In June 2004, McDonald's introduced its "brand journalism" plan at an Advertising Age conference. As part of the McDonald's turnaround plan, brand journalism was McDonald's new approach to marketing. No single ad could tell the whole multi-dimensional story of a mega-brand like McDonald's, which means different things in different regions to different people in different situations with different needs. A brand's story cannot be a simple-minded, over-simplification of a complex brand idea. In our current mobile, digital, multi-platform, sharing economy, brand journalism is an even more relevant communications approach than it was 10 years ago.
With the new "I'm lovin' it" campaign, McDonald's rejected the traditional marketing and advertising approaches that focused on a single, repetitive message in favor of a "content stream approach," involving multi-dimensional messages via multiple channels to multiple audiences. McDonald's approached communications the same way an editor approaches the creation of a magazine, with its array of different content aimed at a variety of interests -- but with a coherent editorial framework.
Positioning, the message-pushing idea of imposing an overly-distilled, single word in the customer's mind worldwide, is out of date. In this modern age of dialogue marketing, the old-fashioned idea of aiming to own the customer's mind is marketing arrogance. Instead of message pushing, the message-engaging concept of brand journalism is increasing in importance in this new, increasingly fragmented, personalized, digital, always-on, mobile era.
Brand journalism does not mean marketing without a strategy. Every brand needs to have a strategy that includes a clearly defined brand framework, delineating the brand boundaries within which the brand is free to be creative. The brand framework ensures that the brand's promise remains consistent. We call our approach "freedom within a framework." The brand framework is the editorial policy that defines the distinctive character of the brand, as well as the boundaries within which the brand stories are created.
The concept of brand journalism is not only shaking up traditional views of brand management, it is also shaking up traditional views of journalism. Brand journalism is evolving into content creation, using journalistic skills; it is redefining what news is and how it should be communicated on behalf of a brand.
Verizon now has a mobile website with 75 editors, writers and videographers, where the Verizon lifestyle is promoted through specially designed content. Red Bull has a website and print magazine called Red Bulletin. It features fabulous photography and extreme sports stories consistent with the edgy, youth orientation of the brand.
Here are three brand journalism implications for brand management:
1. Brand journalism is a modern marketing imperative. Brand journalism creates an evolving brand story. It is the best way to attract and interest consumers with a continuing flow of valuable, relevant, integrated and engaging content -- advertising, articles, blog posts, social media, live events, videos and social media.
2. Use brand journalism to become a multi-dimensional conversationalist. We have evolved from monologue to dialogue to "multi-logue" communications. With multiple formats providing content in a sharing environment, we have moved from one-way lecturing to two-way conversation to multi-way communication of shared information and opinions.
3. Think like a journalist. Think of ongoing brand communications as the creation of a brand "magazine" where each article is different -- different subjects, different topics, different messages -- all coming together as a dynamic, timely, interesting, relevant and coherent brand story. Brand managers are editors of a brand journal. Brand journalism marries brand management and journalistic storytelling. It takes both skill sets and merges them into an energetic communications platform. In our changed marketing environment, marketers need to focus on creating interesting, ongoing content that will attract and engage consumers, rather than relying on old-fashioned, simplistic, repetitive message pushing.
Brand journalism captures and speaks to the interests of interconnected consumers who want customized, connective content. Brand journalism can be the most valuable tool in the marketing toolbox. Marketers have the chance of a lifetime to connect and engage consumers with journalistic brand storytelling that customers will want to consume. In this new era, brand journalism will be an increasingly important part of marketing's future.