There’s an information overload and you can feel it. There’s too much email, too much advertising, and too many marketing messages. Restaurants have TVs and loud music. Our smart phones are constantly notifying us. Every surface, everywhere you look has a call to action on it.
And consumers are tuning out. They are becoming numb to all the stimuli. To break through the noise, marketers have responded with content marketing. This has created a river of propaganda, personnel announcements and press releases. As a result, marketing efforts can sometimes backfire as consumers harden themselves.
But there is still one way that works to reach people. When consumers want to find out what’s going on, they turn to a format they have always trusted: the news. Research shows that consumers believe traditional news media like the Wall Street Journal and CNN. They also trust content curation services like Scoop.it, Paper.li and Flipboard.
A supplement for today’s marketers is corporate journalism.
Brands have audiences
To be clear, corporate journalism is not writing an article about your company’s new product or promotion. It is not writing copy with a call to action. The idea is to write more like journalists and less like marketers. As described in new research, it is:
A practice that combines subject-matter expertise with the credibility and narrative techniques of professional journalism. Done well, corporate journalism should incorporate elements of traditional journalism, including the critical notion that journalism serves its audience above all others.
This approach recognizes that corporations no longer have just customers — they have audiences, as Andrew Eklund says. And the best way to capture their imagination is with stories.
Storytelling is so powerful because it engages readers and makes them feel emotions about the story. The technique has been used since Biblical times in the 46 parables. People remember stories and retell them. Journalists refer to their work as “stories,” not “articles.”
When I was editor in chief of Lawyers.com, we told six stories every day about consumers and the legal system. We were the in-house news team with text, video and graphic journalists. Our “reporters” would tell stories about how a consumer was cheated or wrong, but got justice by using the legal system. This strategy built our traffic to 4 million unique visitors and 7 million page views per year.
I apply the same approach to The National Trial Lawyers, the Huffington Post, customer websites and my blog.
There are three elements to making corporate journalism work. The first is relentlessly to study what people read on your website and to look for patterns. You should check the site stats every day and keep a running list of the most-read articles per week, month and year.
Using WordPress, I was able to boil down the 12 topics that our readers liked the most at Lawyers.com. Then it was a simple matter of giving the readers what they wanted.
Second, your goal is to “hook” your reader with an engaging story. The most effective stories have a protagonist who faces an obstacle, and then overcomes it. The story is better if the protagonist has to change somehow to succeed.
In a corporate setting, the protagonist is a potential customer who had a problem they couldn’t fix by themselves. That’s when your brand engaged them, showed them the solution and produced a result that mattered.
The third element is to write with the viewpoint of your customers. Your stories should explain why my topic is either good or bad for your audience. By “viewpoint,” I mean vantage point, not false interpretation. It is essential to stick to the facts and be honest.
You should know your readers better than anyone else in the company. Memorize their age, gender, education level, ethnic background, buying habits, marital status and occupation. This way, you can figure out what their biggest concerns and daunting problems are, and write about them.
If the issue is a recurring problem, it’s time to compose a downloadable e-book. If there are pictures that illustrate the story, record a video. If there is a collection of statistics, create an infographic.
Did you notice the story in this article? It was about how we brought 4 million unique visitors to our company’s website. See how well corporate journalism works?
Interested in learning more about content marketing? Check out Hinge's Content Marketing Guide for Professional Services Firms.