Two Rules for Branded Content, Violated By Many

If a brand is going to spend a lot of energy and money on content, it really ought to consider a couple of things:

  1. make sure the content is something the world, or some specific segment of the world, will really appreciate and think is special;
  2. create content that leverages what the brand knows or does.

This week I learned about a branded journalism site operated by chip maker Intel, called Intel Free Press. I heard that it’s a tech news site, and I got a little excited. I’ve known a lot of the Intel communications team for a very long time, and they tend to be thoughtful and insightful people geared toward the long term. A lot of tech news on the web has become quick-hit stories, how-tos, and shallow analysis. I had hopes that Intel might’ve funded something different — maybe a site of really interesting, longer-form stories exploring new ideas or issues in technology.

Instead I found a site of…more of the same. I’m not saying that Intel Free Press is bad. It’s got some good stuff. But it’s not different. It does what most other tech news sites do. And given that other tech news sites are in the tech news business and Intel is in the chip business, it’s a good bet that other tech news sites do it better than Intel.

A sure sign that Intel is not doing anything special is that I — a big consumer of tech news — just now realized Intel Free Press existed. It launched in the fall of 2010.

As for point No. 2 above, Intel makes the microprocessors that drive most of the planet’s PCs, laptops and servers. It has a huge R&D lab. Intel inherently knows a lot of inside stuff no web news editor will ever know. I wish Intel Free Press would tap into that and tell me things no one else can.

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(When the site launched, the editors did an interview with blogger Tom Foremski. They told Tom: “Our goal isn’t to compete with other news sites, we aren’t going to do a deep dive into the technology or benchmarking our chips. It’s about telling stories that haven’t been told yet. For example, a story on our VP of Investor Relations.” Hm. It’s one thing to tell a story that hasn’t been told, and another tell a story that really doesn’t need to be told.)

I don’t mean to hammer on Intel Free Press — it’s just a handy example of what a lot of brands are doing in content. Many seem to want to create web sites or publications that are a lot like existing web sites or publications. And they don’t understand that what they know — what they are experts in — is valuable, especially if presented in a credible, authentic, non-salesy way.

Earlier posts cited newcomers such as Rapha and old-timers such as Merck as examples of great branded content. High-end cycling apparel company Rapha funded great storytelling about hard-core cycling. Drug company Merck funded a guide to drugs a century ago when no such credible guide existed.

In each case, the project was great because because the company found a hole in the market, and threw its expertise into the mix to help bring the public something of unique value.

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2 thoughts on “Two Rules for Branded Content, Violated By Many

  1. Kevin: You’ve long been involved in conversations about brand journalism and I think we all need to give Intel some credit for trying something innovative and new. The fact is, what they are doing, as you know, is difficult and building a relevant audience is even harder…but now that they have your attention (and candid feedback) we all can learn from it.

    I work on the team at Cisco that is doing something similar in brand journalism (“The Network”: thenetwork.cisco.com) and we learn something new every day. We certainly focus on the issues in technology that we care about, but we use great journalists and storytellers (see here: http://newsroom.cisco.com/author-bio) to tell those stories. Rarely do these stories reference Cisco – not because we aren’t relevant and innovative (we are!), but because we give only two rules to our contributors: 1) don’t hurt Cisco; 2) don’t help a competitor. (I would say this is similar guidance that USAToday and other outlets might have for covering themselves?)

    Our approach is not Cisco focused, but technologies-we-care-about focused (see: bring your own device, cloud, data deluge, etc.). We will make mistakes, but we are trying to bring new and credible voices to the conversations we care about. And, as “The Network” is a core part of our social media strategy, we know that it is difficult to be “social” if we don’t have the “media” part to share as well. We know we have to offer value to our audience and their engagement is validation that they like what we are offering…and lack of engagement is great feedback for us as well.

    Our own team produces content that is more Cisco-centric, which is important, but our contributors offer technology trend stories. As a group, we aren’t chroniclers, but we hope to be analyzers and storytellers about the impact of technology in people’s lives.

    We also want other outlets to TAKE our content and redistribute it…with a small credit of where it came from. We (humbly) think it is great content and are happy to be able to share it. More on this concept here: http://newsroom.cisco.com/take-share-engage

    Again, thanks for your interest in brand journalism and give me a call if you ever want to become one of our contributors. Your depth of knowledge of technology and ability to craft a story is exactly what we’re looking for….and exactly what our audience wants. : )

    • kevinmaney says:

      Hey John. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. And yes, I know a lot about The Network, and how Cisco has been working on the idea of branded journalism for a while now. One thing I applaud is your use of bylined pieces by some of the best writers in tech journalism. I’ll be keeping an eye on what you guys do.

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