With the wide range of formats available to companies for online communication, the decision is not easy. This list provides inspiration and highlights advantages and disadvantages that are easily overlooked at first glance.
Which format is ultimately chosen always depends on other decisions in the content marketing process, such as the goals , the chosen topic or the channels for distributing the content. The point in the customer journey or the conversion funnel at which content should reach potential customers must also be considered.
The separation presented below is purely theoretical and artificially tightened – in practice, several formats are usually combined. For example, a landing page for a study could consist of short web-compatible text and some visuals, possibly also an interactive element. The associated PDF for download with the detailed results would typically contain mainly text, supplemented with images, tables and graphics.
- Text formats
- Visual formats
- Video formats
- Audio formats
- Interactive formats
First of all, the important note: All text content on the web is usually supplemented with other formats (especially images and graphics), because online nobody fights their way through a text desert voluntarily.
The format of the guide itself is not new and certainly not particularly attractive. But it works in many industries and for many companies. Especially if the knowledge is presented by credible experts (internally or externally as content partners), a good advisor can really help people. Then it is also gladly recommended and contributes to the positive image of the author.
Disadvantage: The effort it takes to write a really good guide on a particular topic can be enormous.
2. Study / survey
Anyone who collects their own data has a great advantage per se, because this source material can also be used for completely different publicity than just publishing your own study. For example, certain data sets could be made available exclusively to the trade press in order to increase awareness among hyper-relevant audiences in the niche without having to run expensive advertising. Another advantage of data-based content is the perceived objectivity .
Disadvantage: Many companies already have good data that just need to be evaluated. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to get understanding and / or permission. In other companies there is no data at all that would be offered. However, commissioning professionals to collect data quickly becomes very expensive .
Step-by-step instructions fit into the content strategy in many places. Potential new customers can have their first point of contact with a brand here; existing customers may be looking for details on how the purchased product is used in everyday life. In any case, good instructions are of course very valuable.
Documents, tables, guidelines or checklists that are actively used, recommended or even printed out can also convince professional target groups ( B2B ).
Disadvantage: In many cases, instructions in plain text form will not suffice, then the production effort is of course correspondingly greater.
4. List / Award
Everyone knows the format of the top 10 lists on all sorts of topics. Blog posts in this format are quick to create and at the same time are very popular with audiences with a limited attention span , perhaps because the amount and time required for reading can be estimated very well with the headline.
Anyone who also gives a prize or an award for first place or the top 3 on the winner’s podium can also use the whole thing as a hook for a kind of ego-bait .
Disadvantage: Top lists (also listicles) are almost too popular and are misused by many publishers for clickbait content, so that they can arouse skepticism in some users .
Whoever reports on news first can get a lot of free publicity as a source for further reporting .
Disadvantage: News about current developments are naturally difficult to plan and can therefore hardly be mapped in strategic content planning. At most, enough time can be provided in the editorial calendar, and then it is time to strike if the opportunity for news arises!
6. Press release
Even better: deliver the next cover story yourself!
Unfortunately not that easy. Nonetheless, press releases can lead to valuable mentions or even inquiries from journalists. For this purpose, a press distribution list should be set up in which consistently good press releases are written, i.e. only when there is really something to report and with bite-sized information that editors can use with as little effort as possible. On very special occasions, corresponding PR portals can also be used to ensure more dissemination, which then usually means costs.
Disadvantage: Not always predictable, similar to the news.
You might be interested in the following topics:
7. Test / review
Many products and services are searched for in connection with terms such as “best”, “test”, “experience” or similar combinations when potential customers are in the decision-making phase. With tests and reviews, exciting rankings can be achieved in the search results – even for terms outside of your own range or portfolio.
Disadvantage: When it comes to things or services that your own company offers (read: earns money with them), of course, credibility suffers. Then it can help to record customer testimonials or let independent experts have their say.
Frequently asked questions can be easily answered by experts. Such a collection of knowledge can be invaluable to the inexperienced, even if it may seem trivial to someone who deals with it every day. In addition to keyword research , inquiries from the sales force or the switchboard can uncover many such questions.
Disadvantage: Depending on how it is collected, the questionnaire can be long and confusing. So it takes a lot of hard work to answer every question and a challenge to sort all the answers so that users can keep their bearings.
9. Lexicon / Wiki
A lexicon or, for the more advanced information architect, a wiki helps organize large quantities of technical terms, vocabulary and concepts. In many industries, good reference works and glossaries are often recommended and rewarded with links.
Disadvantage: Similar to the FAQ, the question arises of how granular topics should be dealt with in order to find a healthy level of the number of entries – after all, these do not write themselves.
10. Guest Articles
A guest article does not differ significantly from a blog post or magazine article on your own platform, only that the material is passed on to another operator for publication. Popular formats are similar: news, advice, top lists, etc.
The advantage of the new (larger) audience is obvious.
Disadvantage: Guest articles are a double-edged sword. Certainly all content marketers want to reach new and overall more readers. At the same time, it is also about attracting people with excellent content on your own website. So if guest articles are used to reuse content slightly adapted, then that would be ideal – because your own content masterpieces should not serve as food for all exclusively external publications.
11. Whitepaper / eBook
Formats for PDF download are suitable for all topics that can be written about in greater detail. This is especially true if the target group may recommend PDFs by email or want to save the resource or even print it out. One advantage of this format is the freedom of design, as the document can be designed independently of the web layout or blog template .
Disadvantage: A lot of energy is put into a single resource here. The necessary time or the corresponding budget will not be available everywhere. And: If this piece of content then flops, which can never be ruled out, it can be difficult to argue for the rest of the content marketing strategy. Well-founded research in the selection of topics and sufficient seeding should not be missing.
In principle, the same applies to printed books as to eBooks. An additional advantage is the range in the largest product search engine (even without products): Amazon.
Disadvantage: The correspondence with publishers or the self-publishing of the printed matter results in a little more effort.
The question-answer game can be implemented with internal or external interlocutors. Anyone who manages to interview a well-networked luminary here may benefit from the additional reach through sharing in the network there.
Disadvantage: good interviewees do not grow on trees. Authorities in a field are usually in demand and busy people who are not easily inspired to cooperate (sometimes only thanks to financial incentives).
As already described above, the following formats are often not offered on their own as corporate content, but are surrounded by text for support or explanatory purposes or integrated into longer text formats such as studies or instructions.
14. Photo / picture (also as a gallery)
Depending on the topic, the central information cannot be conveyed or cannot be conveyed well without images. Accordingly, users want good pictures. This is particularly true of current trends (e.g. hairstyle trends, fashion trends, furnishing styles, etc.) and many other more inspiring topics .
Disadvantage: Images are not always available in sufficient numbers and quality. Online shops in particular often suffer from a severe lack of photos because product images from manufacturers only work to a very limited extent for content formats and there are also legal restrictions on use. In this case, it helps to consciously look for content partners who can provide photos.
Representations that are reduced compared to photos or show facts that cannot be recognized in real life can be a wonderful addition to textual content. Ideally, the style of the illustration also matches the voice and tone of your own brand .
Disadvantage: The competence for really good graphics and drawings is rarely found just like that, so you have to budget again for working with service providers or freelancers. To a limited extent , missing skills can be compensated for by design tools – but the limit is quickly reached.
The combination of several illustrations, often data-based, results in an infographic. In the meantime, this format is often ridiculed as being out of date or being sapped. However, if you manage to tell an interesting story with cleverly visualized data, infographics can still work well. Interactive infographics have become increasingly popular in recent years (more on interactive formats later).
Disadvantage: Money, Money, Money. Yes, there are tools that can be used to create infographics. But the results won’t blow anyone away. The more complex an infographic or the more complex the facts to be conveyed, the greater the investment will be. Unless you can fall back on excellent design and programming skills anyway.
GIFs can not only be used in the context of Internet memes. GIFs should at least be considered for anything that is more understandable, fun or noticeable as a short moving image without sound.
Video content is definitely on trend. I have explained elsewhere how it fits into the content marketing strategy. Here it should also be about specific formats for content with moving images:
18. Explanatory film, tutorial
Explanatory video formats can have many goals. On landing pages you can increase the conversion rate, as a resource for existing customers you can ensure satisfaction and loyalty – and thus increase the customer lifetime value .
The specific design depends heavily on the content to be explained. At one end of the spectrum there are tutorials on tools , because a screencast with a corresponding voice-over is usually sufficient here , there may be explanatory overlays or certain elements are highlighted in the post-production of the video. At the upper end of the effort and cost scale, on the other hand, there are explanatory films for the elaborate animations which must be prepared in order to make complex issues understandable as quickly as possible.
Everything that is already moving on a screen can also be captured as a video during this time – be it to save the file or to immediately broadcast the video live to the audience via a streaming service. The big advantage here is that the effort after the initial tool setup remains very manageable.
As already mentioned, relationships can be explained well with animations that cannot be recorded in a real film or not so clearly. In addition, animated videos can also be used for entertainment formats or artistic projects in a corporate content mix. The most extreme example: the Lego movies.
Disadvantage: animation talents are rare. Accordingly, a generous budget and a generous time window must always be planned for creating animations.
21. Image video
There is a diverse audience for the crisp self-presentation of a company – from potential new customers to applicants. It is always advisable to have such a video project accompanied by professionals with experience.
Individual projects in the company, special events, collaborations or even larger parts of the company’s history – there are various topics that can be filmed in documentary format.
Marketing needs emotions. That sounds plausible, but studies also find evidence of this. Advertisers quickly understood that video formats are particularly suitable for this, such as television advertising or, in the digital world, formats such as YouTube ads.
Live events or webinars can be further exploited by publishing video recordings. Depending on the topic and scope, this works with little effort uncut or better in the form of highlight clips .
25. Making of (look behind the scenes)
If videos are being shot anyway with a lot of effort, it is easy to hand another camera to someone around the shoot with the task of documenting the process. Such formats rarely produce impressive results when looking at the numbers. But the low effort and the presentation of the people behind it give the format its raison d’être when it comes to goals such as employer branding, image cultivation or the like. Examples of this would be the compilation of outtakes from the video series: I agree to the display of YouTube videos.
Podcasts have benefited from the proliferation of streaming music and the mobile internet. More and more users have become accustomed to listen to podcasts according to their interests – often with undivided attention, but more often by the way , etc. during the professional commuting, cooking, playing sports.
Podcasts are ideal for content marketing because they can be professionally produced with manageable effort and equipment. Content strategists don’t have to tear themselves apart in terms of subject matter either, because as a rule, existing topics that have already been worked out for other formats can be reused for recording a podcast – or the other way around: a new topic from a podcast becomes a blog post transcribed .
Content doesn’t have to be a one-way street and digital communication works both ways. If you let people participate, you can inspire them more easily.
Disadvantage: All interactive formats have to be built. Sometimes this works with tools in a modular system, but sometimes the (expensive) in-house development and programming cannot be avoided in order to create a really good resource.
27. Tool, calculator, configurator
The great advantage of these formats as planners, price and quantity calculators, product configurators & Co. is the benefit despite the proximity to products or services. A shopping guide in text form can be useful, but it won’t really impress anyone. In the form of an interactive configurator, it can look completely different.
If the target audience’s knowledge is scrutinized, it can be used in two ways to achieve content marketing goals. Either you stroke the ego of the quiz participants and let them show the good result easily on social media, or you use difficult quiz questions to show which gaps in knowledge still exist and focus on yourself as an expert .
As part of participating in a sweepstakes or competition, customer feedback can be collected, which can then be used in the form of testimonials, or it is combined with a call to deliver content – for example, images of products in their everyday context.
Disadvantage: Attractive prices for competitions are usually not cheap. In addition, a legal check should be made to determine whether the entry requirements are punishable by law or whether they are within the legal framework.
30. App / web application
Applications, be it as a “real” app, a browser-based application or a PWA , can be more useful, thrilling or simply entertaining thanks to interactive functions. One of the oldest digital examples is definitely the game Moorhuhn , although the least enthusiastic ex-grouse hunters have ever noticed that it was an advertising project by Johnnie Walker. Charmin’s example, the Sit or Squat app , was probably more successful, in which users can search for public toilets nearby and rate them in terms of cleanliness and overall condition. Apps with AR (Augmented Reality) or VR (Virtual Reality) functionality in turn bring completely new approaches. The more they gradually reach a broader target group, the more exciting these formats become for brands.
Disadvantage: game and app developers are not part of the basic staffing of an average online marketing department, so this expertise has to be bought at a high price.
There are similar arguments in favor of webinars as in favor of explanatory films (see above): On the one hand, the product range, the services offered or one’s own tools can be explained and shown to existing customers live. On the other hand, informational webinars can also raise awareness of new topics and convey that the presenter has important attributes such as experience, trustworthiness or sympathy. A webinar should definitely not become a sales pitch!
Advantage: direct feedback and contact with the audience
32nd event (also virtual)
The ultimate interaction happens when you physically bring people together. But it can also be slimmed down virtually, as we all learned in 2020. The hooks and goals of company events can be very diverse, from the applicant fair to the team building event (company celebration) to the specialist conference or blogger meeting.
Disadvantage: Real events have to be laboriously organized and the premises have to be paid for. This should not be viewed as a pure content marketing measure, because then the corresponding budget will probably not be released.
Presentations that are created as part of webinars or lectures can continue to be used for greater reach on the Internet. Platforms such as Slideshare are ideal for PowerPoint presentations. Of course, the slides can also be created specifically for this purpose. The presentations published there can then be easily shared on social media or integrated into blog posts and other websites.
With this selection, there will be at least one suitable for every company, every topic and every purpose, there are no more excuses. Once the topics are in the editorial plan and the formats have been selected, a lot of creativity and hard work are of course still required of the content marketing agency or their own team – but the first steps have already been taken.
Bonus tip: This overview of the many content formats is also wonderfully suitable for planning content recycling from the start or for checking in the course of the content audit which content deserves to be reused in a different format. For example, interviews are predestined for various formats: in text form as a blog post, in video as an audio track and finally condensed in a short quote as an image for social media.