What Can Content Marketers Learn From Journalists (and vice versa)

    Fact checked by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and… Read more

    Edited by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and…Read more

    What content marketers can learn from journalists

    Goran Mirković is an experienced content marketing professional, currently working as the Head of Content at Content Insights. Goran has a solid background in IT,...Read more

    Changes in media consumption and distribution have significantly influenced those who write stories for a living. Because of constant financial struggles that most news organizations are facing and a growing need for branded content – a lot of people with journalistic background and formal education in similar fields are looking for alternative ways to expand their portfolios and cash in on their expertise and knowledge.

    Today, there are a lot of people who write for a living but don’t work for any news organization. They work as content marketers and writers for brands who see the value in producing content on their own.

    According to a recent study, more than 70 percent of buyers have confirmed that their buying decisions are influenced by content, so a significant number of companies has decided to double down on their commitment to producing relevant content that educates their consumers and helps them see the value of their products/services.

    There are a lot of segments where journalism and content marketing overlap.

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    Content marketing as we know it today is a relatively new field that can still benefit a lot from the practices of traditional reporters. The same goes for journalists: updating traditional practices and developing a deeper understanding of how content performs could definitely help newsrooms better serve their readers.

    But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    Journalists know – content is your product…

    Even though a lot of brands invest in content marketing today, a lot of them struggle to generate a decent ROI from their efforts in this department. That is because most brands make the same mistake when starting to invest in this practice: they look at content marketing as a practice that can be utilized as any other marketing tactic.

    If brands want to achieve success in this field, they need to start treating their content as their product. Treating content as a product means following a complex set of rules and principles, similar to developing a physical product. It has to be purposefully designed, packaged, and tested before being released to the public. Content marketing has to solve the same problems as the company’s products and services do, only through different types of material. It has to be relevant and valuable for people who come into contact with it.

    It shouldn’t be something that just fills the pages and keeps the company logo in front of the target audience’s eyes. It shouldn’t be used as a tool for aggressively pushing products, services, or offers on everyone that qualifies as the “potential client/consumer”.

    In order to create content that showcases their true value and helps them build authority online, brands need to show the same level of commitment to producing great content for specific audiences as news portals and online magazines do to keep their readers loyal and engaged. They need to develop their own style guides and editorial processes that ensure that the content they create is always grade A quality.

    This is a lesson content marketers can definitely learn from journalists. Journalists work hard to establish relationships with their readers and their content IS their product. But also, journalists could pick up a few things from marketers, too.

    … and it’s your greatest weapon too, marketers might add

    Creating great content just for the sake of it is also a bad idea. If your only product is content, you need to think long and hard how to properly monetize it. In an era where information is easily accessible and almost everyone is creating and publishing content for free, lots of news organizations are experiencing issues with finding proper business models that could help them stay afloat.

    A large portion of news websites still make money through ads, so they tend to sacrifice quality for quantity in order to pile up ad impressions. This, of course, is a double-edged sword because it can damage their brand and thus, slowly run them out of business.

    A significant number of news portals and online magazines that care about their brand and future now rely on subscriptions and native advertising. They use advanced content intelligence software to monitor patterns in their audience’s behavior and see which specific articles are helping them boost subscriptions or get better engagement on their native advertisements.

    Those who focus just on native ads are very dependent on how their writers and editors understand promoted content and how they execute paid campaigns. Even though most old school journalists are still not data-literate and not really in love with the idea that their content has to “sell” something to their audience, it’s time to adopt a different mindset and incorporate a new modus operandi.

    Audience’s attention has to be earned, wise journalists preach…

    Marketing through sheer volume of content simply doesn’t work anymore. In 2019, almost every brand is publishing some type of content online. Companies who have seen decent ROI from their content marketing efforts are using different content formats and platforms to spread their stories across the web and get in front of their desired users, whenever and wherever they possibly can.

    It’s safe to say that the war for audience attention is at full swing now. In order to stay on their audience’s radar at all times, content marketers are obliged to do what journalists do – maintain a steady flow of high-quality content that makes people recognize their expertise and authority in the niche.

    Just like British leftists visit The Guardian to get informed about what’s going on within the country, your goal as a content marketer should be to become the go-to resource for people who qualify as your potential followers, consumers, or clients. You want to become part of your audience’s routine.

    In order to build such a bond with their target audience, as mentioned above, brands need to ensure that they’re regularly publishing grade A quality content. To achieve this, they need to develop a rock-solid editorial strategy and transform their content department into some sort of a newsroom. They need writers who are knowledgeable about the subjects they write, designers, proofreaders, and editors that ensure that the tone, style, and quality of articles is in perfect sync with the company goals and values.

    However, even though journalists are great at attracting people’s attention, a lot of them struggle to actually engage their readers to do something more than just reading the headlines. This is an old problem and a lot of publishers are now doing what marketers do: they are investing in software that tells them more about how their audience is responding to their content. They are testing out different monetization methods that help them create more “conversions” and prevent churn.

    … and it has to be retained for better revenue rates, marketers insist

    A lot of journalists and editors today still focus solely on the content, with zero to no regard for how it actually performs and affects their readers. Most of them still base their work on their gut feeling.

    Even though there are a lot more data-literate editors and journalists today than a year ago, a lot of them still don’t really understand how to properly interpret data and apply insights they see in their analytics tool into practice.

    There is a significant number of modern journalists today who are more involved with real-time analytics platforms that show the performance of their content, and they do follow metrics like Pageviews and Time on Page to see the level of engagement the readers are having with their content – but that’s not good enough because these are just simple browser metrics, not behavioral metrics.

