In 2013, with the goal of increasing brand awareness and establishing the company as a trusted health and fitness resource on the web, the online fitness company DailyBurn decided to launch an editorial site. Life by DailyBurn now features hundreds of health, fitness, lifestyle and tech articles, plus recipes, all researched, reported and written by five staff editors and 40 contributors. Content is syndicated on sites such as The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, CNN and others.

“Because DailyBurn’s core product lives behind a paywall, Life allowed us to reach millions of users that may not have otherwise found us,” says Jordan Shakeshaft, DailyBurn’s editorial director. “While it wasn’t the number one goal at time of launch, Life by DailyBurn has become a successful conversion funnel for the paid product, and a key touchpoint to provide our users with the motivation and resources they need.”

DailyBurn is one of many companies that have turned to brand journalism to build name recognition and offer an additional service to customers and prospective customers. Here, learn what brand journalism is and what sets it apart in the world of content marketing.

What is Brand Journalism?

Over the past several years, brand journalism has emerged as a new form of well-reported journalism, shares Andy Seibert, chair of The Content Council and managing partner at Imprint, a New York City-based content marketing firm. It allows brands to tell their stories from a thought leadership perspective, rather than through an advertising or product lense, allowing brands to create and share information about what they’re known for, what they care about or what they are experts in.

Often, this means hiring journalists do to what they do best: tell stories. DailyBurn’s editorial staff and many of its contributors come from journalism backgrounds and Imprint’s editorial director spent 10 years on staff at the Wall Street Journal. The Content Council, which promotes best practices in content marketing, encourages its members to use the same standards and rigor that go into traditional journalism, says Seibert. While he says there are sometimes missteps among brands that may not appreciate the practice and the rigor of what goes into journalism, those who are doing it well are doing it very well.

“They’re producing pieces that are as well researched and as well told, as completely fact checked and unbiased as a traditional journalism piece,” he says.

Story First, Brand Second

One of the most important aspects of brand journalism is that articles aren’t sales pitches and are instead, as Seibert says, “pure” content. It should be unbiased and well reported, with the first goal to be to provide an educational service through storytelling, and building the brand as a second priority.

“You can talk about your product, but there’s a difference between a product as a solution and a product sale,” says Seibert. “A product as a solution comes after the reader is enlightened and empowered to make a decision. Once you provide the information that is really objective, the reader then is willing to listen to your solution or to read on about a possible solution. You’ve made that connection. You’ve been given permission by the reader to sell your product.”

Readers are exposed to so much content on a daily basis that they know how to sniff out content that is overtly salesy or doesn’t provide them with a service, he says. That purity of content is one thing that Shakeshaft says has accelerated the success of Life by DailyBurn.

“While we’re conscious of the bottom line, the editorial team’s process isn’t that far off from most independently-operated editorial sites,” she says. “Our goal first and foremost is to create content that informs — and hopefully inspires — our user. And I think that has served us well in terms of growing our audience.”

Growth By Engagement

By far the biggest benefit of brand journalism is its ability to engage, says Seibert.

“If you can provide your customer or prospective customer with the information that empowers or enlightens them they will reward you with loyalty,” he says “If done right it’s a huge driver of ROI.”