Are We Doing Brand Journalism, Content Marketing, or Both?

A couple of years ago, I and some of my colleagues attended SXSW Interactive and spent 3 days attending roughly a dozen “content marketing” and “brand journalism” sessions. What was so interesting about that first was that we had also attended the year before, and there was exactly ONE session on the topic. The next big takeaway was how unformed and disorganized the “industry” was at that time (and still is), mostly because we lacked a working definition of the terms used to describe this broad category of reaching out to customers with “storytelling.” And, some believed that because brands across all categories were beginning to spend more on content tactics, we were in “Day One” of the content marketing/brand journalism wave.

That last one really confused me. Aren’t the Michelin Guides a shining example of what brand journalism can do for brand awareness and credibility? And haven’t they been around for more than a century? What about John Deere’s The Furrow? Also a century-long project. I’ve even worked on AGCO Corporation’s custom content efforts over the course of 20 years … AGCO Corporation has published several magazines over those years in a competing marketplace with John Deere.

The custom content industry has made attempts to delineate between tactics. But we still struggle to find the right terms to use to describe, in general, what we do as “brand journalists.” Even after having co-authored the first American media effects study on the topic, I have difficulty defining it.

So here’s a little content marketing quiz. And before you “take” the quiz, I should warn you: There is no real way to check your answers. I’m not even sure I know the answers. I do have an opinion, which you have probably already guessed. But this might be an exercise to get your mind jogging on the topics.

So here we go.

1. Is there a difference between “content marketing” and “brand journalism”? 2. Are the following tactics “content marketing,” “brand journalism,” or both? a) Posting a photo to Facebook, inviting likes and shares b) Sending a single-sponsor feature-driven magazine through the mail to a controlled circulation c) Posting sponsored content to a news site with the same look and feel as straight news d) A white paper sent via email, if you’ll supply your email address to its sponsor 3. If there IS a difference between “content marketing” and “brand journalism,” who is qualified to execute each one? 4. Do the definitions even matter?

If I’m answering these questions, it would probably go something like this...

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