12 Brand Journalism Lessons From Coca-Cola, Taco Bell & Adobe

Three thought-lead­ing brands share con­tent mar­ket­ing insights from their edi­to­r­i­al endeav­ors.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

The not-so-dis­tant future may include more edi­to­r­i­al sites than cor­po­rate ones. In the mean­time, three brands are at the fore­front of this con­tent rev­o­lu­tion: Coca-Cola with Jour­ney, which it launched in Novem­ber 2012; Taco Bell with The Feed, which debuted in Sep­tem­ber 2015; and Adobe, which has run a sup­ple­men­tal con­tent site, CMO.com, for about sev­en years. These brands know not only how to cre­ate effec­tive con­tent and engage read­ers, but also what dis­tinct ben­e­fits can result.

Here are 12 top take­aways from Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, and Adobe for a win­ning con­tent strat­e­gy.

1. Tell New Exclusive Stories

Coca-Cola launched Jour­ney in part because it felt there were more sto­ries to tell about its com­pa­ny, peo­ple, and pur­pose than it could via a tra­di­tion­al cor­po­rate site, accord­ing to Doug Busk, glob­al group direc­tor of dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions and social media at Coca-Cola. The brand there­fore decid­ed to bring back an inter­nal print mag­a­zine in dig­i­tal form.

We’re able to pull back the cur­tain and share sto­ries bub­bling just beneath the sur­face of our busi­ness, brands, and cul­ture,” Busk said. “Jour­ney allows us to engage with read­ers and show them who we are, what we do and why we do it.”

Fur­ther, Busk said while not every brand may need to tell quite as many sto­ries, Coke thinks all mar­keters should con­sid­er how they con­nect with fans and crit­ics with sto­ries.

With the con­tin­u­ing growth of social net­works of every stripe, the world is con­nect­ing to each oth­er via sto­ries,” he said. “Why would­n’t con­sumers expect their favorite brands to do the same?”

Taco Bell, too, is think­ing about its new edi­to­r­i­al ven­ture, The Feed, as a resource for untold brand sto­ries.

If you can find the sto­ry in a com­mer­cial or a tweet or a prod­uct release, it’s not a sto­ry on the Feed,” said Joz­lynn Rush, social and dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence man­ag­er at Taco Bell. “That’s going to be the advan­tage The Feed has – it’s infor­ma­tion you can’t get any­where else. We can break a sto­ry about a new prod­uct or an amaz­ing team mem­ber that went above and beyond. I tru­ly think if you can only get it there, that will keep peo­ple com­ing back.”

2. Go Deep

Accord­ing to Ryan Rim­snider, senior man­ag­er of social strat­e­gy at Taco Bell, when the brand was look­ing to launch its ta.co site, which includes The Feed, Taco Bell want­ed to ensure user expe­ri­ence was incred­i­ble.

We don’t want to just post a pic­ture of a prod­uct and say, ‘Go buy this,’ we want to tell a deep­er sto­ry and allow the user to fur­ther con­nect and give a bit of a wink and a smile,” Rim­snider said.

As a result, ta.co gives the brand anoth­er owned chan­nel for longer form sto­ries that high­light the brand’s per­spec­tive and top­ics it is inter­est­ed in, but also allow it to stay at the fore­front of rel­e­vant cul­tur­al top­ics out­side of food, Rim­snider added.

3. Use Analytics & Social Listening To Source Content

For his part, Daniel Berthi­aume, prin­ci­pal of CMO com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Adobe, said the brand is learn­ing about what types of con­tent read­ers respond to as it goes.

It’s fun to sort of hear from read­ers and see which arti­cles they respond best to with ana­lyt­ics,” he said.

For her part, Rush said Taco Bell sources a lot of its edi­to­r­i­al con­tent via social lis­ten­ing.

We’re find­ing sto­ries in social or from team mem­bers across the orga­ni­za­tion and we’re cur­rent­ly staffing to bring sto­ries to life through inter­nal writ­ers,” Rush said. “In the future, we see that expand­ing and fans play­ing a role and writ­ing sto­ries, as well as influ­encers.”

4. Be Relevant

Per Busk, Coke’s for­mu­la for suc­cess­ful sto­ry­telling is: qual­i­ty con­tent + con­nect­ed + cur­rent.

The most crit­i­cal ingre­di­ent is obvi­ous­ly qual­i­ty writ­ing and, increas­ing­ly, visu­als,” he said. “Our most sharable sto­ries link seam­less­ly with the work of the rest of the busi­ness, the brands or our efforts in sus­tain­abil­i­ty or oth­er­wise – they are con­nect­ed to the over­all pic­ture of Coca-Cola.”

But a sto­ry tru­ly spikes when it com­bines these ele­ments with the cur­rent dig­i­tal dia­logue, Busk said.

A fine recent exam­ple was our work back­ing up, sur­round­ing and div­ing deep into the sto­ry of the 1971 icon­ic ‘Hill­top’ ad when it was fea­tured on tele­vi­sion’s ‘Mad Men’ series finale,” he added.

Taco Bell, too, strives to make sure con­tent is rel­e­vant and con­tributes to con­sumers’ lives so it is ulti­mate­ly able to fuel a cul­ture of brand, Rim­snider said.

Sim­i­lar­ly, accord­ing to Berthi­aume, one of CMO.com’s pri­ma­ry goals is to help dig­i­tal mar­keters by giv­ing rel­e­vant insight and inspi­ra­tion.

