Sunday, October 2, 2011

Once more, with feeling

I stumbled on this debate about the merits of brand journalism, which I think is one of the great innovations in public relations and marketing in the digital age. It's clear to me that the writer of the anti-brand journalism essay doesn't actually understand what brand journalim -- which others call "currated content" -- actually is:

Imagine this scenario: A technology company releases a new smartphone and begins a massive marketing campaign, claiming the phone does amazing things, is faster than any other phone, and has the best network. But consumers are much better served by turning to journalists—real journalists—for reviews of the phone. A technology site such as CNET (CBS) would put the phone through extra paces, with all the marketing claims tested in a lab.

Well, duh. Except brand journalism isn't about a company boasting about its products, something they did just fine before the Internet. Such claims are not given more creditibility simply because they are made on a company blog or Facebook page, and most consumers understand that, even if there are fewer and fewer journalists to call B.S. on these brands.

Brand journalism is about providing your audience with information that will be useful or interesting to them even if they choose not to purchase your product, but that increases the likelihood that they wil become costumers because that information is valuable and thus enhance your brand's credibility.

Intel's Free Press is an example that I and others have cited. The defender of brand journalism in the debate I linked to offers Home Depot as an example: "Home Depot...may produce how-to content on fixing your home. Of course, such content carries brand value to Home Depot, but that doesn’t change the credibility of their article."

Just like brands have always promoted their products over their competitors, so have conscientious and customer-friendly businesses always put their customers' needs over their short-term interests. Think of the sales person who, rather than talking you into buying the most expensive product in the store, first talks to you about what you need, how you are going to use it, etc., and then steers you to a less expensive but equally reliable model. I once ate at a restaurant where my server talked me out of ordering the most expensive item on the menu because he said the portion size was far too small and it simply wasn't that good. Somehow it made what I did order seem that much more enjoyable.

It's good customer service, and it does exactly what brand journalism is supposed to accomplish: building your customer's long-term faith in your brand, which is far more valuable than one quick and easy sale.

No comments: