Content marketing and traditional journalism may have more in common than you’d think. Journalists are, after all, storytellers—even if the stories they tell happen to be true. Therefore, the success of any journalist depends on their ability to package their stories in a way that has massive appeal to as wide a variety of readers as possible.
Marketing demands a similar technique, and the stakes are just as high: a lack of—shall we say—a certain panache, will mean a failure to engage with potential clients or customers. So what can marketers learn from journalists? Here’s a crash course:
Don’t Underestimate the Value of a Great Headline
In some ways, the quality of the headline is at least as important as the actual article. Make no mistake: the success or failure of a marketing campaign depends a great deal on your skill at choosing great headlines, just as it does in journalism.
What makes for a breakout story or article? It all starts with a headline that’s going to turn heads. It’s no secret that most of us are practically desensitized to information overflow, so the best titles are not necessarily the ones that scream the loudest; sometimes a little bit of restraint goes a long way. Venture Beat was not practicing restraint with this one:
No matter what you do, though, remember that a good headline will not only provide a brief summary of the article, but leave enough mystery to entice the reader to follow through and read it.
Make Sure You Know Your Audience
This is sound advice in just about any endeavor, but it’s particularly important in content marketing. Journalists spend a great deal of their careers immersing themselves in their particular niche, slowly discovering the types of stories that resonate with their target market.
The good news is that neither journalists nor marketers need to go undercover to understand their audience. Social media and community sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit can provide a great deal of insight into the sorts of topics that interest a particular demographic.
Strike a Balance Between “Hard News” and “Soft News”
Here’s another important parallel between marketing and journalism: both strike a balance between hard and soft news stories. Hard news stories have to do with ongoing and current events and social trends. Soft news stories are what we might call “evergreen” stories—that is, they can be published—and re-published—at will, since they’re not time-sensitive. They can include editorials, interviews and more.
Marketers need to strike this balance. Remaining on the bleeding edge of current events is no more or less important than providing content that can be revisited again and again. Hard news stories are important for maintaining authority and relevance, while soft news stories are better for positioning your site —or page or channel—as a long-lasting resource for visitors to visit and revisit.
Cast As Wide a Net As Possible
As we discussed above, success in both marketing and journalism depends on staying up-to-date on the things that your audience cares about. Potential stories surface all the time across the Internet, and knowing where to look for content is going to either make or break your campaign.
Take, for example, Clarity Way’s infographic defending Big Pharma. It’s an unorthodox piece of content that’s exactly the sort of thing that you should be looking out for: something that goes against the grain, or says something unexpected.
So where do you find quality content? Everywhere you can. Pay close attention to trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, browse Quora for inspiration, and see what like-minded people are saving on read-it-later services like Evernote and Readability. Inspiration is everywhere, as long as you know where to look.
Remember that Neither Journalists Nor Marketers Are Infallible
In both of these fields, a certain number of mistakes is to be expected; nobody is infallible, least of all people who are on the front lines of important cultural and social events and trends. Just as importantly, maintaining a certain transparency with your audience is crucial. If you do print something erroneously, or otherwise stick your foot in your mouth, come clean about the mistake or gaffe as quickly as you can. You’ll share a laugh with your readers, and then you’ll all move on.
Part of this process demands a certain attention to detail where sources are concerned. It’s important to remember to cite your sources for everything you publish. You don’t want to leave your readers guessing as to where you found a particular fact or figure; your credibility depends a great deal upon your fastidiousness in providing sources.
Journalists are the original content marketers. Even their endgame is the same: to turn casual readers into lifelong customers. The secret to success is really no secret at all: it’s about nothing more or less than providing exciting and timely content.