How Brands Can Tell Better Stories Like Journalists

February 18, 2015

brand journalism

Recently, I had the pleasure of being on a panel at an Iowa Newspaper Association event. The panel consisted of many talented individuals in the journalism industry – a photojournalist, a breaking news reporter, and even a TV news personality. At first, I questioned my presence and what I would say to the crowd of young journalists. But then I quickly realized that the best branding professionals, like news sources, tell stories, too. 

Just like my fellow panelists, I know first-hand that telling a strong story isn’t always as easy as it seems. Like journalists, to tell a story you must have a place to start. Often, this is the hardest part. Usually our stories as brands start around something new, making history, or perhaps a charitable act. These are probably the stories your company is already telling through press releases, social media posts, or blogs.

I urge you to dig deeper and think like a journalist. Try to tell the stories that people don’t expect to hear and the ones that don’t have a direct tie-in with a promotion, offer, or product.

Getting Started with Brand Journalism

By asking yourself the following questions, you may find areas that you can start pulling stories from just as a journalist would to find a news lead.

  • Who is your audience? What do they care about? Knowing your audience is key for storytelling. Facts like age, gender, and topics of interest are necessary to help you get started. Reading articles from publications targeted to your audience can also help to spark ideas and get you in their frame of mind for writing. Following trending topics on Twitter or Google may help with inspiration.
  • What around their cares can you show or give a behind-the-scenes look at? If you know what your audience cares about, you can showcase that in relation to your business. Behind-the-scenes peeks create levels of transparency that may not only educate, but elicit trust.
  • Is there a specific example of this? A story is best told with actual experiences or people. Customers or employees may be great resources to pull from. Another consideration could be comparing data from your area or industry to create a notable story that sets your brand apart. (e.g. Our company recycles 20% more products than all other auto dealers …)
  • Who best tells this story? As you may know from the news, the best stories are usually first-hand accounts. Can you ask your customers to share their experiences? Or employees? Is there an organization or business that you work with that could tell the story on your behalf?
  • How is the story best told? Just as important as the story itself is the way the story is told. Video can show emotion. Photos can capture a moment. Text can emphasize quotes or facts. Pick which is best for your audience and your story before you start.
  • Where is this story best shared? Determine where your story is best told by understanding all platforms and channels available to your brand. Consider your blog and social media, press outlets, and industry publications, but don’t be afraid to try something new like a podcast or an eBook.

Again, knowing your audience first can make answering all of these questions a bit easier.
Ready to play newscaster? You’ve got all the tools you need to be an effective brand journalist.

Want to actually see these stories in the news? See how you can use storytelling to generate more earned media.

Photo via Flickr user Jon S.
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.