Brand Journalism, Or, Why SME Interviews Are the Future of B2B SaaS Content Marketing

Brand journalism is an interview-led and research-driven approach to content marketing that can greatly improve your ROI.

A piece of business content is only successful if it succeeds in making the impact that it was supposed to have — be it acquiring new users, enabling your customer success efforts, or onboarding new hires for your organization. The rest, be it search performance, or organic traffic, or even click-through rates, are just ways to size up that impact.

But the truth is, it's been harder and harder to create that impact. There's just so much content out there. It's hard to differentiate yours in any meaningful way. This is because, quite often, the same group of content producers who are creating assets for sales enablement software, are also working on campaigns for pet grooming salons.

To many leaders in the B2B SaaS space, the answer to this is to get hyper specific with your job descriptions. "We would prefer a candidate who has experience writing about hospitality software, who spends at least 3 months every year in AirBNBs, but doesn't spend more than $2,500 USD per stay." We've all seen those job posts. You know what I'm talking about.

To me, the key to differentiating your content doesn't lie with your content marketer at all. You already need your content partner to be someone who understands marketing strategy, who's an expert in digital communication, and who knows how to inspire people with valuable content. You can't expect all of that, then expect them to be an expert in the specific subject you're talking about as well.

Getting that specific when trying to bring on new content marketing hires only introduces companies to a world of pain. It takes months before you find someone who meets all the criteria and then they go ahead and prove to be a disappointment. Luckily, there's a much better way.

Brand journalism. Or, as Alex Birkett likes to call it over at Omniscient Digital, the Editorial Cabinet. If content marketers follow an investigative journalist's approach to telling stories for brands, they can conduct in-depth original research to get the information they need to produce hyper-relevant and compelling content, without needing to be seasoned experts on that subject themselves.

I'm Ritoban Mukherjee. I have spent years working as an investigative journalist for B2B tech newsrooms and publications like Quartz, Gizmodo Media Group, Techradar Pro, and Medium's OneZero — before transitioning into full-time content marketing for B2B SaaS. Here's everything I can tell you that you need to succeed in your B2B corporate journalism efforts. No embellishments, No lies. And no secrets.

What Is Brand Journalism?

Andy Bull, in his famous book, cites the example of McDonald's CMO Larry Light, who pioneered the concept of brand journalism by defining it as the chronicle of a brand's world.

Light argued that a single, repetitive message could never fully capture a mega-brand's essence. This principle is crucial for B2B companies that use brand journalism, where your brand story, including your values, mission, and goals, becomes a powerful tool for connection and communication.

But that doesn't mean B2B brands should only talk about themselves. Successful brand journalists often collaborate with SMEs, short for subject matter experts, who are leaders in their industry and field. They partner with key individuals to develop organic insights about the industry that tell compelling stories to potential customers in the target segment.

At the end of the day, what really differentiates brand journalism from traditional marketing blog posts, videos, or podcasts is the use of original research to produce content. Instead of simply regurgitating information that's already available, marketers go out of their way to seek new and varied insights through first-hand research, be it in the form of in-person interviews, on-the-ground reporting, or any other journalism format.

Who Is a Subject Matter Expert (SME)?

A subject matter expert, or SME, is an individual who possesses deep knowledge and expertise in a specific domain relevant to your brand. This expertise can span various fields, including technology, finance, healthcare, or any other sector where businesses operate. SMEs play an irreplaceable role for brand journalists and content writers, since they act as trustworthy sources for conducting research on any relevant topic. Here's how they help:

  • Content Creation and Consultation: SMEs often contribute to or consult on the creation of content, ensuring that the information presented is accurate, up-to-date, and relevant to the target audience. Their deep understanding of the subject matter adds credibility and depth to the content.
  • Thought Leadership: SMEs are typically seen as thought leaders in their field. They contribute insights, forward-thinking ideas, and expert opinions, which are highly valued in B2B. Their views can shape industry trends and influence decision-making processes by adding a different perspective within their field.
  • Educating and Informing Audience: An SME in B2B corporate journalism plays a crucial role in educating and informing the audience, which often includes other businesses, industry professionals, and stakeholders. They provide valuable knowledge that can help businesses make informed decisions.
  • Enhancing Brand Credibility: The involvement of an SME in brand journalism enhances the credibility of the brand they represent to its readers. Their expertise assures the audience of the reliability and authority of the information shared.
  • Networking and Relationship Building: SMEs often have extensive networks within their industry, which enables content marketers to use brand journalism for networking and building relationships with key stakeholders, clients, and other businesses.
A subject matter expert, or SME, is an individual who possesses deep knowledge and expertise in a specific domain relevant to your brand.

A Framework for Brand Journalism Content for B2B SaaS Companies

B2B SaaS is highly specialized and insanely competitive, making it the perfect candidate to use corporate journalism techniques. The pressure to stay relevant to the conversation is real, so brands always have to think creatively about their investments before committing to a specific digital marketing strategy. Journalism helps you differentiate your brand image with significantly less effort, allowing you to position your work as a trustworthy source of information that ultimately leads to better deals with less effort.

To be fair, I don't recommend brand journalism for every client who comes to Nutgraf for creating content. It's a key differentiator in what we do, but it's hardly the only strategy in our marketing mix. For early-stage brands working with stretched budgets, SEO campaigns, if executed the right way, could be a much better form of content to invest into in the short run.

Brand journalism works best for SaaS teams targeting high-value deals that involve going through multiple stakeholders at other organizations, because having a library of research-driven content to enhance awareness and establish trust can be a great way to build authority within your domain.

All that said, B2B brand journalism isn't nearly as expensive as people make it out to be. Do you need to invest an additional budget to make it worthwhile for your content partners to conduct high-quality original research on your behalf? Yes. But that doesn't mean you need to invest $5K+ on a single journalistic content asset to facilitate on-the-ground reporting and subject matter expert consultation fees!

A much simpler, but equally effective, strategy is to just leverage the experts that you already have access to — your in-house teams across sales, marketing, customer success, human resources, finance and account, and more. Chances are that these people already have a lot of useful and relevant information to share in the B2B context, information that you can leverage to showcase your internal expertise while also using it to create content that feels original and thoughtful.

At Nutgraf, we work with your team of in-house experts, external partners, and customers to create unique high-value content assets that can provide the edge that your brand needs in a hyper-competitive landscape. Want to learn more about how it works? You can check out our detailed approach to SaaS PR.

Successful Brand Journalism Examples in SaaS Businesses

A few months back, I was commissioned to work on a piece of content for Runway, a SaaS platform that helps DevOps teams optimize their mobile app release process.

Runway essentially works like a dashboard that connects all the different tools that are part of your development cycle into a single interface, helping you stay on top of your team's progress and coordinate release cycles across various departments. This particular piece was a detailed guide to regression testing for mobile DevOps, with a framework for combining manual regression testing workflows with an automated approach to create the most effective workflow for quality assurance teams.

For such a complicated piece of DevOps content, I went into the article with zero knowledge of the development process. Sure, I had a passing knowledge of the basics. I knew what QA meant, for example. But, beyond that, nothing much.

So, I devised a strategy. Over a two-week period, I went through multiple calls with the founding team at Runway. With a background in product and engineering, they had first-hand knowledge of everything I needed to write this piece for Runway. After getting a detailed walkthrough from them on the DevOps cycle, combining that with my own research, and asking a few detailed questions to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, this article was born!

Today, I charge around ~$2K to work on a piece like this. That includes initial research, interviews with experts, content production, search optimization, fact-checking, and any essential feedback rounds.

Is it still a significant investment? Yes. But articles like this rank of Page #1 of Google for multiple high-value keywords, not to mention how effective they are at creating social media traction, generating brand awareness, establishing trust, and propelling you as a thought leader in the industry. They are also very good for your public relations outreach efforts with potential media publications.

Of course, not every piece of content you create needs a budget that’s upwards of two thousand dollars. But 1-2 articles like this each month in your editorial calendar can make all the difference when you want to rake in those high-value deals and position your brand as a true leader in the industry.

Want to check out yet another example of brand journalism from yours truly? Check out the article I worked on for 42 Slash, a B2B marketing publication for industry leaders in enterprise SaaS. It talks about how combatting biases embedded within your marketing team is the key to enabling innovation for the long haul, even offering a useful framework for your own organization.

Add Content Journalism to Your Marketing Mix With Nutgraf

At Nutgraf, we're a product-led and journalism-focused content agency that helps no-code and low-code software companies scale up user acquisition and improve revenue using a consolidated content marketing strategy. 

We combine our content strategy and production efforts with elements like search engine optimization, social media posts, influencer marketing, and community outreach to create a holistic marketing strategy for bringing high-conversion traffic from your audience that translates to paying customers.

Want to learn more about your approach to revamping traditional journalism for B2B companies and see if we're a fit for your SaaS? Schedule a 1-on-1 call with me, today!

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