Brands As Publishers – The Debate Continues
At my favorite panel thus far at SXSW “Brave New World: Debating Brands’ Role as Publishers,” moderator Tom Ashbrook of NPR set the stage for a tense discussion, warning the front row that “after the prep call for this panel I thought about getting you splatter guards.”
With marketing budgets and traditional journalism shrinking, it’s no surprise that the value of brands taking an editorial approach to building a content strategy – becoming both a publisher of original content and curator of news and stories across the Web – is hotly discussed. Is curation counterfeiting? Can consumers distinguish branded content from true “objective” journalism? All themes that got pulses racing today.
But ultimately, for me, the debate comes down to this basic fact: thanks to technology, ANYONE can tell a good story that captivates consumers’ attention and inspires action. Brands shouldn’t ignore the tools at their disposal, but they also should not apply the same approach they have to their traditional marketing efforts and content development.
There is room for both traditional journalism and brand publishing – the latter is still in the experimental phase and (in the vast majority of cases) is being done poorly today. I agree with TechCrunch’s Lora Kolodny (who was great on the panel, providing the contrarian point of view) that best practices and standards need to be developed to make sure that we are creating content that provides value – not contributes to “info pollution.”
So where should brands start?
- Turn your real-time conversation monitoring into context for conversations. Break free of your schedule and let the insights and pain points gleaned from listening to your customers drive your content strategy.
- Don’t rely on one form of branded journalism – content creation or owned media. Weave together a complete evolved media experience for your customers that brings together the best third-party content, original content created by your brand and content/opinions from peers – provide value to your customers by making it easier than ever to find the information they need – but be transparent and clear about your company’s role in each.
- Involve external parties – people with journalism backgrounds and agencies with a pulse on your audience’s conversations and motivators – to help you craft your story and avoid creating “non-fiction advertising.” But be sure that your partners are steeped in you brand values or your content will be disingenuous.
And to close with another brand journalism concern raised by the panel: when it comes to consumption of this content, as discussed by Scott Friedman here on Hypertext, we need to give consumers more credit. Brands have a responsibility to be authentic and transparent, but let’s acknowledge that today’s readers are so much more informed and sophisticated than ever before. People are more savvy about where they get their information and savvy enough to understand when content loses its objectivity. It’s the same technology that’s enabling brands to create and distribute original content that’s enabling people to call out those who cross the line.
What’s your take on brand journalism? What role does/could it play in your marketing mix? What best practices or standards would you want to see put in place to guide brand journalism efforts – to strengthen the value provided to consumers and to unlock greater ROI for companies?
Let’s continue the debate.
Yfrog photo via Tim