Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What The Post (And Ben Bradlee) Can Teach You About Content Marketing

For a guy who passed away in 2014, former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee is suddenly very popular again. He's currently being portrayed by Tom Hanks in a new historical drama called The Postand he was also featured in an HBO documentary, titled The Newspaperman: The Life And Times of Ben Bradlee. While The Post chronicles the newspaper's battle with the government over the so-called Pentagon Papers, for me, The Newspaperman provided a broader picture of who Ben Bradlee was.

Featuring Bradlee's own narration - taken from the audiobook of his autobiography - and accompanied by home movies, The Newspaperman was a riveting look at a man who was both a titan and a maverick in American journalism. And, while Bradlee's story was complemented by remembrances and anecdotes from his family, friends and Post reporters past and present, one comment in particular really jumped out to me.

That comment, from former Post Publisher Donald Graham, alluded to Bradlee's style as Editor of the Post, and I found it very relevant in today's marketing climate. Speaking of Bradlee's editorial approach, Graham said, "Ben had the sensibility of a reader. He wanted to edit the Post in ways people would read it."

Now, if content marketing is part of your company's advertising and marketing plan, ask yourself, "Is the content we're producing being produced so that our customers will read it?" If the answer is "no," then it might be time to think like a newspaper editor and approach your content from the viewpoint of its intended target audience.

First off, look at the length of your content. Is it a long, drawn-out slog of a read? If any post generates a "TL;DR" response, then it's likely your marketing message will be DOA. Instead, remember that modern day internet users have notably short attention spans, and simplify and shorten to get your point across in fewer words.

Speaking of words, you might also consider your content. Is it keyword-ridden click-bait or does it contribute to a conversation? Does it serve as a valuable resource or it merely a thinly-veiled rehash of your ads? Is your writing focused on corporate-speak or consumer consumption? Does it engage the reader or does it exasperate them? Is it mobile-friendly or HTML hell?  Does it answer the questions your customers have or is it simply another vehicle for you to promote your business?  There's plenty of content on the internet. What does yours offer to make it valuable to your current and potential customers?

Now, think about your headlines. At the Post, Bradlee would look for stories and headlines that he termed 'tube-rippers." That is, headlines and stories so compelling that the reader would excitedly rip the day's paper from their delivery tube to get to the news. Are your headlines tube-rippers? Do they encourage your customers to click on and consume your content? If not, brush up on your headline writing so that your headlines grab attention and drive traffic. If you're not sure what's working and what's not, keep an eye on your analytics to see what headlines and content drives the most traffic and adjust accordingly.

Finally, who is your content serving; you or your reader? Yes, the goal of content marketing is to market your business, but the best way to market your business is to provide content your customers can use. For example, while your customers can use tips on goods or services to help them improve their life or business, grievances, rants or political opinions aren't real useful in content marketing. Make sure your content offers a value proposition to your customers before you tell them about the values you offer.

While Ben Bradlee was publicizing his autobiography, I read a newspaper interview where he said something to the effect of, "The internet will never replace the newspaper, because you can't read it in the bathroom and you can't wrap fish in it." And, while he he was half right about that, his approach to editing a newspaper can still serve as a valuable content marketing guide.

When determining the content you'll provide, put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and potential customers, and plan your topics around what will appeal to them. Then present it in a way that makes it easy for your customers to consume. Just remember that solid content marketing may not get you featured in the movies, but it will keep your customers glued to their seats (or their phones), and loyal to your business.

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