[Video] New York Times’ T Brand Studio shares 12 tips for creating killer content

“We see that audiences are a lot more likely to find the brand a trustworthy source when the content that we’re sharing provides value to them,” says Lauren Reddy, director of audience development and insights, T Brand Studio, New York Times.

The Native Advertising Institute asked Lauren to share the most important tips for brands doing native advertising when she was a speaker at the Native Advertising DAYS event.



Below are highlights from the interview which have been slightly edited for clarity 

1. Make people’s lives easier

We encourage brands to think about the needs of their audience and what content they can create that will provide value.

If you’re a financial advertiser talking about retirement, can you gage your recommendation to the user’s aid so that it’s personally providing actionable info for them? If you’re a health technology brand, can you share solutions that will help your readers live healthier lives? Which devices should they buy? Which actions should they take?

We can really see that that actionable information that can help readers improve their lives and this builds brand trust which is often a goal of content marketing.


2. Write a killer headline

With native advertising content, readers need to choose to engage. You can’t force them to read an article.

The first step in getting a reader to choose your story over the hundreds of others on the internet is to write a great headline.

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When we work with brands, we focus a lot on what is a great headline for their piece. Does it clearly tell readers what the piece is about? Does it clearly tell readers what to expect when they click? So that when readers are scrolling at lightning speed through their feed across our site, they’re seeing this headline, knowing what the piece is about and knowing if it’s relevant to them.


3. Use data

So, you need to write a clear headline that states what the piece is about and what value it provides to the reader.

But more importantly, you have to ask yourself: will the target audience click on it? Because often we’re writing for audiences that are different from us. So it’s important to get into the mindset of that reader.

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Use the data you have about that reader, not stereotypes, to understand who they are and if this is actually a headline that’s going to be of interest to them.


4. Find the unique story

We all see hundreds of headlines every single day to hundreds of stories. How do you choose what to click on? You want to learn something you don’t already know.

If you see a headline and think, “Oh did I read that piece last week? Did someone already send me that?” then you’re not likely to click. It’s a waste of your time.

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So we really want to encourage brands to find what about their story is unique? What is new? What is fresh? What’s original? What’s timely? And really focus on that element so readers can see this is a unique news story that’s worth their attention.


5. Be native to the platform

An important question we’re always asking is, is the story authentic to the brand? But also, is it native to the publisher?

New York Time subscribers come to us expecting a certain kind of content and we want to make sure that the brand storytelling that we’re offering up lives up to that value and is of the same quality as our editorial content.

It’s important that the content feels authentic to the brand, native to the Times, but also native to the platform that it’s distributed on.

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If we are distributing the content on a social platform we want to make sure we’re tailoring the content. With video, for example, it’s not just cutting it down to a shorter length but really thinking: is this optimized for mute viewing? Is this something a user can enjoy in-stream? Is this something that will catch their attention in the first few seconds?

These are important questions to ask when you’re putting content on a social platform. Is it cut for that platform? Will it feel native to that platform?


6. Spark a reaction

We see that content really performs best when it sparks some sort of a reaction.

For one marketer, maybe that will be shock and surprise. Another marketer might want to make the audience laugh.

But we want to make sure that the content is sparking some sort of a reaction as readers are a lot more likely to recall the content and, of course, share the content if they feel something and have some sort of a reaction to the story that we’re sharing.


7. Tailor the content to the specific readers

We see that readers are most likely to engage with content that appeals to them personally. Maybe it relates to their field of study in school, their passion points, their geographic location, their generation, their gender identity.

So whenever possible, we think about how will this appeal to readers personally? And how do you highlight that?

For example, we’ve seen content with geographic specificity does very well. If we have an indexed ranking of cities we can target posts about Los Angeles to readers in Los Angeles, we can target posts about Chicago to readers in Chicago and help those readers find content that’s geographically specific to them.

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Or with our retirement financing piece, we want to help readers know that no matter what their age is, there’s something here for them. So whether they’re teenagers thinking about how to structure student loans or someone who’s approaching retirement at an older age, we want to customise that content towards them.

So it’s a great thing for marketers to ask, how can I make this content appeal to you, specifically, the reader, and highlight that when I’m distributing the story.


8. Provide actionable information

We are continuing to see success at the Times with content that provides readers with actionable information that will help them improve their lives.

Especially with so many untrusted sources on the internet, it’s great to find a reputable publisher that can provide you with valuable information you trust. That can help you improve your life today.

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We’ve seen that with sleep content. A lot of our top paid posts have related to the topic of sleep. So we try to provide them with tips that will help you sleep better tonight. Actionable insights that you can use to improve your life today from reading this valuable content.


9. Plan to be spontaneous

It’s very difficult for marketers to think about being timely. Because campaigns are often planned months in advance. But it’s very important to be relevant to users right now.

Your content piece will be distributed along-stream of recent social posts from friends and family, breaking news alerts. So think about when you’ll be promoting the content. How can you make it feel timely?

Maybe it relates to a certain season. Maybe it relates to a particular cultural event or sporting event, a particular holiday, or a news event that will be happening during that time. So whenever possible, plan to be spontaneous, plan to be timely in advance, so that your content can really feel relevant and fresh right now today.


10. Adjust the length

Whenever we’re crafting a story, we want to ask ourselves: will the readers actually finish this piece? You want to come up with a length that’s right for the story that you want to tell. There’s no need to make it a long-form piece if it can be told in a shorter burst of content. Other stories may require more words.

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So think about what’s the right length for this specific story. And then, what’s going to incentivise readers to finish? Is there a tension or movement within the narrative? If you’re exploring a problem, are you presenting a solution at the end of the piece? What will motivate the reader to continue?

That’s also important as a lot of Times’ external links to the brand page are the bottom of the post. So if readers have finished the piece, they can go seek more information on the brand’s site.


11. Think story before format

One mistake marketers can make is prioritising format over the story. We focus a lot on what is the right format for the story but story needs to come first.

Prioritise figuring out what’s the right story that this target audience will care about, what’s going to provide them value, how do we get our brand story across, and once that’s been established and all parties are excited about that story, then is the time to think about what’s the best format to tell this story?

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Maybe it’s a map, maybe it’s an interactive graph, maybe it’s an animated video that’s distributed off-site, maybe it’s a long-form narrative or a quiz.

But all those questions on format really need to come after what’s the story and then we can best determine what’s the best format to get that story to the target audience.


12. Listen to the publisher

We encourage brands to listen to The New York Times insights on what works with our readers because we know them best.

RELATED: Thinking like a journalist will make you Awesome at native advertising

We’re publishing hundreds of URLs a day, we have a large number of paying subscribers who trust us who come to us. So if we’re creating content with a brand, that’s gonna succeed best when it’s a really great blend of what’s authentic to that brands but also authentic to the Times’ voice and what our readers come to us for.

Therefore, we really encourage brands to think like a Times journalist, to think about what our readers engage with and use all the data we have to understand those readers and create content of value.

Lauren has been named 1 of “100 Significant Women in Native Advertising” – Download the ebook here.


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