Write for Your Audience, Not Your Boss

By David Burda  |  February 9, 2016

Image of wine and computer on left side, and right side is typewriter and plant

The most effective journalists write for the public (if they work for a general-interest publication) or for a specific audience (if they work for a special-interest title). The least effective journalists write for their publishers to attract advertising or become publishers someday.

Readers trust the former and will read them religiously. Readers are wary of the latter and will look elsewhere for information they can trust.

Companies that seek to build their brands through content marketing should apply that journalism lesson to their content creation activities. They should produce content for their targeted audience. They should not create content for their boss or their boss’s boss. It sounds simple and a matter of common sense. But it’s easier said than done.

It’s easier said than done because of how content marketing programs typically get off the ground. A forward-looking marketing or communications manager often initiates the content marketing program at the brand. He or she has to sell the idea to a director, the director has to sell it to a vice president, the vice president has to sell it to a senior vice president until a skeptical c-suite executive approves the plan albeit with a budget that’s half of what was requested and for half the time required to see the desired results from the new content marketing effort.

The scenario establishes a path of least resistance for the manager charged with creating the content. Absent is a 100 percent commitment to delivering credible, trustworthy and useful content to the brand’s audience, it would be easy for the manager to produce content that pleases the director by serving the interests of the vice president, senior vice president and skeptical c-suite executive. That usually means plenty of mentions of the brand and the brand’s products at the expense of focusing on the issues most important to customers.

When that happens, just like the danger it poses in journalism, readers will become wary of the content and will look elsewhere for information—and a brand—they can trust.

Every brand, whether it’s established or a start-up, should know what issues are top of mind for the customers or audiences they’re trying to reach. That knowledge should come from ongoing customer feedback, market research, industry surveys, trade reports, personas, customer journey mapping and more. Those issues, in turn, should define the range of field for the content to be created—not only in terms of subject matter but also how customers and audiences prefer to consume that content.

Two former colleagues—both journalists who have ventured into content marketing—are doing just that for their brands:

  • Charlotte Rowe is editor of Oliver Wyman Health, a thought-leadership website operated by the health and life sciences practice at Oliver Wyman, the management consulting firm based in New York.
  • Nicole Voges is assistant director for healthcare marketing strategy at the healthcare services division of Crowe Horwath, an accounting and consulting firm based in Chicago.

Among the hot healthcare topics their content is addressing in a variety of formats are: healthcare consumerism, retail health, price transparency, mobile health, chronic medical illnesses, Medicaid expansion, charity-care expenditures, 340B compliance and healthcare data analytics. The topics are no different from many of those being covered by leading healthcare industry trade publications such as Kaiser Health News and MedCity News.

I have no doubt that Oliver Wyman Health and Crowe Horwath offer products and services to help healthcare organizations deal with those challenges. But, the selection of their content clearly starts with recognizing what’s top of mind for their respective audiences. It’s about identifying a customer need and then meeting that need with content.

Successful content marketers create content for their audience, not for their bosses.

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Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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