Digital Content Strategies – Empathy and Storytelling

This is a follow-up to my previous post regarding the importance of quality, and that SEO is not necessarily the sole contributor to attracting visitors to your site, and particularly retaining them. A key strategy is to stimulate a positive reaction through entertaining, engaging front-end material which encourages custom, revisits and personal recommendations.

Informing, entertaining and converting potential customers in a commercial context is a big ask. And with a deluge of alternative content and FacebookWhatsAppTwitter noise, engaging your readers quickly is challenging.

Hooks. Empathy. Storytelling. These are the tools you’ll need.

While there are well-documented guidelines regarding SEO, the implementation of which can be something of a mechanical process, what represents entertainment is subjective. Material that floats one person’s boat could sink another. Professionals in the entertainment industry command high salaries because after a hard day at the office a box set binge or video game are just rewards for the graft and stress of the workplace. They are also increasingly important given the growth of “cocooning”: with difficult economic conditions, high levels of terrorist threat and so much good TV, why not just stay in, snuggle and munch?

There’s also a lot of force language use in marketing: it’s a push, there’s a target, persuasion and coercion. A gentler approach may well prove more effective given potential customers’ increasingly tech-savvy and marketing-aware nature. This is not limited to younger demographics: older people represent a growing and increasingly important segment given the ageing populations in evidence throughout the world.

To reach visitors at an emotional level a storytelling element in your front-end content is essential. This doesn’t mean you’ll open with once upon a time – the key is to demonstrate empathy with potential customers’ lifestyles and requirements. You can offer solutions because you understand their needs, conveying your marketing message between the lines – the greatest challenge for any writer. The most important attributes required to produce such content are consideration, time and thought – elements so many marketers are unable to utilise, instead adopting a high-pace scattergun approach,  because if you throw enough mud some of it will stick, right? Well, maybe. If you’re lucky. And if mud’s your thing.


For consultancy on digital content strategy, writing or editing, please get in touch, or you can tweet me to say hi.

See below for the decisions used in the writing of the above article.
Read the previous article here: Digital Content strategies: the importance of quality.

The techniques in the text

  1. I had trouble with the first paragraph as there was a lot of information to convey, I needed to mention the previous post, to summarise that post in a formal tone, and wanted a reference to SEO. I opted for “attracting” visitors rather than the more immediately obvious “securing” or “acquiring”, as these two words imply ownership, imprisonment and possession, whereas “attracting” indicates a pleasurable experience and positive choice.
  2. I wasn’t happy with the weight of the first paragraph and the length of the sentences, even though the text did work. I therefore opted to split the first paragraph into two: the message was the same but the feel was lighter. The second paragraph highlights problems and indicates solutions to follow. I later split the final sentence of the second paragraph for emphasis, and merged the following two paragraphs because they flow naturally, and the greater weight builds strength. I’m not keen on the phrase “big ask” – it’s right up there with “my bad” – but it works in this context and conveys the thought in a concise and familiar way.
  3. The three single-word sentences are used to emphasise their importance and to isolate these concepts. The word “storytelling” is italicised to convey three things: a gentle suggestion that storytelling may not be something you’ve considered as relevant to content marketing; the word’s importance; my enthusiasm for it. I might not choose to open with “hooks”, which has quite aggressive connotations, but these words flow well in this order, and boost the importance of “storytelling”.
  4. In the fifth paragraph I chose “influenced” over the more immediately obvious “dictated”, due to the negative connotations of the latter. You probably don’t want to think of Hitler, for example. Similarly, I opted for “the people you’re trying to reach” over a more standard alternative such as “your target market”: again, the latter is perfectly acceptable marketing language, but reaching out is a softer, friendlier concept that implies a helping hand rather than the aiming of a weapon. You’re not intending to shoot your customers, right? Right. I’d also actively avoid “acceptable marketing language” as much as possible – it’s acceptable because it’s used everywhere, by everyone: blah de blah de blah, read it before, same old same old. You want to stand out? Be different.
  5. I like “stay in, snuggle and munch” a lot. It conveys the essence of a justifiably self-indulgent evening under a blanket with someone you love in a few simple words. Dopamine, anyone? “Stay in, snuggle and snack” would give a triple ’s’ sound, but snack just doesn’t come across as cosily as munch, which implies sharing, crumbs and crisps.
  6. When using “box set binge” I was tempted to mention Netflix – “a Netflix box set binge” has a pleasant flow and there’s a double ‘x’, but the simpler “box set binge” packs more punch; indeed, the double ’s’ sound merges “box set” into what is effectively a single word, thereby making the double ‘b’ more effective.

You get the picture.
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