3 Journalism Techniques That Will Make Your Content Soar

The first time I manifested the power of journalism was as a newspaper intern, when I wrote about the flowers lining the streets of the downtown area where I worked. My editor had heard from a few locals who didn’t like the flowers and suspected the blooms were artificial, so he asked me to investigate.

What seemed like a potentially uneventful story evolved into a mission to hold a city accountable to its taxpayers. The flowers were indeed fake, and the upset from the citizens who believed their look cheapened the beauty of the downtown area compelled the local government to plant real flowers instead. A simple 400-word article resonated with the audience in such a way that it ignited reaction and change. It’s incredible what solid research, purposeful interviewing and a strong narrative can do. Whether you’re introducing your latest product or launching a new service, using these same journalism techniques will take your content to the next level and influence your audience to take action.

Seventy-six percent of organizations said they used content marketing, according to Content Marketing Institute’s “2016 B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report. But only 38 percent said they were effective at content marketing. Why? Some of the reasons include a lack of experience, a lack of a content strategy and a lack of an editorial mission statement. But perhaps the unsuccessful organizations also hadn’t taken journalistic approaches to crafting their content.

Here are the three steps to take to harness the power of journalism and boost your marketing results.


1. Look at what’s trending.

What’s going on in the headlines? Pop culture happenings, sports events and current events are what drive the news, and they can draw audiences to your content. Your content doesn’t have to relate directly to these topics, but you can use a trending topic as an angle.

Take Keds for example. The brand has used its voice to inspire change, draw awareness to gender equality and support female empowerment. Keds partnered with Create & Cultivate—a movement for women looking to build the careers of their dreams—to profile 100 women who are changing the future of the workplace. Considering today’s political climate and gender-equality issues as well as the popularity of athleisure fashion, this is a natural fit for Keds, a sneaker company.

This approach shows how to find a connection between your brand, a trend and your audience. Audiences’ decisions are not based solely on clever first impressions or sales pitches any more; customers’ decisions to buy are driven by the value they’re shown. Because of Keds’ initiative, women are likely to feel more connected to the brand and more inclined to buy shoes from themselves because Keds not only fits their needs and style but also supports a cause relevant to them. It’s a win-win.


2. Showcase the service and value immediately.

My college newspaper advisor, who was a journalist for 20-plus years, had one rule when it came to word count for a story: Write it for what it’s worth. That means to cut the fat and keep only what’s essential. That same rule applies to creating effective content marketing—it should be efficient, engaging and practical. Keep your content focused and concise.

In other words, “Don’t bury the lead.” This famous journalism saying means you should make your point clear up-front, so the reader doesn’t have to hunt through a bunch of text to find the main focus. If you make readers weed through eight paragraphs before getting to the heart of the story, you’ll lose them. Audiences have short attention spans—shorter than a goldfish to be exact—so you have to make the most of their time. You’ve got eight seconds to draw them in; make those seconds count.


3. Find the narrative.

Ian Rowden, chief marketing officer of Virgin Group, once said, “The best brands are built on great stories.”

Great journalists know they need to find the human angle to their stories to capture their audiences. Storytelling has become a buzzword in the marketing world for good reason. Strong narratives that prioritize customers’ needs and show—in an interesting and compelling way—how a product or service can make their lives better resonate strongly with audiences.

Connecting your story with a real person makes your content relatable and authentic. For example, if you’re writing about a common challenge your customers encounter, consider using one of their stories (with their permission, of course). REI, a brand that celebrates outdoor life, does this well on Facebook, Instagram and its blog through the people who use its products. During a social campaign, REI asked its Instagram followers to share what they love about the outdoors. Responders ranged from Appalachian Trail hikers to weekend warriors. The brand then shared the most powerful and heartfelt stories on its blog.

The “Living Proof” advertising campaign by Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network in 2016 used unscripted scenarios with real patients and doctors to relate to its audience. Crossing platforms from television and mobile to social media and digital billboards, the ambitious campaign delivered 30 short stories on television and the internet in 30 days to show medical treatments available in Pittsburg. Each ad ended with a social hashtag accompanying the words “Living Proof.” The campaign worked well because these stories put real patients at the center of story and related their real-life experiences along with valuable information their audience needed.

As AdWeek so eloquently put it, “Don’t get in the way of what consumers want; be what they want.” Pay attention to what’s happening in the world around you; grab your audiences’ attention by making every word and image count; and tell stories that inspire, educate and entertain. When you apply these three rules borrowed from good, old-fashioned journalism, you’ll achieve high-quality content that not only connects with your audience on a meaningful level but also encourages them to take action.

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