Whenever I talk to someone about content marketing, I always stress that content marketing should be “journalistic.” In other words, that a journalist’s tools, skills, attitude and approach are required to execute a content strategy that truly informs, helps and engages the audience.
Not everybody agrees – plenty of marketers consider good old-fashioned advertising to be content. Well, in one sense of the word it is obviously content, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about content that is not about the product or service; rather the content is information that is useful to the audience, and it builds trust precisely because it is not about the product or service.
In other words, it is journalistic – not quite full-fledged, save-the-democracy Journalism, but similar in many ways. One definition of journalism is that it is “the collection, preparation, and distribution of news and related commentary and feature materials through media.”
The Pew Research Journalism Project lists nine principles of journalism. Seven of them apply to the best content marketing efforts. The other two are more focused on the civic good, which typically is not the goal of content marketing; then again, it really isn’t the goal of sports, business or entertainment news either.
I’m not trying to overstate the importance of content marketing here. These principles of journalism are high-minded ideals. True civic journalism is important for society, and content marketing generally isn’t. The point here is simply that the best content marketing mirrors journalism.
So while Capital-J Journalists will cringe at this, here are the nine principles and how they apply to content marketing.
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
I would argue that the best marketing has always been about the truth. Marketing works because the audience believes in it, and the audience believes in it because the claims of the marketer prove to be true over time. Companies that fudge the truth ultimately are caught, and pay a great price. Content marketing needs to be focused on providing fact-based information to the audience.
Its first loyalty is to citizens.
Or in this case, the audience of prospects and customers. Content marketing should be focused on the audience, not the organization doing the marketing. It should strive to inform and help the audience. You can argue that it is not the “first loyalty” of content marketing, but, unquestionably, the best content marketing strategies put the audience first.
Its essence is a discipline of verification.
This is the essence of reporting, and the best content marketing strategies focus on reporting on the chosen subject matter. While advertising will often focus on fictional scenarios, content marketing should focus on real world occurrences and news. It delivers the facts.
Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
This one does not apply. I mean, let’s not pretend that content marketing does not have a marketing purpose for the organization creating and delivering content. Certainly, the news media doesn’t always reach this threshold either, but that’s another argument for another time.
It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
This generally is not the focus of most content marketing strategies and therefore doesn’t apply.
It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
Yes! The best content marketing efforts initiate a conversation and engage the audience. This is true even if it can sometimes get a little uncomfortable for the organization creating the content; witness McDonald’s of Canada’s “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign. McDonald’s has embraced transparency as a way to engage the audience. This is not easy to do. It takes courage. The best content marketing does this.
It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
In many industries this can be daunting. How do you make ERP solutions interesting and therefore worth reading for the audience? This is one of the great challenges in B2B content marketing, but if you have top-notch journalists creating the content, it is possible. Look at SAP’s Business Innovation blog, which explores innovation in business in a very consumable way.
It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
A great content strategy becomes a go-to source of information for the intended audience because it is comprehensive; the audience heads there on a regular basis because it provides a broad perspective on the given industry or topic.
Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
This is kind of funny wording, but the folks at Pew mean that individual reporters need to have a sense of ethics and responsibility, even to the point of blowing the whistle on colleagues or the organization itself. We clearly want everyone we deal with in business to be ethical. Content marketing comes up short of the full meaning of this principle of journalism, in that you’re simply not going to blow the whistle on the organization, at least not publicly on the company blog.