Making brands human and interesting again

Native advertising, sponsored content, corporate journalism, visual storytelling, brand publishing, content marketing – corporate news is everywhere. The secret is out and agencies, corporates and brands alike are all out to get their 3 minutes of YouTube fame. But how do we create a positive and lasting impression that delivers value to our audience? On top of getting noticed or entertaining our audience, how do we ensure we have a positive impact on the businesses we work for?

With newsrooms under pressure to do more, with less, a gap has been created, with many seizing the opportunity to fill it. Newsrooms of today are on our fingertips, it is the phone calls, emails, posts and tweets that all of us do on a daily basis. Each day all of us are sourcing, aggregating, curating and creating our own news. Mashable ran a completely virtual newsroom for almost five years and still relies heavily on remote employees and freelancers.

South Africa media houses continue to face rising costs with Times Media Group, Media24 and the Independent, all having retrenched staff in recent years while also consolidating newsrooms and production teams. The hunger for quality content has never been greater. This presents brands with a massive opportunity.

Organisations are starting to take control of the content creation process, either by taking content production skills in-house or through agency partnership. Although mobile and social media news consumption habits have evolved, legacy platforms have not been abandoned. Instead it has created an opportunity for organisations to become their own publishers.

But what happens when brands effectively become their own Editor in Chief? Eager marketing managers with sales targets setting the agenda is not exactly fertile ground for creative and inspiring ideas to flourish.

On the other side of the coin, we have creative agencies who conceptualize big ideas that have all the bells and whistles to sing, dance and make you a cup of tea, but lack relevance and fail to meet the business objective, (unless of course you are a teabag company).

Winning organisations and practitioners are finding that balance by putting the audience at the centre, understanding that the audience is not ready and waiting to receive your news. Before publishing, a good editor will first consider the intended audience and what they want to see and interact with. Similarly, a brand journalist’s rule of thumb is audience and engagement first, brand second. A brand journalist actively seeks out the story; understands the characters and the journey.
The story is told in an emotive or thought provoking way. This is very different to “corporate spin” used to sell products and services. The brand voice is more liberated from the traditional constraints and has to be authentic and engaging for the audience.

A smart approach to brand storytelling, brings together the boldness and innovative qualities of a creative studio with the agility, responsiveness and timeliness of a newsroom. The challenge is to be nimble enough to respond quickly to the 24-hour news cycle. You need to produce content quickly if you want to be relevant. You then need to leverage that content over multiple channels with different formats and different entry points.

Your brand story lives beyond, a catch phrase or tagline, it needs to make a connection with people, beyond their interaction with your product or service – that’s how you stand out from the crowd.

For many, news is just another form of content that can be used to attract an audience of readers in the hope that they will turn into paying customers. However capturing the essence of a brand and sharing that narrative in a smart, provocative but honest way can win you much more than just headlines and retweets. It can build the brand profitable, long-term relationships.

Tanya Buckley, Head of Content at Magna Carta Reputation Consultants.