Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Simply Speaking: Brands need editors. Here's why

The rise of brand journalism signals an exciting time in media and it shows no signs of slowing down. More and more brands are growing their editorial teams and branching into new forms of quality content

Published: Aug 9, 2022 06:05:57 PM IST
Updated: Aug 9, 2022 06:30:34 PM IST

Simply Speaking: Brands need editors. Here's whyThe best editor is the person who can take a modest story and make it big, broad, and powerful. Image: Shutterstock

I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.” - Mark Twain

We can only wonder what Mark Twain would have said about ‘editorial responsibility for a brand,’ but irrespective, he would have to concede it’s an idea which has fully arrived. The designations commonly used may not fully cue this, but brands and businesses are publishers and they need editors.

Brands as stories

When marketing storytelling is done well, it establishes what your brand is all about—its purpose, core values, and mission. It offers the consumer more than just a product or service, but rather an idea and a connection. Marketing has remained the same, but the tools and approaches have transformed. Building an editorial mindset is the first step to inclusive authenticity.

A well-defined story strategy proves to be an invaluable tool. Brands built on clearly expressed core values have, in a sense, declared the truth they plan to live. The process involves inviting the agents of authenticity to be your allies. Open your doors and let them say to your face what they'll be tweeting and blogging about anyway.

Embody each of your core brand values in their purest form. If you have built a story strategy around uniqueness—the expression of personal gifts, creativity, and nonconformity—you may identify someone who is unwavering in commitment to uniqueness and is extremely articulate about belief in that value.
We can no longer treat our audiences as passive consumers of marketing messages. They must be our partners. And we cannot create those partnerships by simply intruding into their lives and manipulating their actions. Superficially dressing up old tactics in terms of engagement rarely delivers any result from a bored audience.
People who believe and tell the same stories hold the same values. This is what constitutes a worldview. This is what builds a society. In fact, a social norm is just a collection of stories about the who, what, and why of things as they are. Therefore, stories serve as fundamental ingredients in allowing people to create a shared sense of being. Shared stories lead to shared values, which lead to a shared worldview. This calls for attention to the goings on in the world as an Editor would give it. 

The editorial craft

But before we get to brand managers as Editors let us first note what the great Editors do. What is the essence of their craft?

Editors create fine stories. They have judgement, instinct, and assertion. Like film is a director’s medium, a good editor sees a larger picture, its scope and impact. The best editor is the person who can take a modest story and make it big, broad, and powerful. Most of us, for a variety of reasons, take big stories and shrink them. A great brand editor will be like a great river in the plains, not a rushing mountain stream.

Also read: Simply Speaking: Brand charisma is experienced but not understood

Brand stories activate emotions and communicate values. Your brand story is a complete picture of various elements from website copy to social media to traditional ads. It is the way your brand presents itself to the world and the way the public perceives you. Even when you don’t communicate, you actually do.

We need narratives to inspire others to join our cause, for our sales team to convince people to buy, and for our customer support centres to convey a positive experience.

Brand narratives evolve, changing to suit the product, the market, culture, and the audience. A brand’s story must be true, and it must help sell whatever it is you’re selling. You can’t control a brand’s narrative and your audience may take it places you’d never expect it to go, but you can shape it.

The most important rule of brand storytelling and the one most difficult to put into editorial gear is that Your brand is not the hero, the consumer is. To resonate with your audience, content should put the consumer first.

Editors who run brands as fountains of content must set their ambitions to create compelling narratives. When done successfully, a great brand story should create change. If not a huge change, at least an improvement of some kind.

Also read: Should brands dissociate with influencers who promote toxic content?

The editor must run the content engine such that it can routinely land an emotional impact or advantage. The story involves the people you are selling to, so drop the spin and tell the truth. The best brand stories are real. But we live in a mutation era where even the internet is going from 2D to 3D, and with the imminent full bloom of the Metaverse, even more people will engage brands beyond reality.

Nearly a hundred million people a day log on to Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite Creative, platforms that operate tens of millions of interconnected worlds, which support a consistent virtual identity, virtual goods, and communications suites, and can be accessed from most devices. Most time on these platforms is spent on leisure-playing games and attending concerts—but we are starting to see people go further. No brand or business can neglect its representation given such a massive shift to new media.

The editorial role beyond advertising

Many will argue that such editorship has always been a part of great brand building. Indeed, that is true. But the scale, scope and implications have transformed. In the earlier era, advertising was the exclusive language of a brand.

