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Brand Journalism: Anatomy of an effective article

If you're not following REI on, well, any channel, you're missing out. Its Instagram feed is filled with beautiful images from the content team and followers. And its brand journalism, particularly the Co-Op Journal, is exemplary. (Kudos to Paolo Mattola, REI's senior manager for content marketing  and Co-Op Journal's ME.) For example, here's a great explainer that's part personal narrative, part sales piece. It informs and sells without feeling slick.

anatomy of good brand journalism

Brand Journalism: Anatomy of a Good Product Piece

Writing worksheet: Six Traits

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Here's why I think the piece works, using the 6 Traits.

1. Ideas & Details: The piece is a good mix of personal narrative to set the stage, research writing on the genesis of a popular type of tree tent, and a descriptive writing about various products. The mix of examples and explanations creates a complete story that taps into our emotions while also answering our questions.

2. Organization: The piece starts with a relatable first-person story that draws us in. She then gives a little background on the origins of the tree tent before showcasing different options and highlighting special features for specific uses. The logical flow keeps us moving through the piece to a solid conclusion. By giving us an engaging top of the story, we get a lot of information before the selling starts, which secretly builds our trust even more.

3. Voice: Megan Michelson is an avid outdoors-person, so she instinctively knows how to talk to co-op members. Her voice is knowledgeable and friendly. She's like that cool person you meet at the trailhead or campground who knows her stuff, but isn't show-offy about it.

You may want this tent on your next camping trip if you’re going to a place known for decent-sized trees and terrain that’s marshy or good snake or tick habitat.

4. Word Choice: She limits technical terms, opting to explain how the products work using plain language. We feel confident she's done her research, but we don't feel talked down to. We don't feel dumb reading her piece, we feel smarter!

What is this mysterious treehouse that pops up in minutes? It’s called a TreePod, a small, teardrop-shaped tent made from sturdy, water-resistant nylon that hangs from a strong tree branch. It has a zip-up doorway to create a cocoon-like effect and two mesh-lined windows for peeking out at the world. It costs $300 and can be assembled in less than 30 minutes.

5. Sentence Fluency: The mix of long and short, simple and complex sentences creates a conversational flow that moves us through the logic.

Heading to the desert or someplace without giant trees? No problem. Check out the expanding market of innovative rooftop tents that snap open on top of your truck or car. The Yakima SkyRise 3 rooftop tent is a spacious, easy-to-assemble three-person tent that you access via a ladder. With this, you only need a simple parking space to set up a well-appointed campsite. If you need more room, the Tepui Autana XL Sky 4 tent has a car-rooftop sleeping area plus an on-the-ground living area—perfect for families. 

6. Conventions & Formatting: Michelson uses some long sentences and makes them easily navigable with skillful use of dashes and other punctuation. The photos of the products in use make the piece feel less salesy and more authentic. The images help us see how we might use the tents, which inspires us to do more research or buy.

Bottome’s initial idea was to create a play structure, not so much a camping tent, but as soon as TreePod launched he started getting feedback from customers who asked, “When are you going to make a hanging tent big enough for adults to sleep in?”

That way, you don’t have to worry about finding the perfect place to pitch your tent—just pick three sturdy well-spaced trees and you’re set for the night.

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