We start­ed doing this con­tent mar­ket­ing thing before it became the trend it is today and the rea­son is pret­ty sim­ple: Dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing is very reward­ing and com­pa­nies are invest­ing in it, but it’s also very dif­fi­cult and we found…digital mar­keters just real­ly need help,” Berthi­aume said. “This is a new fron­tier and not easy to pull off. They need advice and best prac­tices and opin­ions from oth­er mar­keters. The pur­pose of CMO.com is it’s not a place to pitch prod­ucts and com­pa­nies, but it’s a place where mar­keters can go to hear from oth­er mar­keters about what’s work­ing and what isn’t.”

5. Diversify Storytelling Elements To Enhance Content

Per Busk, fea­ture-length arti­cles with pho­tog­ra­phy, doc­u­men­tary-style videos, info­graph­ics, and oth­er dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling devices enable Coke to com­mu­ni­cate more deeply and add more val­ue.

Rim­snider agrees. Ta.co has what he described as “more of an Insta­gram look and feel…with fun prod­uct sto­ry­telling that felt clos­er to the brand ver­sus a reg­u­lar com­pa­ny web­site” and Taco Bell strives to cre­ate sto­ries that are com­pelling not just from an edi­to­r­i­al stand­point, but also visu­al­ly or by lever­ag­ing UGC or audio.

Berthi­aume said the CMO.com audi­ence, too, responds to dif­fer­ent for­mats and it is increas­ing­ly see­ing short-form video, as well as audio inter­views, as appeal­ing.

6. Hone Your Brand Voice

As the most nascent edi­to­r­i­al site, Rim­snider said Taco Bell’s voice on The Feed is still a work in progress.

We’ve estab­lished the fun and friv­o­lous voice on social, so it’s about how to take the oppor­tu­ni­ty [with The Feed] to ele­vate the brand a bit more and not attempt to real­ly boil the ocean all at once. We have to get the voice and cadence,” he added.

7. Be Patient When Building An Audience

Rim­snider point­ed to Taco Bell’s rabid fan base on plat­forms like Snapchat and Twit­ter and said the brand will slow­ly and sure­ly find inter­est­ing sto­ries to dri­ve tune-in on its edi­to­r­i­al site as well.

It’s a slow boil in terms of build­ing an audi­ence and mea­sur­ing and start­ing to lean in a bit more to reg­u­lar post­ing from a fre­quen­cy stand­point,” he said. “We’re still hit­ting our stride in terms of con­tent devel­op­ment and cadence.”

8. Don’t Merely Create Content – Build Community

While Adobe is his­tor­i­cal­ly known as a cre­ative com­pa­ny, CMO.com helps dri­ve an asso­ci­a­tion between the brand and dig­i­tal mar­keters, Berthi­aume said.

It isn’t just Adobe writ­ing stuff out­ward to its audi­ence, we’re also tak­ing con­tri­bu­tions from the mar­ket­ing spec­trum, includ­ing free­lancers and we’re encour­ag­ing con­tri­bu­tions from agen­cies,” he said. “We believe it’s impor­tant to get a lot of points of view into the con­ver­sa­tion about dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. All dig­i­tal mar­keters are in this togeth­er. We want to cre­ate a space where Adobe is ful­fill­ing that con­ver­sa­tion with senior mar­keters.”

9. Use Brand Journalism To Enhance Reputation

Adobe wants to be known as a leader in the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing space and to be seen as the com­pa­ny that helps dig­i­tal mar­keters do their jobs bet­ter, Berthi­aume said. And CMO.com is a vehi­cle to do that.

In fact, he said two things cus­tomers find reward­ing about CMO.com are get­ting how-to guid­ance, as well as a plat­form to tell their own sto­ries. And it is Adobe that facil­i­tates.

Great cus­tomers want to tell their own sto­ries and are doing very sophis­ti­cat­ed things in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, like Mas­ter­Card or Nis­san or the Tourism Board of Aus­tralia,” Berthi­aume said. “These are cus­tomers that have great mar­ket­ing sto­ries to tell and CMO.com has the plat­form to tell their sto­ries as well.”

10. Use Content To Humanize

Well-told sto­ries pro­vide a con­text for con­sumers to fill in details of a com­pa­ny they thought they knew, Busk said.

Read­ers, espe­cial­ly Mil­len­ni­als, want to buy into a per­son­al­i­ty more than a prod­uct,” he said. “They want to sup­port brands and com­pa­nies that share their pas­sions. Through Jour­ney, we’re earn­ing the trust of read­ers that only comes from human­iz­ing the com­pa­ny via trans­par­ent, authen­tic con­tent.”

11. Maintain Journalistic Standards

Adobe has learned it is impor­tant to main­tain some neu­tral­i­ty, Berthi­aume said.

There is a time and a place to talk about com­pa­nies and prod­ucts and we want to do that where appro­pri­ate, but we find mar­keters want a spot where they can hear about mar­ket­ing from the experts,” Berthi­aume said. “That les­son seems like an obvi­ous one, but it was reit­er­at­ed to us time and time again, so we are pro­tec­tive of the edi­to­r­i­al site and jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards and guard those close­ly.”

12. Never Stop Improving

Three years in, Jour­ney is still very much a work in progress, Busk said.

We’re con­stant­ly learn­ing from both our hits and our miss­es, explor­ing new ways to use the plat­form to break Coke news and cre­ate a bet­ter over­all read­er expe­ri­ence,” he added. “But we con­tin­ue to learn every day about the brand jour­nal­ism space, which is still in its infan­cy, and how we can bet­ter tell our sto­ry through Jour­ney and our social chan­nels.”

What con­tent mar­ket­ing tips do you find most valu­able?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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