I remember like it was yesterday: The very first day of my Journalism 101 class. My professor walked with authority to the whiteboard and drew a triangle. Everyone sat in silence as she asked what the shape had to do with news reporting. I’m not sure if it was first-day apprehension or if everyone was simply dumbfounded, but I swear I could have heard a pin drop.
Then she introduced us to the concept of the inverted pyramid.
What I then learned was a method that goes as far back as the days of the telegraph. The inverted pyramid represents the tried-and-true prioritization strategy used by journalists to structure information for readers. In this format, the most important information leads and is then followed by pertinent details and concluded with background extras.
Ideal for the newsroom, this method of front-loading the heavy-hitting information gives readers what they want immediately. It also allows editors to easily shorten columns if they run too long — you simply chop the tail and still have plenty for readers to gnaw on.
But does this strategy work in today’s complex content marketing world? For three reasons that cannot be ignored, the answer is no.
1. Reading methodology
Content marketing is primarily a digital effort. Sure blogs, newsletters and e-books can be printed, but most of the time they are read on a computer or mobile device. And how people read online content is very different from how they read a newspaper.
Countless eye-tracking studies show that people scan to interact with online content. With their eyes following a path similar to the shape of the letter F, readers are going beyond the lead — when you give them a reason to. If your content is relevant, well-organized and easy to digest, online readers will be hooked from top to bottom, meaning you shouldn’t give it all away in the first graph.
2. Opportunity to engage
Newspapers often want to inform a reader about critical information, and content marketing isn’t just about information. Great content marketing will not only inform, but it will entertain, connect and engage the reader beyond the who, what, when, where and hows.
It’s that engagement that builds the unbreakable relationships that leading brands have with their key customers. Rather than the one-way push of traditional reporting, it’s more like talking with a trusted friend. This high level of engagement is simply not possible when you get down and dirty in the first few sentences and fill the rest with mediocre fluff. Great content marketing will always leave them hungry for more.
3. Humanize through storytelling
One of the reasons I adore content marketing so much is that it really allows brands to add a human element to their outreach efforts. Even B2B brands can develop a personality and become storytellers. You are able to try various writing strategies to spark emotion and elicit a response from target audiences.
The lead is often the ideal location to begin the storytelling journey. You hook the reader there and they can’t help but go on. However, with the inverted pyramid, emotion and personality are replaced with data and facts. And while both of these can be key parts of a story, they too often strip the copy of the very thing that makes content marketing so magical: the opportunity to be a rainbow unicorn rather than just another horse in the stable.
While the inverted pyramid will always have its place on news desks everywhere, it just doesn’t work the same for content marketing. Remember, in a world of triangles, stand out as your own shape. Your readers will thank you for it (and engagement and rankings will follow).