Storytelling

5 Useful Skills Marketers Should Learn From Media Companies

Content marketers look to the mainstream media companies for inspiration. Brands may have different goals, they still want to reach the same creative levels as the best editorial publications and TV channels. However, when marketers try to duplicate what they see, key concepts are often lost in translation.

Every brand wants to release a product video that’s received like Game of Thrones. They want Modern Love download numbers on their podcasts. But that’s not going to happen. We all have to keep our definition of success relative.

To shed light on what marketers should try to learn from their media brethren, I’ve broken down some common (and successful!) media strategies across ideation, production, and distribution. When you add them all together, these skills will help you create content your customers actually want.

Be patient with your audience

It’s useful for marketers to think of top-funnel content as the “dating” stage. You wouldn’t tell a first date you’re planning on naming your future children Huey, Dewey, and Louie, so don’t jump down a reader’s throat with your product the first time they read an article.

 

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Use audience data to serve people relevant content on the platforms they already use. Group Nine Media posts social video from two of its sites, The Dodo and Now This, on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The company found that uplifting animal videos (Dodo) and informative, emotional political videos (NowThis) connected with viewers scrolling through their social feeds. As a result, they specialize in content that lives directly on these heavily trafficked channels—you don’t see a ton of investment on search.

Marketers should focus on subjects and channels that matter to your audience. Leave the “do you wanna get out of here?” moment for further down the funnel.

Do some shoe-leather reporting

The internet connects most of the globe, but it also tends to flatten and hollow out the definition of “news.” Many full-time reporters receive tips from remote sources, and they’re so caught up in the existing news cycle that they don’t have a spare moment to find their own stories.

Social media has made it harder to break the cycle. What might seem like a globally trending topic may only just be “trending” on Twitter for a small bubble. You don’t really know what your target audience cares about if you’re only scrolling through social. To bridge the gap, you have to talk to people.

That’s why it’s important to treat your content marketing job like any journalist would approach a beat. Take contacts out for coffee and pick their brains. Ask them questions on background and get their numbers in case you need a quotation down the road. Show up to community events, trade shows, and trainings ready to ask questions.

If you’re looking for a model from media companies, consider how local news websites cover their beats. In addition to features, BKLYNER sends a reporter to every town hall meeting and small political event in Brooklyn, anticipating that interested readers may not have the time or wherewithal to attend themselves.

Since you’re a marketer, you can always start by talking to existing customers. If someone is paying your company money, you should know their experience inside and out.

Choose your public figures carefully

Even if your audience likes the gist of your articles, humans are pretty unforgiving when it comes to listening to someone speak. When the focus is on video and audio content, you don’t have to be Daniel Day-Lewis to know the difference between a great actor and an uncomfortable performer.

Just because someone is a great leader or writer doesn’t mean they have to be the face of your brand. You never want to put a marketer in front of a camera or a crowd without being sure they’re the right person for the spotlight. Not every reporter is great on camera, and not every video host is a gifted writer, but all of the above are technically journalists.

Borrow this concept as you structure your content team. If your managing editor is hyper-organized and great at breaking data into actionable, creative insights, but he’s too anxious in front of crowds to lead an in-person event, that’s fine! Your brand is allowed to tag in media-trained professionals for hosting videos, MCing events, and giving keynote speeches. You can also invest in media training for internal employees. Some professionals don’t become good on camera until they’re given enough practice reps

Use additive or divisible content to keep things fresh

As Marketing Showrunners founder Jay Acunzo puts it, media companies “promote their shows by taking an existing asset, then using that asset to create an endless stream of useful assets, all of which are used to grow the original asset. Everything they create compounds in value.”

According to Acunzo, no one is better at making people care about impressive content than media companies. “They know how to publish a core asset, like a show, then get a serious return on their investment on that show—building a passionate fanbase for the program as they do so.” He believes marketing falls short when it comes to promoting and packaging great content.

One way to promote and repackage content is to break a successful piece down into smaller chunks (aka divisible content). When I was a reporter in a newsroom, I knew it was going to be a good week when my editor said, “Hey, that story last week was great. See if you can get me a follow-up ASAP.”

Sometimes I’d have stray quotes left on the cutting room floor, which I’d work into a second piece on the same topic. Sometimes I’d call up my sources again to see if they’d sound off on something else for me. If all else failed, I’d research ancillary news stories in the same general area.

When I published a feature on the commercial success of Adult Swim’s cartoon Rick and Morty, the traffic was compelling enough to merit a follow-up. I investigated the question “what’s wrong with Rick and Morty fans” because it was a key search term that came up in Google Trends. From there, I interviewed the creators of a different Adult Swim cartoon to see if the interest carried over—it didn’t. I stayed on the Rick and Morty beat for a while, writing up news from my skeptical point of view.

Wait until you have a truly good idea for a podcast or video

Never make new content just to show you can. I know it’s enticing. You read a piece in Adweek about how podcasts are the new frontier, or your LinkedIn feed says TikTok is taking over the world, and you start to get that itch to try it out for your. But jumping into a new format without a strategy is a mistake.

That’s not to say you have to avoid every new platform. Just do some reconnaissance and figure out who’s flocking to the space. Your brand doesn’t have to exist on every social media platform, but it should be on all the channels that naturally fit your voice. The Washington Post led the way for other media companies when it joined Reddit and TikTok, but you’ll notice that publications like Financial Times and Money haven’t followed the siren’s call. What they have done is develop strategies for promoting their content via channels their target audience already uses: FT makes podcasts, and Money focuses on email newsletters.

Keep your eye on the behaviors, preferences, and desires of your audience, and you’ll never go astray. When marketers or media professionals go off the beaten path and start creating content to feed their own egos, that’s when things spiral out of control. As in any industry, the customer knows best.

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