Uncover facts, reach an audience and and tell an engaging story – sound familiar? We’re not talking about content marketing. These are classic journalism principles, and they are at the core of content marketing. In fact, we’d argue that journalism is the founding father of content marketing as we know it.

Modern times haven’t been kind to traditional journalists. Over the last 15 years, the news workforce has declined by a whopping 30 percent. Though news outlets finally seem to have caught their stride with digital journalism, there simply isn’t a place for most beat reporters anymore.

Does this mean journalism is dead? Certainly not. With more forms of media than ever before, new content opportunities abound for journalists. After all, the news workforce has declined by 30 percent, but 72 percent of marketers now have a content marketing strategy.

In many ways, content marketing is the perfect match for modern journalists. This includes the tenets of Journalism 101 known as the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why.

The 5 W’s are a tried-and-true framework for a reason. They make sure you get to the heart of the story quickly, and in a way that grabs the reader. Content marketers need the same philosophy to create content that connects and engages with audiences.

Let’s take a look at how the 5 W’s can help your own content marketing strategy.


No surprises here: Your audience is the most critical consideration in your content marketing strategy. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, you’ll certainly never reach them. In other words, if your audience is made up of millennial moms, you certainly shouldn’t build a content strategy around men’s grooming techniques.

But determining your audience is easier said than done. This is why we’ve covered the topic time and again. Regardless of your brand, the basic principles of audience segmentation remain the same:

  • Know who they are. Marketers typically feel like they know their target audience. Yet your target audience could shift over time, or a new group could become interested in your brand. Keep a close eye on referral source and social feedback to ensure your finger is always on the pulse of your target audience(s).
  • Care about them. This can seem difficult for marketers with huge audiences. We’re not saying you need to create a personal relationship with hundreds of brand loyalists, but don’t get stuck in your ivory tower, either. The best way to do this is regular marketing research. Surveys and virtual focus groups are two affordable ways to do this.
  • Create a persona or two. This strategy won’t work for every brand, but we love personas as a way to bring your target consumer to life. Essentially, a persona is a vivid illustration of your target reader’s habits, preferences and even personal values. Read more about building personas here.



Simply put, this W asks, “What the heck are you talking about?” In journalism, it requires that you explicitly tell readers what your “Who” is doing. After all, no one will be drawn to a headline that simply reads “President Obama.”

For content marketers, the “What” means creating well-honed content topics that focus on your brand message. In other words, create content that your reader wants and needs.

Surprisingly, this can be difficult to do. It requires an open mind and a willingness to pivot your strategy if your results aren’t resonating.

It also means parsing through a vast expanse of possible content topics and formats. The truth is, not all topics will hit home with your audience. The topic may be highly saturated by competitors, or you may not have the bandwidth to create a large number of pieces in a specific area.

In order to focus your content strategy, we recommend a gap analysis to determine the best topics for you.


Journalists recognize that the “when” adds necessary context. If President Obama is dressed in costume, any good journalist knows she should note that it’s Halloween.

But how does that apply to content marketing? Let’s explain with a shot in the dark: You probably get to work around 9 am on Monday. More likely than not, you have lunch in the early afternoon, and put in a 5-day work week.

There are certainly a lot of exceptions to these rules, but that tends to be the typical marketer’s schedule. So, if we were going to send a newsletter to marketers, it’d be a bit crazy to send it at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, right?

The “typical schedule” of your reader is just as important. Noon on weekdays may work for an audience of marketers, but not for college students.

In other words, reach your audience when they’re reading. We love this advice from CoSchedule on common rules of thumb.



Was President Obama at the White House, or was he at a school in New Hampshire? Obviously the “where” changes the entire story.

It’s no different for content marketers. If your audience avoids Snapchat like the plague, then there’s no reason to pour your content dollars into it.

So, how do you determine the best place to reach your readers? Like any good journalist, you should do your research. Here’s a high-level look at where your audience might be consuming content:

  • Facebook: Chances are, you should probably have a Facebook strategy. This is because pretty much everyone is on Facebook. More importantly, Facebook users tend to be incredibly active. Whether or not it’s a paid strategy depends on your goals.
  • Twitter: If you pay any attention to social media news, then you know Twitter has serious growth and engagement problems. The audiences on Twitter are becoming more fragmented by the day. However, this can be a good thing for content marketers wondering whether Twitter is worth their time. Unless your audience is into sports, business, comedy or fashion, go with a “wait and see” strategy on Twitter.
  • Instagram: In many ways, Instagram is the “pretty one” in the social media clique. It requires extremely high-quality, personalized content in order to connect with audiences. Instagram also appeals to a very specific audience: young women in urban areas.
  • Pinterest: Women overindex on Pinterest, as well. The age demographic tends to be a bit wider, however. You can appeal to any group from Gen Z to Gen X, and every life moment from prom outfits to retirement parties.
  • LinkedIn: This is one of the most segmented social networks, since it’s professional by nature. In other words, don’t post your infographic about new restaurants in Miami, no matter how brilliant it is. Unless your content strategy contains some aspect of professional and/or career advice, skip this network entirely.



This W is the polite way of asking journalists, “Who cares?” For example, why should I care that President Obama is dressed in costume on Halloween at a school in New Hampshire? This ensures that the reader knows the President is attending a huge fundraiser, rather than just dressing in costume for fun.

For content marketers, this means knowing “why” each piece of content is important. Typically, this entails creating KPIs which ensure your content is directly tied to your marketing goals.

The list of potential metrics is endless, but the top business goals and their corresponding metrics are:

  • Engagement: time on site, social sharing, bounce rate
  • Loyalty: new vs returning visitors, social/blog follows
  • Sales leads: subscribers, success rate of Calls to Action

Putting It All Together

Now that you have the 5 W’s, it’s time to put it all together. Let’s take an example: Gen X dads. What is their life like? They most likely have teenage children at this point, or may have reached empty nest status. When it comes to income, they probably have expendable cash that they’re willing to spend on higher-quality goods and experiences (your Who).

As for content consumption habits, they’re most likely interested in topics related to their job, hobbies, tech or vehicles (the What).

They want straightforward, no-nonsense content from their favorite brand which they can consume easily. Extra points if the content was recommended on Facebook by a much-beloved celebrity (Where).

More often than not, they’ll be consuming content in bed during the morning, at lunch or in the store while they’re shopping (When).

Finally, in order to make sure your content is connecting with them, you need solid KPIs that directly connect to your business. In this case, time on site, new vs. returning and bounce rate are excellent places to start (Why).

While this framework works in principle, you won’t see results until you start to use it every single day. You must also be precise and consistent with measuring and translating results.

After that, move over, Christiane Amanpour: There’s a killer content marketing strategy officially headed for the big time.

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