Big brands can’t teach you anything

We live in a celebrity culture. We like to hear about entertainers, athletes and other stars.

It’s the same for us in business. We like to read about big brands and the biggest names.

But I get the feeling that when companies that don’t appear on Fortune 100 lists hear the biggest brands in the world talk about how they embrace content marketing and brand journalism, smaller companies conclude that only those big brands can afford this approach.

We need to put celebrity aside. We need to keep the stars out of our eyes, because the truth is that big brands can’t teach us anything. It isn’t just that big brands have budgets that rival the gross domestic product of many nations and you don’t. You live in a much different world than they do. But stop thinking you can’t do what they can do.

You don’t need a glossy magazine with your company name on it. You don’t need flashy videos with high production values and costs. You don’t need a huge team of former journalists to write your stories. You can, however, tell your own stories (and by the way, if you don’t, nobody else will), much more easily and with much less budget than you probably think. Here are some ideas to get you started.

One big brand famously announced it was doing away with news releases and instead was just going to tell stories. They weren’t being disingenuous, but the fact is that public companies have the responsibility to make certain announcements such as earnings, and these invariably come through releases.

So don’t think you have to eliminate releases to succeed with content marketing and brand journalism as a tack or even as the centerpiece of your marketing and communications strategy.  And don’t think you need more people or more time to write content for stories in addition to whatever releases are required from your department. You don’t need more time, and you don’t need more people. Instead, turn some of your releases into stories.

One way to pull this off is with the use of listicles.

Introducing a new product? Then don’t write a release that says we’re introducing a new product.  Say this instead – “3 ways to solve this, that or the other problem.” Turn it into a story about how your company is helping your customers solve their biggest challenges and achieve their biggest goals.

After all, you know what content marketing and brand journalism are, right? Telling stories. So what has always been the single most important capability – writing ability – is even more important now.  Use your writing ability (or that of others on your team) to tell stories rather than just write releases.

And that brings me to another point – you can’t learn from the biggest brands. Other big brands have talked about the need for objectivity in content marketing and even more so in brand journalism, where you tell your own stories. That leaves smaller companies wondering why they should bother with content marketing and brand journalism if they can’t even talk about themselves. Big brands may not have to talk about themselves in this approach. Consumers and customers know who is talking to them. These are, after all, the best-known names in the world.

You can talk about yourself – and in fact for smaller companies that may not be so well known, you’d better be talking about yourself. But within limits, to be sure. Journalists have an easy response for what is clearly nothing but promotion – “take out an ad.”

So use that filter when you look at your listicles, for example – do these actually offer value to your customers or are they too blatantly about the features of your new product?

If you’re offering real value – what you see, what you think it means and what people need to think, know and do to be successful – then you can talk about yourself.  Don’t think you can’t mention your company in content marketing and brand journalism. Just don’t promote yourself. There’s a difference.

Also, big brands use tens, hundreds and likely thousands of videos. Look at their pages on YouTube. But don’t get video envy. You don’t need that many videos; you just need the right videos.

If you decide to take this advice and turn a release into a listicle, shoot a short video on your mobile phone of a subject matter expert talking about the topic at hand and insert that link in the story. If the topic for your listicle is even half interesting to people, they’ll check out the video.  They won’t expect high production value. They’ll just expect practical value from the video. Give it to them. And then use it in other formats and channels, too.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were once discussing wealth. Fitzgerald said, “You know the rich are very different from us.” And Hemingway retorted, “Yeah, they have more money.”

Big brands have more money and more people than you do when it comes to marketing and communications. But they live in a different world than the rest of us.

Stop looking at what the big brands are doing, and stop thinking about what you can’t do in content marketing and brand journalism. Focus on what you can do – because it’s a lot.

Visit our Content Marketing Strategy page to learn more about D&E’s approach to content marketing and brand journalism.

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