Journalists, take heart: content marketing needs you

Ed Asner as Lou Grant / Wikimedia Commons

John Oliver’s recent segment on the state of the journalism industry was perhaps bittersweet for reporters who feel vindicated by the exposé, but helpless to enact meaningful change.

But the good news, if anything, is that content is in high demand. And so there actually is a growing market for editorial skills. This will not likely cheer the Columbia Journalism School Class of 2017 graduates who dream of becoming the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein. But it does mean they’ll be able to pay back their student loans — and maybe even won’t have to marry for money or move in with mom and dad.

That was my takeaway from a recent conversation with Kayvan Salmanpour, the first chief content officer at digital marketing agency iCrossing, who joined the firm in July from Novel, The New Republic’s in-house content marketing agency, and content marketing platform NewsCred to “help brands develop and execute long-term content strategies that are highly informed, resonate deeply with people and drive performance.”

In fact, per Salmanpour, 99 percent of brands struggle with content because they publish without an editorial mindset.

“So I think [editorial is] hugely important -- now more than ever,” Salmanpour said.

Here’s what brands can learn from media companies when it comes to content:

Hire an editor in chief

It all starts at the top with an editor to oversee a brand’s content efforts.

“The 1 percent that are doing [content] well – the Red Bulls, the GEs, the GoPros…intuitively hired an editor in chief that didn’t report in to marketing,” Salmanpour said. “There are so many siloed teams producing content for brands…and they put all these teams together and then there isn’t someone sitting on top of all of that to make sure there’s quality control [and] the content is representative of the brand. So you’ll start to see more and more brands hire [editors] who have ultimate control of the content produced.”

Case in point: Brands that have brought on editors in recent history – and are knocking content out of the park – include Hewlett-Packard, Casper and Dollar Shave Club.

Create an editorial mission statement before anything else

Another problem with brand content is that it’s generic. And that means consumers don’t recognize the brand producing it, thus negating the premise.

Brands with good content, however, have clearly recognizable tone, point of view and values, Salmanpour said. And that’s because they invest time and effort in strategy and aren’t simply producing content for the sake of content.

In fact, brands should have an editorial mission statement in addition to a brand mission statement to ensure everyone within the organization is on the same page in terms of objectives, Salmanpour said. And this, in turn, has the added bonus of consistency.

Like, for example, Red Bull says it is “on a mission to fascinate.”

“That’s what trickles down – that’s their lens on all pieces of content they produce and there’s consistency in everything they’re doing,” Salmanpour said. “A lot of brands don’t have that because the person running the content strategy is a marketer with no editorial experience. That’s the big difference.”

Put the audience first

In addition, brands that nail content put their audiences first rather than the brand first as marketers typically do, Salmanpour said, which, he acknowledged requires a “complete shift in mindset.”

However, it’s worth noting brands aren’t just up against competitors anymore – they’re also vying for consumer attention with publishers and the volume is only going to increase.

“A publisher obviously thinks about who their audience is and will produce content for that audience, but in the kind of tone and style the publication represents,” Salmanpour said. “I don’t think brands do the same – they think about the product first…and they don’t find the intersection between what the audience wants to read and what the brand stands for.”

Don’t try to be everything to everyone

On a related note, content doesn’t have to resonate with every single consumer. Rather, good content fits seamlessly between the brand and its target audience.

“Look at Red Bull and the content they produce and the subculture they’re going after,” Salmanpour said. “People find it authentic because in a lot of ways, they’ve doubled down on the subculture and are earning their trust.”

And sometimes this even means conducting psychographic studies of the target audience and thinking about their habits in excruciating detail, which Salmanpour said is what Casper did before it launched Van Winkle’s. But, as a result, it means Casper produces authentic content that resonates.

“They knew if they launched an editorial site, it couldn’t be the typical type of content on the Internet that is academic or overly practical,” Salmanpour said. “They wanted to talk about sleep as a lifestyle pillar…and they figured out the tone they would have, which is slightly sarcastic and punchy, but the content is not condescending. They really figured it all out before the first piece of content went out and they nailed [it].”

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