May 6, 2019

What Marketers Can Learn From The Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a journalistic writing technique used in news stories where the most important aspects of a story are included in the first paragraph and the rest of the story is structured by order of importance.

This structure allows the readers to get all the essential information: the who, what, when, where, why and how, in the first couple sentences.

Some credit the initial popularity of this format to telegraph reporting, because if a field reporter’s transmission was interrupted, the most important points would still get through.

While digital media doesn’t have the same length restrictions as print journalism, and marketers don’t necessarily want readers to stop after the first paragraph, the inverted pyramid can still help marketers better communicate with their prospects.

“I think the main thing marketers have to learn from the inverted pyramid is the idea of providing value right away,” New Breed Copywriter Elizabeth Burnam says. “It’s not always necessarily providing the most important information right away, because if you’re writing marketing content you want them to stay on your blog, but there’s an importance to letting them know, right away, what kind of information they’re going to get — showing the value.”

How Can Marketers Use the Inverted Pyramid?

By posing the questions “who, what, when, where, why and how” in the first few paragraphs of a piece of content, the marketer can set clear expectations for the reader without revealing all the answers.

This assures the readers they’ll get the value they’re looking for from a piece, while leading them to continue reading.

“Nobody really cares what you have to say,” Elizabeth says. “Everyone’s busy — especially B2B buyers. Everyone wants time back in their day. So if they can find a way to not read your blog post, they probably will.”

Creating content with the inverted pyramid in mind ensures that you’re offering immediate value to your reader so they’re incentivized to continue reading.

“Some people would argue that you shouldn’t take the inverted pyramid approach to marketing content because you really want to hook the reader. You don’t want to give away all your secrets right away,” Elizabeth says. “I think there’s a balance to be found.”

Your introduction can combine intrigue and information to capture your reader’s attention without letting your storytelling get in the way of the facts.

The Inverted Pyramid in Email Marketing

The conciseness required by emails makes email content a prime candidate for the inverted pyramid style.

An email subject line is like a headline. It’s the first thing the reader sees and will determine whether or not they keep reading. Your email subject line should indicate what your email’s about and why your reader should care. If your email subject is too vague or unclear, the reader won’t click into the email.

“You want to tell people right away what value they’re getting out of the email and convince them to open the email,” Elizabeth says.

Once someone opens an email, they should be presented with concise copy that clearly conveys the who, what, when, where, why and how, and then guides them through additional information to your CTA.

“Make it as easy as possible for them to take that action and make the decision to take that action without ‘burying the lede,’ without burying the true value of what you’re offering,” Elizabeth says.

In journalism, a lede is the opening sentence of an article, and a hard news lede, used in the inverted pyramid structure, contains the who, what, where, why and how of a story. The opening of any email you write should contain the same elements as a hard news lede, because if a reader doesn’t understand why they’re receiving an email or what it’s about, they’re not likely to continue reading.

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How the Inverted Pyramid Can Be Applied to Your Content Strategy

When developing your content strategy for your marketing funnel, your prospects will need foundational knowledge about what a solution is before they can understand how that solution can address their challenges or how your specific product can help them.

This content strategy for ToFu, BoFu and MoFu content follows the inverted pyramid structure:

  • The most newsworthy information is delivered first through educational ToFu content
  • Important details that further develop the information presented in ToFu content are presented in MoFu content
  • Information that is less important to the understanding of the initial topic but still of interest to the reader is offered through BoFu content.

The information most essential to the audience is presented first. Each piece of content builds upon the information from the previous level and gets more specific.

“If you’re selling, for example, a marketing automation platform, before you can sell that to anyone, people need to know what that is,” Elizabeth says. “So, if you were developing an editorial calendar you might start out covering topics that define what it is, what it means and why it’s valuable, and then move into the details of marketing automation, like the strategies and tools, and later get more specific about how exactly you can help with marketing automation.”

“In terms of content strategy as a whole, I think of it as a lot of mini-pyramids,” Elizabeth adds. “Your content strategy should cover at a high level what you need to convey, and then get into the details, and then get into your solution specifically. In each piece of content within that, you want to provide value right away and do it in a way that pulls the reader through the rest of the post.”

The Takeaway

“For marketers, the idea behind the inverted pyramid is to convey the value right away, not necessarily convey the answers right away,” Elizabeth says.

Your opening paragraph needs to balance engaging the reader and conveying your brand voice while also making it clear what readers will gain from the post.

However, the inverted pyramid structure doesn’t work for every piece of content. There are also other styles of writing you can use, so let the content dictate the form. Determine what style works best for the information you’re trying to communicate while keeping the desires of the end reader in mind.

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Quinn Kanner

Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.


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