This is the third part of a series on content formats and distribution. See part 1, on defining formats and part 2, on connecting formats to distribution.
Content formats are central to the long-term success of brand publishing operations. As we have highlighted previously, brands often focus too heavily on distribution mechanisms and tactics before they’ve established valuable, repeatable formats that will form the core of what they produce.
While there are no hard and fast rules, some formats lend themselves much better to certain channels over others. Once effective and repeatable content formats have been established, they can be connected to the distribution channels best suited to them.
While there is no wrong way to tell a story, the selection of an effective format is in itself an art. Some themes or topics can be unpacked much more effectively with certain formats , depending on audiences and their interests, needs and goals.
Easily repeatable content formats also help with operational efficiency, creating a type of short hand for how a piece of conten should look, feel and be packaged, and helping aid effective planning. Well-defined content formats help resource-strapped teams operate faster and more efficiently.
Mastering a handful of common and established content types and formats — and learning to use them effectively — can quickly help any content creator engage audiences more effectively.
As that example illustrates, brand publishing teams have to be strategic at selecting the right formats to meet the needs of specific audiences and audience segments within them. They should be able to go up and down the theoretical ladder, and be able to produce content that can be presented in a variety of ways. The most important thing to remember is that successful brand publishing teams must take cues from journalistic processes, particularly when it comes to formats. For reported stories they must rely on writers that can approach the process as a reporter would – even if the sources are internal executives.
Choosing highly effective content formats
There are an infinite number of content formats available to brand publishers. What is chosen ultimately depends on the audience of the publisher, as well as the resources the publishing team has.
The best pieces of content tend to resonate because they’re packaged and presented in a way that allows the work to shine, and satisfies a specific audience need. While there are many content formats out there, it is worthwhile for teams to settle on a handful of established types, then train writers and editors to master them. Some established formats include:
- News story
Goal: To communicate details about a new development as clearly, quickly and succinctly as possible.
The straightforward news story is a cornerstone of any writer’s repertoire. Anyone who’s read the front page of a newspaper or website will be familiar with a typical news story and its structure and tone. It passes on a few clear pieces of information to the reader, including who, what, when, where, why and how, in addition to any background information or perspective that may be useful to help the reader better place the new events or information in context. Brand publishing teams should feel free to apply these journalistic approaches to news stories of their own. They might be used to outline a new offering at the company, new technology developments that impact their products or services or to report on new research or data pertinent to audiences.
When to use it: the news story format should only be used when significant, new information is available and if there’s a reasonable expectation the audience may not yet be aware of it.
If the information in question is not particularly new, a trend or analysis story might prove a more engaging and useful vehicle.
Approximate length: 300-500 words
Goal: To explain or explore the potential consequences of a new development or new information, often through a lens that’s applicable to a target audience.
An analysis piece means writers must seek out the input of subject matter experts to understand why something is important and how it would affect the audience. News analyses are particularly useful for brand publishers who want to showcase a company’s expertise.
Related to analysis pieces are trend pieces, which can highlight a series of noteworthy connected events and explain why they’re important and what their ramifications are for the audience in question. They can be helpful to cover timely developments without the constraints of a news story.
Approximate length: 500-700 words
Goal: To explain and dissect concepts and ideas to the reader in a simple and concise manner.
Explainers can be a particularly useful format for audiences, and great for brand publishing teams to show off their internal expertise. Explainers also can have longer shelf-lives – be relevant and valuable beyond the time they were publishers.
Case studies can also be a sub-format of an explainer. The goal of a case study is to explain how a person, company or group, achieved a goal or outcome. For brand publishers, case studies can be a more compelling and comprehensive way of touting certain achievements or technologies. Both explainers and case studies should be “reported” by the writer, by speaking to a variety of internal and external source that can explain what’s happening, and why it’s happening. If executed well, explainer formats can often be repeated to build up a body of content or a “franchise” that readers can access over time and may begin to seek out and pass on to like-minded people.
Approximate length: 500-900 words
Goal: To tell a story through numbers, charts and graphs
Research has become a powerful way for brand publishers to tell stories. Whether originally created or aggregated, research and data can tell a compelling story. There has to be a legitimate reason to use data to tell a story, particularly if charts or graphs are used to augment it.
It’s best to present research in a digestible way, so audiences aren’t overloaded or overwhelmed with a lot of numbers. Bullet points, a fixed number of charts, or simply orienting an entire piece around just one data point can help – and also help in creating a plethora of content out of one piece of research.
Approximate length: 400 words
Goal: To showcase perspectives of internal or external personalities
Voices are a compelling format for brand publishers to use. They can take the form of:
- Q&As with specific people about certain trends or developments (a good way to extend news stories)
- First-person opinion pieces written by executives
- “As told to” style stories where a writer interviews a personality and writes out, with some editing, what they said
They can fulfill a variety of objectives, from demonstrating expertise to showcasing a company’s employees or the work that they do. Voices, however, should only be used as a format if there is a legitimate reason to hear from a person at a relative length. If what they want to say can be briefly summarized in a quote, perhaps it’s better to use their voice in an explainer or case study.
Length: 400-500 words