journalism lessons content marketing

5 Journalism Lessons to Transform Your B2B Content

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B2B doesn’t have to be boring. But when it comes to B2B content marketing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of snooze-worthy writing. B2B companies face a few common content challenges: They get bogged down in jargon, they focus too much on sales pitches and they make the message way too complicated. Addressing those three challenges is the quickest way to make your content more helpful and approachable.

During my career, I’ve jumped between journalism and content marketing, and I’ve borrowed the lessons I’ve learned as a journalist to combat the boring in B2B content. You can use these five journalistic principles from magazine and newspaper writers to transform your B2B content.

Hook Your Readers

You only get a few words (not even whole sentences) to draw your reader in. We all have a ton of competition for our readers’ time and attention. Constant political news, friends’ Facebook updates and all of our competitors’ content swirl together. To stand out from the noise, you need to write a solid hook that makes the reader say, “What else? Tell me more.”

Highlight the Most Important Information

Traditional newspaper writing uses an “inverted pyramid” format for articles. The biggest, most important facts come at the beginning of the story; as the story goes along, more detailed information is added.

The inverted pyramid is a good way to structure B2B content, too. People scan online articles fast, so you need to make sure you grab readers with a snappy headline — and then get to the point quickly.

Reader-friendly formatting can also make the most noteworthy tips and ideas stand out. Use bullet points and bolded text to help readers find the information they need, even when they’re scanning.

Get Good at Interviewing

One golden rule of journalism is that you don’t have to know everything, you just have to know who to ask.

It can be tempting to only write about what you know. Your internal team probably has a lot of experience and expertise, but they don’t know everything. If you only rely on your internal team, you’ll end up with a lot of content that sounds the same.

Instead, mix it up. Look for outside perspectives. Get out your reporter’s notebook and call industry analysts, experts at professional organizations and your business partners. If you’re feeling daring, interview your competitors about market trends or their predictions for the next big thing.

Doing interviews is a great networking tool, too. Use your next blog post or e-book as an excuse to connect with the speakers, writers or leaders you admire. Content marketing interviews can help you build relationships with prospects.

Work on a Deadline

I could wax poetic about my love of editorial calendars all day, but here’s why journalists-turned-content-marketers love them so much: Journalists are used to working on deadlines. What gets scheduled gets done, and there’s nothing like a looming deadline to push a writer to make a blog post or e-book happen.

Deadlines force you to break down the work into discrete steps. If your deadline is Friday, you know you’ll need to determine your goal and audience by Monday, interview sources by Wednesday, outline the content by Thursday and write on Friday.

I’ve found that giving interview sources a deadline is an effective way to get faster responses. Instead of sending an email saying, “I’d love to chat,” tell them exactly what you are working on, your questions for them and your deadline. Knowing a concrete deadline helps the person on the other end of the email prioritize the request and decide whether they can help.

Think Like a Writer, Not Like a Sales Rep

Content marketers have a big opportunity to fulfill the promise for the brand, not just echo it. To do that, though, you have to work for the reader, not the sales team. Save the marketing copy and sales pitches for the brochures and proposals. As a content marketer, your job is to tell a story and share ideas, not directly push a product. Don’t be afraid to stand up for helpful content over sales pitches.

Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO of Rep Cap. Before creating her own content marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief, a leading publisher of e-mail newsletters. Before joining SmartBrief, she spent 8 years at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department. You can find Mary Ellen on Twitter @MESlayter.

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