‘Why’ Don’t We Delve Deeper into Brand Journalism

July 2022

Image: Getty Images

In seventh grade, a small group of us students concocted a daylong game. We raised our hands during every classroom lesson to ask the teacher a succession of questions that began with the word “why.”

Why did the author spend two pages describing his dinner when a paragraph would do?”

“Why does that formula work?”

“Why exactly are we learning about British colonization of India?”

Our goal: See how many why questions it took to exasperate our instructors. (As I recall, the average was three.) But the technique, once a source of torment for teachers, is a valuable tool for a specific type of content marketing known as brand journalism.

What defines brand journalism vs. content marketing

The difference between brand journalism and content marketing boils down to how a brand’s story is told. With brand journalism, the focus is on powerful storytelling intended to convey a brand’s personality by pulling in prospective customers with words and accompanying images that later convert to purchasers. Brand journalism typically is a segment of an organization’s content marketing strategy—it supports more traditional modes of marketing. An older example is an airline’s inflight magazine that promotes air travel through features and tip-oriented articles. A more modern example is Starbuck’s “Upstander” series about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities.

Content marketers generally forge a clearer path to sales by pushing useful information to a target audience. Copy is choppy and keyword-dense, but appealing, especially to those who prefer to scan than read. The call to action is more prominent (Buy now! Learn more!) compared to the subtlety of brand journalism’s end goal: build awareness, trust and loyalty.

Another difference with traditional marketing

Whereas traditional marketing is focused on the who, what, when, where and how of a product or service, brand journalism pays close attention to the why.

The why is often the hardest of the basic elements to fulfill because it isn’t always clearcut. You can advertise the who (target audience), what (business or personal issue to be resolved), when and where (accessibility), and how (functionality, ease of use). But understanding and communicating the reason all this matters? It’s a step some content creators skip, even after taking the time to develop marketing personas.

And yet, like the provocative questions posed to my middle school teachers, the why needs to be clear and communicated effectively. It makes it more likely someone hits the Contact button to learn more.

Brand journalism helps remove internal biases

One reason brands hire brand journalists is to showcase customer outcomes and remove internal biases. They don’t just say a product is the best in its market, they back it up with research. They write from different points of view, not just the sales teams. They can write about an organization’s philanthropic work without bragging by highlighting the good work and not just naming everyone involved.

These writers and editors can push an in-house marketing team in a more authentic direction, with information and unbiased content consumers now crave. They are expert storytellers who understand the power of presentation—and the importance of accurately portraying a brand’s leadership, history and vision to gain and retain a loyal following of buyers.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne