Why marketers should use the inverted pyramid

This useful tool isn’t just for journalists. Here’s how—and why—you should apply it to your next email campaign.

Take a page from journalism 101: Increase link building and outreach response rates by using the inverted pyramid.

When I was a communications major with a concentration in advertising, I shared a lot of classes with journalism students. I’ve since forgotten the majority of the AP Stylebook and can barely speak much less write, but there’s one lesson that stuck with me—the inverted pyramid.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, the inverted pyramid is a journalism technique in which the writer frames an article with the most important information at the top, details in the middle, and general information toward the bottom.

Most readers won’t get through an entire article, so the point is to provide all the facts as quickly as possible. People will read through the details if they’re truly interested in the subject, but if not, they still walk away informed.

The “most important information” usually means the five Ws:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why

And, sometimes “how.”

While this structure can kill creative license, I think the inverted pyramid should be the standard for link development and outreach emails.

I found an example of the inverted pyramid in an article on The Wall Street Journal, “Baidu Launches a Mobile Browser.” The first sentence of the article is:

“China’s largest search engine by revenue, released its own mobile-Internet browser and said Monday it would invest in a new cloud-computing center in a bid to gain more control over how Internet users in China access the Web through smartphones.”

With just one sentence, the reader walks away knowing:

  • Who: Baidu, China’s largest search engine
  • What: Released a mobile browser
  • Where: Online
  • When: Monday
  • Why: To gain more control over how Internet users in China access the Web through smartphones.
  • How: Through investment in a new cloud-computing center.

The rest of the article has more words, but I’m busy and didn’t bother to read them. Why would I? I got the whole story in one sentence.

You know who else doesn’t read past the first sentence? Email recipients.

Why didn’t they read past the first line? You:

  • Didn’t get to the point.
  • Sounded too professional.
  • Sounded unprofessional.
  • Sounded like a robot.
  • Sounded like that guy whose great uncle died and needs you to hold his money.
  • Addressed her as “Mr.”
  • Addressed him as “Madame.”
  • Didn’t say anything important to the reader.
  • Talked about yourself the whole time.
  • Didn’t get the name of the reader’s business right.
  • Buried the lead.

Marketers, like journalists, have a responsibility to their audience to grab their attention and give them everything they need in one line or less.

When you build links, use the inverted pyramid for your outreach efforts. Put the facts in the opening line, add the details next, and if you feel it’s necessary, add other relevant information at the end. Pair this structure with a personalized, appreciative and genuine tone, and you will see immediate increases in your response rates.

Rhea Drysdale is chief executive officer of Outspoken Media, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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