Steve Jobs famously said, “it’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy” and that attitude drove a lot of Apple’s most significant product launch campaigns. 1984, an iconic ad, created by TBWA\Chiat\Day and directed by Ridley Scott put Apple on the map at the Super Bowl.

Based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel, the ad cost $650,000 to make and featured a British discus thrower as the woman who stops crowds of men from mindlessly following the words of a dictator on the screen. The ad made a deep statement, on American politics as well as its rivals IBM, in the middle of a very challenging political climate. It proclaimed that ‘Apple was revolutionary.’

Also read: Storytelling: Not just a good old practice

But it almost did not air. Test groups found it to be one of the least effective commercials made. Steve Jobs—one of the greats if ever Brand Editors had a hall of Fame—saw to it.
Taking a risk is the hallmark of a great Editor as is a spine of tempered steel.

It was only in 1997 that Think Different was launched, but this advert seeded the spirit much ahead in time.

Not only brands but also the business entity can tell a story—at each stage of its evolution. It has a huge bearing on how it evolves and has value. Ever wondered how a company that has never turned a profit has a multibillion-dollar valuation? Why do some startups attract large investments while others do not? The power of the story very substantially drives corporate value. In business, some storytellers spin compelling narratives essential to success. Tesla, RedBull, Nike, Disney, Apple, and Amazon are all examples of how a company's editorial track can enrich and constrain its narrative.

There are brilliant examples of brand editing everywhere. Some of the most exciting content initiatives are going beyond blogs and articles, to podcasts, video series, and even experiential, real-life encounters. Brand editors take authentic content and find new platforms and avenues on which it can continue to expand ideally in ways that are profitable for their brand. 

Editorial stance

A key part of the editorial discipline is to decode the brand DNA in terms of voice, tone, style, and rhythm. Deciding who you are not, is a lot more difficult than deciding who you are. That’s also the essence of strategy. This editorial stance matters to consumers at a conscious and subliminal level. Like you choose a newspaper aligning to its editorial outlook and treatment of issues, likewise, consumers respond to brand narratives whilst making choices.

Also read: Ten ways to establish your personal brand

If the brand is a developing story, it can have many editors, each responsible for a different aspect. Put together, the editors create the community glue for the brands’ audiences—arguably the most significant and influential element of modern marketing.

A difficult road  

Brand editors will not find the road smooth. They will be pushed around wrt their roles and remits. Many well-minded stakeholders may still think there is an encroachment on their turf. Many will resist arguing it's much ado about nothing.
Keep in mind that you’re a communicator you have to create the conviction internally as much, if not more, than with consumers. The realisation needs to grow that everyone communicates even if that’s not their job.
Everything you write has a purpose, and your audience must understand your content before they can act on it. In other words, clarity leads to engagement. Engagement leads to conversations. Conversation, when done right, ends in conversions. Whenever you write a product description, a social media post, or a story for your website, you’re using the power of your words to inspire your readers to act. And whenever you write, you are obliged to edit. Good editing will embrace your identity and help you craft memorable, effective content to keep you top of mind for your audience.

Also read: How to fix the brand crisis of consumer internet companies
As I conclude, let me again emphasise that Consumer is Queen—audiences are savvy enough now to know the difference between editorial writing and sales writing, and it’s editorial they prefer. Brands not only need to find people who excel at creating content rather than selling it but let them have the freedom necessary to create this kind of quality editorial.
A few years ago, Seth Godin said that content marketing is the only marketing left. Why would Gillette not run the most important online magazine for men? Why didn’t Encyclopaedia Britannia start a search engine to organise the world’s information? They could have been Google if they took a bigger view of their role as a brand and institution.
I think part of the challenge is that we must redefine what business we’re in and shift to a different way of thinking and empower some really smart people with the resources and creative freedom to go out and make great content. It’s about mattering.
The rise of brand journalism signals an exciting time in media, and it shows no signs of slowing down. More and more brands are growing their editorial teams and branching into new forms of quality content.
Happy Editing.

“You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.” - William Bernbach

The Power of Myth – Campbell and Moyers
Inside Apple – Adam Lashinsky
Winning The Story Wars – Jonah Sachs
The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and its Creators – Stephen R Fox

Shubhranshu Singh is vice president, marketing - domestic & IB, CVBU, Tata Motors. He writes Simply Speaking, a weekly column on Storyboard18. Views expressed are personal.