    In order to save their publication and help increase revenue, journalists and editors need to do what marketers do: learn how to interpret data, find successful patterns, listen to their readers, and apply changes. The goal today is not just to generate reads, but to generate actions of value that keep their employers alive and well. Publishers will only be able to do that if they truly learn how to embrace data, select the right business models for their publication, optimize their content and editorial decisions to align with their business goals.

    Journalists are the masters of storytelling…

    Even though the main goal of every content marketing strategy should be to educate current and potential customers/consumers about the concrete values specific products and services bring to their lives, distributing just raw information won’t help brands connect with their desired audiences on a deeper level.

    People don’t just want to be bombarded with facts, they want to be wooed through engaging stories that help them relate to the information that’s laid in front of them.

    This is something that content marketers can learn from journalists. Good journalists know how to spot interesting angles in stories and build articles with engaging narrative structures that suck the readers in, evoke emotional reaction to stories, and keep their undivided attention. They know how to write clickable headlines and how to make their article about the story, and not about themselves. They have been trained to correctly set the article’s tone, present information in a clear, compelling manner, and back their claims with solid arguments.

    A company like Dove, which is widely successful with its content, produces material that focuses on women’s health and body. IKEA tells stories that help people enjoy their homes and make their everyday lives a lot better. Nike creates narratives that celebrate athletic excellence and motivate people to become the best versions of themselves.

    These are just some of the well-known examples where companies have charmed their audiences by using powerful narratives that don’t necessarily focus on their products.

    … but marketers want to ensure there is a defined business goal behind telling stories

    However, creating stories just for the sake of creating stories, is another extreme that journalists tend to go into. Many old school journalists are always on the hunt for great stories, with little to zero regard for the end user. It’s time for journalists to take a leaf from marketers’ book and research their audience.

    In order to better serve their readers and influence engagement and loyalty to the publication they’re writing for, journalists invest some extra effort into learning who is reading their stories, which types of reader personas are interested in specific sections of their employer’s site, which topics they care about the most, and how they like to receive their information? Are they interested in long form articles that cover all the details at once, or do they want short pieces that cover the whole story in series?

    Building personas and focusing on specific types of audience is usually a job left to marketers, but in today’s digital media structure, relationships between content-makers and the people who are consuming their output demand extra attention to detail.

    In this cutthroat digital world where publishers are fighting for survival, understand which topics and details trigger your audience’s interest goes a long way. Obsessed with the new Quentin Tarantino movie? Brexit? The Michael Jackson scandal? New discoveries of marine life? – it’s worth listening to your audience and figuring out how to provide them with stories that interest them, as long as these stories are in sync with the publisher’s brand values and voice.

    Journalists know the importance of ethics…

    In its original form, journalism is all about truth, facts, and storytelling. However, somewhere along the line and particularly due to financial reasons, publishers started caring more about pageviews than anything else, so a lot of media organizations have become more focused on entertainment and visits than truth and facts.

    Even though we live in a clickbait era, there are still quality newspapers and news sites that operate on old school principles and show responsibility in how they use and distribute information.

    This is something that people still respect and that marketers can use to improve the quality of their output.

    Research shows that modern Internet users hate traditional advertising methods. Many of them have the ability to smell a sales pitch from miles away. Once they figure out they’re being sold to, modern Internet users develop a negative impression and instantly stop interacting with brands that try to make them buy something they don’t want.

    When they shop, most modern consumers are interested in making educated decisions, especially in the B2B world. They demand transparency and concrete information in order to form purchase decisions. They won’t buy into gimmicks, they need rock-solid reasons why specific brands, products, and services are worth their attention.

    Zero bullshit, zero fluff.

    A lot of successful marketers understand that, so they’ve adopted an aspect of journalism that basically transformed them into publishers of long-form content. That long-form content helps brands become recognized experts in their field, which in return helps them collect more leads and generate new sales. This particular content is often well-researched, filled with facts, and backed with undeniable evidence that supports their claims. It’s a no-bullshit approach that doesn’t try to sweet talk the readers into buying a certain product or service, but rather to help them understand all the values and benefits of investing in certain deals.

    … but marketers know you cannot live in a bubble

    Despite the fact that people hate being sold to, they still won’t buy anything unless you tell them to do so. Most old school journalists don’t really like producing any form of sponsored content. Especially the kind that falls under the native ad category. They believe that this is not very ethical and that they’re deceiving the readers. However, if done right – native advertising isn’t just a plain form of marketing that masks advertisements and presents them as regular content pieces.

    The goal here is to develop branded stories that have some genuine context to the point that’s being promoted. These particular articles don’t have to reflect the beliefs of the publication on which they appear on, but they have to be truthful and in line with the general editorial policy of the site where they’re getting published. There is nothing unethical going here, as long as the publisher sets the ground rules before agreeing to promote specific brands through content on its domain, and marks the sponsored content properly.

    Closing words

    Judging by all the arguments listed above, it’s safe to say that the line between quality content marketing and quality journalism is slowly fading away. Both practices now operate on similar principles where defining what counts as quality content by looking at the content performance data – runs the entire show. It doesn’t really matter if you’re writing for a company blog or a respectable news site, your ultimate goal is to cater to your end users’ needs and make sure that you meet their every request and search intent.

    What do you believe the future has in store for content marketers and journalists? Do you feel that there are more points where these two practices overlap? I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, so please share your opinions in the comments section below.

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    Being a part of the SODP Community has made a real impact on my problem-solving at work. From bouncing off paywalls solution ideas to thinking about an SEO strategy for my paywall, it’s the most value-adding professional community I’m a part of.

    Yvette Dimiri, Head of Growth, Stears