Blog, feature or avoid? How to get the right content mix

May 19, 2014 11:38 am

What’s the difference between a blog post and a feature? Or between an opinion piece and analysis?

Coming from the editorial and publishing world, we take these – and many other content formats such as news reports, profiles, Q&A interviews and infographics – for granted. We have an instinct from years of experience that tells us the most appropriate treatment to give a piece of content.

In the new world of content marketing and brand publications, however, these are not terms all in marketing departments are necessarily familiar with (although we also know plenty of those folks who are).

But you should be. It is important not only to engage an audience using the right subjects and tone but also to get right mix of content formats that plays best to their needs and media consumption habits.

In our specialist area of B2B content marketing the readership our clients are usually trying to engage with are time-poor executives bombarded with all kinds of media. There is plenty of research out there about the reading habits of different types of audience (for example, from Google [link no longer available] and Forbes to cite just two). Make sure you know who your audience is, when they are most likely to consume this type of content and over which channels.

From there it’s about creating the right mix of content across a range of formats. If you’re not sure what some of the main types are, here’s our quick guide to some written formats.

Blog post
Cocktail mixPunchy and informal, usually based around a single idea or hook. That hook could be another article, a big news story, an event or a great video on YouTube (which you should embed). There is much debate online around the optimal length for a blog post.

This insight on Quartz says go short or go long but don’t get caught in the no-man’s land in between (500-800 words). Our take, particularly if posting frequently, is generally that a good blog post should be able to make its point in fewer than 400 words.

News
This is probably the most self-explanatory content format and one that most people understand from reading newspapers and online publications. These are structured ‘what, why, when, where and how’ reports of something newsworthy. They need to be timely, though. If the content turnaround and sign-off process for the branded publication isn’t fast then news quickly becomes out of date and misses maximum impact. Length: From just a few words (tweets and texts can be news) upwards. Bonus tip: news isn’t just about your company.

Comment/opinion
These are often referred to as thought leadership articles. A comment or opinion piece is the next step up from a blog post, with a more considered and in-depth take on a particular subject or theme but without simply reciting the main facts/issues about a topic. While it does need to provide context for the reader through supporting anecdotes, data and quotations, authors should take their own stance or position on a subject. If a brand spokesperson is authoring the piece (either from their own hand or via a ghostwriter), the emphasis should be on demonstrating authority and expertise on the topic and not simply selling the company and its products to the reader. There is no correct length for these but they are often between 500 and 1,000 words.

Feature
This is the main type of long-form content and, depending on the publishing platform (online or print), a feature can be anything from 1,000 words up to 2,000 words or several times longer. These give you the chance to explore a theme or argument in real depth and provide a rich source of information for your reader. They should bring in multiple sources of experts and organisations quoted and referenced and use various research and data points to illustrate arguments. Print publications will make full use of design, graphics, pull quotes, box outs and photography to show the feature off. Online they need good use of sub-headings, bullet points, charts and images/video to help break up the text on the page.

Interview
There is no magic length or format for an interview. They can take a longer-form, colourful, profile-style approach that you might see in weekend newspaper magazines or a shorter, punchier Q&A format. The key thing is to interview the right people for the audience. In a B2B context these might be innovators and entrepreneurs or are peers, often. Chief information officers or IT directors, for example, want to read about what their peers are doing.

And we haven’t even touched on video (a separate topic in itself), infographics or other long-form written formats such as white papers and research reports.

*photo credit: Didriks via photopin cc

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