When Intel wanted to better connect with Millennials, the “smart technology” company took to the slopes, outfitting pro snowboarders at the X-Games with its microprocessor Curie to broadcast height, speed, and other information in real-time for fans and journalists. This was one of several content initiatives by the brand, which included a microsite dedicated to artists, musicians and trendsetters using Intel.
Journalism isn’t what it used to be. Increasingly, brands are producing content that is just as relevant, credible, and newsworthy as traditional sources — and the results have been lucrative.
A recent story by Top Rank Blog reported on the ROI for 11 B2B content marketing campaigns. It revealed that Demand Base, a B2B marketing technology company, gained $1 million in new business from a webinar series; Xerox also generated an astounding $1.3 billion in sales from a magazine project through Forbes. The common thread among all of these projects? The content was relevant, newsworthy, and audience-driven.
So how do you know if your own content is compelling?
The American Press Institute frames it this way: “A good story is about something the audience decides is interesting or important. A great story often does both by using storytelling to make important news interesting. It does more than inform or amplify. It adds value to the topic.”
Adding value when you’re a brand journalist means paying attention to your audience. Your readers should walk away from an article thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” And more importantly — “I can really use that.”
Here are 4 ways to think like a journalist for better brand content.
1. Pick up the Phone
Conducting interviews is a core part of a journalist’s job, and first-hand research goes a long way toward crafting a credible story. The benefits are actually two-fold when you’re a brand. Not only do you gain key insights and original quotes from an industry leader, which can bolster your credibility and the “news” value of your content, but you also incentivize these industry leaders to promote your content once published, introducing you to a whole new audience complete with an endorsement from a trusted source.
So how do you find great interview subjects (and then land an interview)? Well, just like a journalist, the first step is to develop your story idea. Ask yourself what new insights you hope to provide, or what problem you want to solve for your audience. A marketing software company marketing, for example, might interview a respected CMO about her predictions for trends in the next year, or what tools she finds indispensable. An advertising company might interview an expert Web developer on emerging tools or platforms that can benefit every marketer.
General Electric’s GE Reports is a great example of applying a newsroom mentality to brand journalism.
This interview with Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, has little to do with how GE’s customers might actually interact with the company or use its services. But that isn’t GE’s goal. With roughly 55,000 unique monthly visitors, GE is staying top-of-mind among businesses that view it as an industry leader — all through the news it creates.
2. Write By the Numbers (and Fact Check, Fact Check, Fact Check)
Another crucial difference between brand journalism and basic blog posts is the use of statistics and verified research to back up the news you report. Take the time to do your research, and be specific. Starting a sentence with: “According to a Pew Research Center study completed in 2014” is far more effective than “Research shows….”
Here are a few tips for using stats in your own content marketing:
Always cite the original source (linking to it is OK).
Often times, compelling statistics are quoted and re-quoted in several publications. It might be easiest just to cite the blog where you found it (what’s the difference, right?), but there are two problems with this:
- You’re not giving credit where it’s due.
- In something of a game of digital telephone, your stat might be misrepresented by the time it reaches you.
Here’s an example:
A number of B2B “listicles,” including this one posted by Writtent.com, have claimed that “81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs,” citing the popular women’s website BlogHer.com as the source.
The original stat, however, more accurately conveyed that 81% of women who read blogs trust them compared to other social media channels.
Not quite the same thing.
This is why it’s best find the source material (even if it takes a little longer) and double-check the validity of your stats.
Make sure you’re using statistics in a way that gives readers the right picture.
Any time you use stats, make sure they tell an accurate story. Mentioning that sales doubled thanks to a particular initiative might be perfectly true — but if you add that this growth was from 2 customers to 4, that tells a completely different story. This is an extreme example, but for every B2B marketer feeling a little red-faced at reading that, remember this: you hope that your readers will eventually become customers. When they do, if they find that your content is misleading, they’ll wonder what else about your business might be.
3. Show, Don’t Tell
Modern journalism is now as much about compelling visuals as it is about the written word. Many news outlets are taking advantage of infographics, microsites, interactive graphics, video, and even virtual reality (notably pioneered by The New York Times) to tell stories.
Infographics like this one created by the Wall Street Journal are especially effective for helping readers process information — and thanks to a number of new tools, marketers no longer necessarily need an in-house designer.
When creating B2B content, think about not only what information you want readers to process, but what will inspire them to act. This will dictate the best medium for your story.
4. Become a Habitual Reader
The adage that “the best writers are avid readers” is as true for brand journalism as it was in your high school English class. To improve the quality of your content — and to better understand what will make it “newsworthy” — one of the easiest things you can do is simply consume industry news. Subscribe to periodicals and relevant publications, follow major news outlets, and keep an eye on what other brands are producing.
Feel crunched for time? Try the “scan” method. You don’t need to “deep read” every article. Set a goal of covering important headlines, and pick one or two articles each day to read through to the end. Your goal is to remain aware of activity in your industry and to find inspiration for your own content. Keep in mind that the more you read now, the less time you’ll have to spend researching your next article!
Creating newsworthy content is hard — there’s no getting around that. But as many B2B marketers are proving, it’s worth the effort. You can transform your own content even if you have a small staff by reaching out to experts, doing your research, and incorporating dynamic storytelling elements.
Jed Wexler is the Founder and CEO of 818 Agency, a B2B content strategy firm helping trade events, e-commerce, fashion, and luxury real estate brands build their businesses with content.
Header image source: 123RF