tell stories from off the beaten track.
Instead of viewing the craft of content creation as merely drawing from journalistic skills, approaches, and forms, it can serve as a unique, powerful space to bring forth an untapped well of stories that traditional media may not be able to.
Here’s how brands can cover stories that newsrooms and traditional editorial departments can’t.
The benefit of branded content is that you can go deep into a niche area in ways that traditional publications often can’t because they may lack the staff and time, explains Callie Enlow, editor-in-chief of Aspiration’s online magazine Make Change. “Plus, many outlets today still feel advertiser pressure to play to the broadest possible audience,” says Enlow.
Because branded content is actually most effective when targeting niche audiences and personas, there’s an opportunity to explore topics in greater depth than newsrooms are able to do. Make Change, for example, “explores where money and mission meet, from personal finance to sustainable investing to businesses making a difference—because how we earn, save, spend, and invest can change the world.” A traditional business publication may cover sustainable investing, but they may not have the real estate to dig into unique stories like snail farming as a sustainable source of protein or green funeral businesses.
The big luxury for Enlow and her editorial team has been time and control of their production schedule, which is partially due to being only online and partially due to not trying to please several advertising clients at once, explains Enlow.
Because brands don’t need to push out content to the same cadence as rapid news cycles, they may have the bandwidth to focus on evergreen pieces that take a deeper look at societal trends or explore the connection between previously unexplored correlations. For instance, Cover, a new insurance startup, published a piece on how on-demand insurance may be enabling our optimism bias, fusing cognitive psychology and trends in the rapidly changing insurance space.
Image attribution: Kinga Cichewicz
Sure, not all brands have the luxury of having a larger budget. But in the cases where companies have more dollars to spend on brand storytelling, they may be able to produce “big rock” content that traditional publications aren’t able to. “The big rock is a substantial piece of content that you’re creating with the purpose to own a conversation,” says Jason Miller, LinkedIn’s global content marketing leader. Such highly valuable content may come in the form of a white paper, a multimedia series that delves into a single topic, a comprehensive, lengthy guide, or an eye-opening data visualization.
As Miller explains: “How do you find that conversation? Well, you do a little keyword research and you look at the search queries that are driving traffic on the conversations and the topics that are important to your brand. It’s really quite simple. Think about what the number one question is that your product or service answers or can solve? Then you create content around that.”
While “big rock” content takes more time and resources to produce, it can help create foundation-level content that helps the brand stand out and ultimately points toward the solutions the company aims to provide.
Content creators are fully aware of the different set of restrictions involved in brand storytelling. If you’re working in a highly regulated industry, you’ll need to jump through special hoops before a piece goes live, including having it reviewed by in-house subject matter experts, getting the sign-off from different departments, and navigating compliance. And depending on the brand and its services or products, you may feel limited in the topics you can tackle.
While it can be challenging to balance business goals and editorial vision, finding creative angles to fulfill both may lead to unique takes on topics that have been covered at length. As a content creator, I’ve found these sorts of constraints to be helpful in that they require you to approach ideation as a Venn diagram. Where is the space in which the client’s business goals and editorial overlap? And how can you give a fresh spin or previously unattempted “dive” on certain topics?
What kinds of narratives can be told that aren’t only in alignment with a client’s brand, values, and messaging but are engaging in their own right? Aspiration’s Make Change, which explores the intersection of money and mission, does a great job at coming up with fresh spins in the personal-finance space. Stories such as “Metaphysical Assets: Seeking Fortune in the Supernatural” and “Do Yogis Make Better Business Leaders?” brilliantly combine the realms of social good and finances to tell unique stories.
As brand storytellers, it’s our role to find creativity within constraints and to fulfill both editorial aspirations and brand objectives. And in our quest to be innovative, we can carve out a special space to offer fresh perspectives, go deep in a niche, or put out a substantial piece of evergreen content.
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Featured image attribution: Hannah Olinger