Start-ups, meet brand journalism: content marketing that builds influence

At some point during the development of your marketing strategy, you will get into content marketing as a way to raise the profile of your brand. For start-ups setting out with an empty blog, the challenge may seem overwhelming.

Tons of content is published every day by all the different brands trying to reach their audience. On WordPress alone, users including brands like TechCrunch, TED, Sony Music and Spotify produce 70 million new posts each month.

The game is trying to cut through the noise with a signal that resonates with your key audience. That’s how you break into new markets with something relevant to offer. But making the connection between your content and the people you are trying to reach takes time and requires building trust.

The easiest way to prevent you from achieving that is through low quality content that was clearly made just for the sake of it. Just publishing “something” is an understandable outcome considering the pressure felt by all brands to keep delivering content following a tight schedule. But doing it this way leaves a lot of potential on the table.

Brand journalism captures that potential and serves start-ups especially well by providing a sustainable way to engage customers and build a brand that has influence.

What is brand journalism

Brand journalism simply means using a narrative to connect with your customers by contributing to ongoing discussions and real life developments in a meaningful way. In fact, let’s get into the right mindset and replace ‘customers’ with ‘readers’.

The idea is that you create content from an editorial approach that puts the reader first and commercial messaging second. That’s how you create stories people actually want to read by challenging perceptions and changing perspectives, ultimately building authentic connections.

In brand journalism, there is no direct product pitch and you’re not trying to close a deal. Any reference to your product or service is subtly placed in between the lines, or at most as a soft sell near the end. It can be a bit confusing because it may seem like you’re not marketing at all, so why do it?

Here’s 3 reasons:

  • Create positive brand associations: investing your time and resources into compelling brand journalism provides genuine value for your audience, showing that you understand them well beyond the application of your own products and services.

  • Build a reputation centred on expertise: developing thought leadership that focuses on the bigger picture without selling something positions your brand as a valuable source of reliable information.

  • Keep your customers close: educating your readers with consistent and quality content helps you nurture leads and keep them hanging around until they are ready to consider making a purchase.

All this adds up to reaching the gold standard for marketing today: building a brand with influence.

The principles of brand journalism

There are different ways to approach brand journalism. Frankly, the more you do it your own way, the more authentic the content is, the more it becomes the signature way your brand communicates.

That said, there are some basic guiding principles to getting brand journalism right.

1: Create stories, not ads

If you’re only interested in self-promotion and decline any topic that doesn’t include your brand, you are not building an audience. Instead, dedicate your time to in-depth material that tells a story. This goes for any type of content whether it’s articles, whitepapers, case studies, videos, guides, emails and so on. Over time, those stories add up to a brand narrative that is distinctively yours.

You can take inspiration from the context your brand lives in to find topics and an overall messaging strategy that lines up with your brand vision. Plan ahead of time with an editorial calendar that is defined by topics that need to be covered, not by artificial publishing dates that must be met at all times. Build your presence with educational content that adds value.

2: Write for the reader, not the company

Always keep the reader in mind and connect with them by delivering content that is helpful and inspirational. Consulting your readers is a great way to identify areas of interest. This may sometimes lead you to include other brands in the story, but that’s how you know you’re on the right track.

Say you’re a fintech start-up with an app for index trading, one of the topic areas you might cover is personal finances with advice for readers about managing money. Then it’s probably a good idea to discuss some of the budget tracking apps available, with links to relevant brand material for those apps. You’re not sending customers away; you’re providing value for your readers.

Sidebar: reach out to those other brands when your content is out, they might share it on their own channels or return the favour in another way – this type of collaboration multiplies brand exposure across markets.

3: Include all brands, not just your own

Speaking of other brands, don’t insult your readers by pretending you’re the only brand available. The competition is out there and hiding from the race doesn’t mean you can’t lose. That said, don’t detract from competing brands when you include them in the story. It’s ugly, cheap, and will only turn readers away. Instead, show the difference between the brands and help your readers make better choices which can only improve your own conversion goals as you filter traffic more effectively.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out with the virtual banks in Hong Kong. For now only Za Bank, WeLab Bank and Ant Bank apps are available with Mox and Livi following closely behind. Right now, most of the content is focused on introducing the brands and mobile apps to the market. The first brand to catch on to the benefits of brand journalism, covering digital banking and all the players within the space, will take the leading position as thought leader and have the edge required to come out on top as the digital bank in Hong Kong.

Live up to your core purpose and earn brand influence

It may take some time getting used to this content marketing approach, but brand journalism pays off in the end. It’s the difference between explaining the core purpose of your brand and living up to it. If you’re a start-up with a mobile trading app on a mission to “make growing wealth easier”, then do that by covering everything that makes growing wealth easier – whether it’s about trading or not.

What you’re doing is building a brand with influence, and that requires establishing trust.