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A Forward-Thinking B2B Brand Journalism Case Study


Marketing leaders at multinational companies within the Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) sectors have witnessed the slow but consistent decline of the trade publications that once dominated the marketplace -- as the go-to media for specific industry news and vendor insights.

Today, many of these legacy trade media organizations within the TMT sectors are barely able to maintain solvency as advertising revenue continues to decline faster than they can find sponsors of their high-cost events. Ceasing their print publications did help to improve overall profitability, but losses have continued.

Besides, the perpetual stream of displaced trade media senior editorial staff meant that most publishers lack the talent to research the marketplace and write meaningful or substantive stories. The remaining junior editors can barely keep up with re-purposing press releases into articles -- so that the few remaining advertisers are appeased with the promise that significant reader traffic may return, some day.

Also, over the last few years, most tech publishers have abandoned the notion that their new "marketing services" could back-fill the rapid loss of ad revenue. Instead, profitable publisher-produced industry events currently subsidize the unprofitable online editorial business. But it's a tentative revenue stream at best, subject to the generosity of vendor sponsors.

Meanwhile, the more forward thinking TMT vendors have moved into the apparent editorial void that was created by the traditional trade media exodus. One example of this phenomenon is the ongoing transformation that's taking place at Cisco Systems -- going from traditional press release producer to progressive content marketer.

Content Creation, Curation and Syndication

The Network is a technology news site that Cisco launched as an early "brand journalism" initiative several years ago. The site contains content from across the web, hosting infographics, videos and articles from freelance journalists, among other items.

With the recent introduction of FOCUS, a monthly thematic online publication that is produced on The Network, Cisco is aiming to spotlight a different technology topic each month based on industry trends and timely events.

FOCUS will highlight a certain aspect of technology with targeted content curated from some of the top journalists and recognized influencers in the space. Exploring the Internet of Everything, and the IoT forum event in Barcelona, this month's issue will include stories, such as:
  • Human as User Interface -- An article by Laurence Cruz about the advancement of mobile in the era of the Internet of Everything.
  • Network Convergence -- A video explaining how the new Cisco network convergence system built for IOE will handle bigger workloads.
  • VOC Children's Healthcare -- An article about how Children's National Medical Center connects people, process, data, and things to transform the hospital patient-caregiver experience.
  • Connected Vineyard – Another video in their "True Stories of the Connected" series that highlights how a vineyard puts technology to use.

Building a Foundation for Commercial Storytelling

The FOCUS launch follows a track record of ongoing non-fiction storytelling exploration and experimentation at Cisco. A pioneer of documentary-style video webisodes, Cisco had already produced a creative transmedia series entitled "The Network Effect" which was followed by the more extensive "My Networked Life" series.

Moreover, the growing body of Cisco multimedia accomplishments has already earned them recognition and accolades from their business-to-business digital marketing peers. Their "Connected Life Exchange" publication was recently honored by BtoB magazine as the Blog Winner for the 2013 Content Marketing Awards.

That said, Cisco is not alone in its embrace of applied brand journalism best practices. Lewis DVorkin, the chief product officer at Forbes Media, recently shared his own perspective about the growing trend in a column entitled "The Birth of Brand Journalism and Why It's Good for the News Business" -- which defines this scenario as more of an opportunity than a threat to publishers in the evolving online digital media landscape.

I agree with Mr. DVorkin when he says "You need to be timely, relevant and authentic in this new era."  But your storytelling also needs to be truly remarkable -- to stand out from the mass of content that is published and pushed onto the internet each day. Authors can achieve that bold goal, by having a distinctive opinion or point of view.

What's Next: The Dawn of Commercial Transmedia

As for me, I'm already focused on the next phase of non-fiction storytelling, for my own personal enlightenment. It's all about strategic communication orchestration -- where the narrative whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Armed with a holistic view of the market potential, I believe that transmedia storytellers will design the hooks and connections for interactive engagement in the pre-production phase of content development -- with the intent of creating the environment for story immersion.

By having gained the foresight of a story-world outline, you’re now able to position individual characters or storyline elements within the context of an episodic story arc. You can then decide when to introduce the main narrative and the back-story ingredients to the marketplace.

Moreover, emerging social commerce practices enable your target buyers to tap the recognized market influencers -- who have been exposed to your transmedia story assets -- and follow their collective shared insights and trusted guidance. That's why real thought leadership is so valuable, and very remarkable.

Therefore I see a bright future for creative brand journalism, especially multi-platform communications. And, I'm eager to help more companies develop their own authentic brand story.

Disclosure: I have previously worked on Cisco projects; contributing to their communication strategy and the development of editorial content. But I was not paid for this story; this independent perspective is mine alone.

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