How to use the basics of journalism in your content marketing strategy

Changes to marketing strategy in recent years have produced a whole new writing genre in the form of brand journalism. It used to be called custom content, and was seen as a rather ‘out there’ approach to marketing that was time-consuming and delivered questionable results. Now, the results are clear and businesses need to find ways to produce compelling content about their products, services, employees and customers, and about issues that fit with their brand. Anything published on a blog, e-newsletter or website must be a conscientious part of your content strategy, carefully compiled by brand journalists.

Journalism basics

Anyone who has done any kind of journalism training will have been introduced to the concept of the five Ws of journalism. These are five basic questions that any great story should answer:
  • Who: Who are you writing about and why do they matter? How can your audience identify with them?
  • What: What’s going on that makes this a story? What are the key characters doing?
  • When: You may pose this question as: “why this, why now?” Timely content with a relevant hook is essential.
  • Where: Is the location important and if so, have you given it enough emphasis? How can you make the setting come alive?
  • Why: Why does your story matter? Why should people take the time to read it?
It may sound rather demanding for you to have to go through this process every time you write, but with so much new content being produced every day in so many different ways, you run the risk of being drowned out if you don’t have something important to say. It’s not just the five Ws that can be a helpful tool for content writers; some structural elements of journalism come into play when writing brand content as well: A great lede Your lede (or lead-in) is the first paragraph of your story. It introduces your story and, with any luck, entices readers to continue to the end. Journalists view this as the second most important copy element in a story, and the same should go for brand journalists. A bland introduction won’t keep people gripped. An attention-grabbing headline And we’re not talking “He did this and what happened next will shock/amaze/scare you…” clickbait. For as long as there have been newspapers, journalists have been vying for the attention of readers by making their headlines as eye-catching as possible. In the online market this is just as important. Wherever people browse they are bombarded by article headlines, so standing out in the crowd can be difficult. Add to this the fact that readers will automatically be more wary of ‘brand content’ as it is perceived as less objective, and you can see what an uphill struggle this task is. High-quality writing Of course, once you’ve got that all-important click and sold your story with your lede, you need to keep your writing style consistent, powerful and evocative if you want readers to continue coming back for more. With space (and attention spans) limited, you need to employ the basic journalistic principles of structuring an argument, presenting the important facts, and keeping the story flowing.

What does this mean for brand journalism?

We’ve covered some journalism fundamentals so let’s look at how we can apply these to brand journalism. When compelling writing and strong journalism techniques come together to help marketers engage with their customers, the results can be powerful. Let’s first be clear on the kind of thing we’re NOT talking about:
  • Listicles showcasing the top ten of whatever but providing no real insight
  • Stale content that offers nothing new compared to the countless other websites your reader has already looked at for the same search term
  • Lifeless case studies that don’t do credit to your brand, your clients, your customers or your staff
  • Content that’s been pushed out for the sake of ticking a box on a publication schedule rather than planned to deliver real value
  • Articles that lack a clear and consistent brand voice and message
You might be left wondering what the alternatives are. Simply put, you need to develop a sense for a good story and start creating original, news-worthy content (or get a professional to do it for you). There’s no need to over-complicate things, though. Let’s go back to the five Ws of journalism and look at how they can be applied to your own brand journalism strategy: Who? Perhaps the most important ‘who’ when it comes to brand journalism is not the people in your story but the audience you’re writing for. Your topic can be spun in many different ways depending on who you’re trying to appeal to. Let’s take as an example the topic of gardening and the following audiences:
  1. Parents looking for school holiday activities for their kids that won’t break the bank
  2. Retirees with a lot of time on their hands
  3. A young professional with limited time and apartment space
  4. School teachers or representatives looking for teaching opportunities
Consider how, as the owner of a garden centre, you could address each of these audiences on a level that interests them and adds the value they’re looking for:
  1. Creative planting ideas and ways to encourage kids to ‘grow their own’ at home and develop good attitudes towards food waste
  2. In-depth articles that educate those who have just taken up the hobby on plant types, garden maintenance tips and seasonal garden ideas
  3. Information about how to care for indoor plants or create a space-saving herb garden
  4. Free educational visits and ideas for vegetable gardens; case studies of success stories with other local schools
If you do feature people in your stories, make sure you say enough about them to give your audience a feeling of connection. Add quotes, descriptions and photos so the image of your customers, employees and colleagues comes to life for your readers. What? A custom content piece needs to have a clearly defined story that will interest a wide audience. Your garden centre may be stocking a new line of compost but it’ll be hard to put a captivating spin on this story, even for the most avid of gardeners. What is it that makes this particular brand of compost so special? If it’s been scientifically proven to make crops 20% larger, or it contains an ‘easy-clean’ ingredient which means it doesn’t matter how messy you (or your kids) get in the garden, you might just have a story. Whatever product or service you’re selling, you need to find an interesting angle to approach it from – consider its origin, manufacture, unique uses or unusual business model to get you started. When? Give some careful thought to the timing of your story’s release and you may just be able to find a hook to boost its performance. Regular calendar events such as Earth Day and International Women’s Day can provide an ideal platform from which to launch your story, while seasonal holidays offer the obvious opportunities. If you can’t find a good fit in the calendar, look to the news cycle and broader current events for inspiration. Natural disasters will get everyone thinking about home safety, while elections present a good opportunity to talk about politics. Do make sure your link sounds natural; avoid crowbarring the topic in so awkwardly that it’s clear you’re desperate to get attention by piggybacking on any news story that comes along (whether or not this is true is irrelevant). Also, never try to take advantage of a sensitive situation just to promote your brand; keep it ethical or you’ll do your brand more damage than good. Where? You definitely shouldn’t overlook the ‘where’ of your story if you’re targeting a local or regional audience. Being specific about a location will attract readers who care about local issues and will also give your local SEO a boost. If location isn’t a big deal in your story but you do refer to a place, at least add enough detail to give your readers a vivid mental image of the setting. This storytelling element will create more engaging content. Why? If you can’t clearly demonstrate a reason for your reader to give your article their time, they probably won’t bother. Are you solving a problem for them? Are you providing them with motivation or inspiration? Or perhaps just a good laugh? There is no shortage of content out there so expect your readers to be ruthless in demanding value from what they read. Dry and dull content will give the impression of a dry and dull brand, and nobody wants that.


By thinking about the five Ws and other journalistic writing elements you can bring your content to life and engage your audience on a personal level.Become a brand journalist so that everything you write has a clear link to your business but is also benefiting your readers in such a way that they will keep coming back for more. If you need a helping hand with your content strategy, we’re here to help. Just get in touch to find out how we can become your own personal brand journalists and remove the burden of content creation.