Content Marketing

Brands and Content Marketing: Beware the Hype

Michael Brito, the talented Senior Vice President of Social Business Planning at Edelman Digital (and all around good egg), recently wrote about two brands that are aggressively shifting much of their marketing focus into media centers.

I find it encouraging that early corporate adopters are evolving their content marketing strategies into a much more holistic, participatory platform. Concurrent with this shift, however, there are other marketing trends that we should follow with a critical eye, and not confuse corporate media with journalism.

The Trend

There is a huge trend happening in the marketing industry, and it has two components. The first is the ongoing chatter about all things content marketing, which in turn, is to some extent, coupled with the notion of effective storytelling.

The second component is the notion of brand journalism, that brands can become media providers, not just content and stories focused on the brand’s product or service, but act as news outlets. Companies are under the spell of the breathtaking transition of traditional media, and true journalistic independence, to the digital realm. Suddenly, everyone is a citizen journalist (which is simply nonsense).

Coca Cola recently made headlines with their push to morph their corporate site into a consumer magazine, fueled by over 40 freelance writers, photographers, and others. Now it gets interesting in part due to their take that to be a “credible source”, they will devote some air time to opinion columns that may not be directly in line with content that is favorable to the brand.

The Exception

This is where I take note, and exception. Brands in many cases today understand that to compete effectively, they have to at the very least pay lip service to issues ranging from environmental sustainability, to human rights. Part of this commitment to social responsibility implies that a company should take a hard look at their business, and work towards improving where it is relevant to their business practices. Given the past problems that Coca Cola has had in India and Africa where water stewardship has been a key issue, I was not expecting so much effort to be reflected in the Journey site. But I was wrong.

Coca Cola has devoted an immense amount of effort to discussing this issue, as well as sustainable packaging, agricultural impact, etc. I would encourage you to read their 2012 Sustainability Report.

Now this is a great start, and I commend Coca Cola for including such information. But it is not brand journalism. We should never confuse subjective storytelling with the storytelling of parents and their kids, the stories we read and discuss in our places of worship, the stories of our families.

A great next step for Coca Cola would be to establish a platform where these sorts of issues are front and center, where the community of consumers, activists, and neighbors can interact. I would also submit that a consumer ombudsman be a permanent fixture in this community, and that they be given the autonomy to yes be painful at times.

The Hype

If corporations ever for one moment think that journalism can exist within the bounds of marketing, they are simply positioning themselves squarely in the middle of the next hype cycle.

7 Comments

  1. 1

    Wow Marty – you nailed it. I think there’s a point of hubris with brands that believe that they’re the center of unbiased attention. Readers are always aware that they’re reading marketing material! it’s why companies need to have their own central strategy as well as an outreach strategy!

  2. 2

    Great post Marty, but I get worried about discussions about companies like Coke who frankly have done just about everything wrong when it comes to…well almost everything for the past…well forever.

    • 3

      I’ve been just as critical of them in the past, but there is the possibility that we’ll see a tipping point internally, if the premise of corporate journalism is taken seriously. I guess the question is whether this kind of effort can lead to a slow internal transformation, or whether it will be just another online magazine. And while they are at it, bring back the old returnable 6.5 ounce bottles, and use real sugar.

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    It is essential that most small businesses have a page to
    build their brand, communicate with customers and fans, and to maintain
    positive PR. Without social media presence, a business can be left behind their
    competitors, particularly those who have chosen to fully embrace social media.

  5. 6

    I don’t fully agree, as I believe brands can deliver some measure of objectivity in their content, especially if that content is rooted in utility, rather than promotion. It’s just that culturally it’s not in most brand’s DNA to do so. Great post Marty. Got me thinking.

    • 7

      Thanks Jay. I am constantly referring back to your mantra of being helpful, and it can sometimes be difficult for marketing to shift into this mindset. We’ve seen from the Edleman Trust Barometer that consumers are putting more trust in peers, their social circles, and less in what companies are doing. I do also believe that organizations can begin to change these perceptions, but it is a slow process. Folks like Tom Foremski are at the forefront of this brave new world of corporate journalism, as opposed to corporate media. 2013 will be a big year for efforts in how companies navigate the fragile path to trust.

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