Find Your TRUTH: How to Think Like a Journalist In the Content Marketing Era

We’ve all heard that in order to engage and differentiate, we need to shift from a brand- and product-focused mindset, to a customer-focused mindset. This also includes altering our storytelling practices to be more educational, inspirational and even journalistic. 

For many, completely rethinking our creative process, from our content messaging to our design process and campaign strategies, is easier said than done. But during the Inbounder World Tour stop in New York City, brand content consultant Melanie Deziel offered some tactical tips and best practices to help marketers think more like journalists. 

Over the course of her career, Melanie has become a trailblazer in native advertising — a trend we’re seeing more and more in the B2B marketing world. She has collaborated with several native advertising divisions from top publications, including  The New York Times’ T Brand Studio, HuffPost Partner Studio, and Time Inc’s portfolio of 35+ media properties. She currently writes for Inc. Magazine and, therefore, has an interesting perspective for brands that are trying to stand out, win buyer attention and even seek editorial coverage. 

“When you’re in journalism you tell objective stories,” Melanie explained. “When you’re in advertising, you’re usually trying to interrupt someone trying to do something else with information they may not be looking for.” 

The key to turning the traditional content marketing model upside down, is TRUTH, which stands for:

  • Timely

  • Reputable

  • Unique

  • Tension

  • Human Condition

Beyond the catchy acronym, brands need to remember that in the end, the truth will always prevail. No brand wants their advertising lumped in with the “interruptive, self-serving stories,” Melanie explained. “In the age of fake news, we need to tell the truth.”  

Embrace the TRUTH

For the remainder of her presentation, Melanie dove into each component of TRUTH and offered some tactical tips for marketers. 

TIMELY: Perhaps the easiest to embrace, timeliness means B2B marketers should look to current events, timely trends and even seasons and holidays to conjure up top-of-mind story ideas and even content topics. Of course, this doesn’t mean brands need to hop on the latest political news updates; instead, they should focus on timely trends that impact their buyers. Melanie pointed to data security as an important trend that certain brands can speak to and be a part of the conversations buyers are having.  

If you need to navigate a lot of internal red tape and legal requirements within your company, you can focus on more evergreen topics that teach buyers, according to Melanie. Do-it-yourself content and how-to resources are a great way to teach your audience and highlight your brand’s knowledge and authority. 

REPUTABLE: All great content is derived from thought leader insights. Leverage internal or third-party experts that your audience trusts so your content has journalistic integrity. Relevant research and case studies are also great for integrating outside perspectives. However, Melanie noted that it’s important to have a diverse mix of sources “When you’re going through that process, make sure you’re doing it in a diverse way,” she said. For example, “if you’re gonna talk to three customers, you want them to be representative of different geographic areas, skill levels and demographics.” 

UNIQUE: Melanie used her day-to-day live at Inc. Magazine as a way to reaffirm what makes a unique story. “More than 1,000 press releases are published by companies every day,” she noted. A company’s existence or a product’s existence is generally not newsworthy. To capture her attention with a media pitch, “you have to do something unique and different.”

Superlatives, or explaining why you’re the first or only company to achieve something is newsworthy. Highlighting what makes your brand and its team members different also makes for a great story. For example, if your founder went through a life-changing experience or has unique lessons to share based on your company’s growth or evolution, that would make for a great story or piece of content. 

TENSION: No, you don’t want to manufacture drama, but you want to spotlight questions or issues that are unresolved. Do your prospects have any common questions or objections? Are there any overarching struggles at the customer or industry level that you’re seeing? Are there any risks or debates that are present in your industry? You want to highlight these topics of conflict or tension and offer some sort of valuable insight to solve them. 

HUMAN CONNECTION: Perhaps most important, brands need to try and tell stories that reflect people or real events and stories. While detailed charts and tables inform your audience, you need to highlight the people and stories that will resonate with them on a personal level. This will make your story more immersive and memorable for your audience.

Melanie pointed to a paid piece she did for Netflix via T Brand Studio, highlighting the trials and tribulations women in the prison system face. The 1,500-word investigative piece was designed to show the current issues with women’s prisons and to, in some way, tie to the themes of Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black.” Rather than relying solely on third-party data, Melanie and her team embedded videos featuring interviews with current inmates, other real-life stories and complemented the story with animated illustrations and other effects. 

The results were staggering: the piece was covered in more than 30 industry publications and ranked in the top 2% of all content on the New York Times web site in 2014. The piece also won several awards including an OMMA Award for best native advertising and an accolade from Digiday for best branded video. 

As someone who studied journalism in school, has written for several publications and also writes content for brands, it was inspiring to hear Melanie’s personal growth and transition in the professional world. Although I was aware of some of the core journalism principles she highlighted, she aligned them to my day-to-day job as a content marketer in a succinct yet compelling way. 

What do you do to think like a journalist as you create marketing content?



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