Article

Nathan Jones
Nathan Jones 15 April 2016

The Rise of Journalistic Marketing

Brands are taking the plunge and producing blogs that will rival traditional publishers. This post will look at why journalistic marketing has been a success and what other brands can learn from this approach.

The average standard of marketing material on the internet, historically, has been very poor (in my opinion, as my editor has demanded I say). Blogs, for example, were regularly the pet-project of SEO teams who were more interested in spawning articles packed with keywords, rather than crafting engaging posts for human beings. Recent years have shown an increased aspiration from brands to create content with high production values as well as aiming for an enthusiastic response from readers.  

An example of how far things have come is the emergence of journalistic marketing as a technique to reach and grow an audience. Helped by better platforms, browsers and code, it has enabled a previously unattainable standard of reading experience. 

“Because of technological enablement, we’re in an unprecedented period in history where brands can rival ‘legitimate’ media publications,” (Rebecca Lieb, VP of content marketing, Teradata Applications)

Why does it work?

The use of different media

The best examples of journalistic marketing are those who marry copy and photography by building a site which values both equally. Many sites were held back in the past CMS’s which crushed images into narrow columns. Now you have sites like this one designed by the Pitchfork team:

 

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And content platforms like Exposure and Medium:

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Written by Experts

These examples also demonstrates how content is more effective when it is written by experts, not a team of junior copywriters tasked with filling holes in a production schedule. For anyone who has read my blog posts before, you’ll know that I am a fan of Strava’s recent content offering. The reason it is so appealing it is that the content is produced by people who, through their writing and photography, share their passion and in-depth knowledge for the subject with you.

It isn’t just the ability to write about a topic. Copywriters need to adapt their styles to the reading habits of their audience and the limitations of the platform. Much of the consumption of long-form content is taking place on mobile. The small screen size bunches up paragraphs making long-winded sentence unwanted. Simplicity is desirable. This trend can be seen in the latest Search Engine Ranking Factors report by Search Metrics. Readability scores have increased over the past 12 months for the top 30 Google results. 

Flesch-Readability.png

Length

Journalistic marketing is also resisting the common adage that states that the internet generation needs instant gratification. Whilst writers use best practice techniques for holding a visitor’s attention (bullet point lists, sub-headings, short paragraphs), they are not afraid in the word count creeping up beyond 1200 words.

Brands with editorial projects should be encouraged by the growth of long-form, journalistic platforms likeExposure and Medium. These platforms both require visitors to sign up and follow writers (often brands) and have both flourished in the last few years. The argument for longer content isn’t just anecdotal. Medium published an article back in December 2013 claiming that the optimal post length is 7 minutes. The conclusion was that writers shouldn’t be held-back by the fact we are told about short attention spans online; a good post will perform well however long it is. 

Medium-Post-Length.png

Who is doing it well?

It is interesting to observe what brands and industries have invested time and effort into making journalistic marketing work for them. The best early adopters that I have seen* have been the charity sector, music, travel, and food & drink. All of these areas lend themselves to emotive presentation. The other advantage they have is that their topics and causes don’t have expiry dates. 

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The fashion industry struggles to commit to long-form content due to the quick rotation of products and seasonal goals. Their attention is mainly on the stock - that rotates roughly every 8 weeks - so brands haven’t yet seen the value in investing long periods of time on editorial content. I think this may be an oversight so I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has an opinion on this.

A method we can use to observe which brands have produced a content strategy intelligently is whether they understand what content works where. Journalistic marketing isn’t intended to be the best performing content on social media, instead it is designed for onsite performance and specialist platforms (like the aforementioned Exposure and Medium). The best brands with content strategies understand this difference and tailor their content accordingly.

Conclusion – are the measures of success changing?

Other than the growing interest for consumers of content for this style, I would also suggest it indicates a growing maturity from marketing teams. For a long time we have purely chased hard metrics like conversions, purchases and enquires whilst ignoring other long-term measures which are just as important.

In recent years, there has been a notable shift towards using measurements like brand loyalty, identity and perception to judge the success of content. This doesn’t mean short-term goals have been abandoned but marketing teams need to be confident that their strategies are looking at the next 3-5 years, not just the next 6-12 months.  

*If anyone can send me examples of other industries using this form consistently well I’d really appreciate it

Author bio:

Nathan Jones is a Digital Marketing professional working for the full service digital marketing agency The Big Group. If you enjoyed this blog, there are many others you can read on our website.

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