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.


I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
Find out more, tweet me, or email.

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.


 

Digital Content Strategies – the importance of quality

Search engine optimisation of your content is the answer to everything. If you can nail the SEO you’ll be at the top of the rankings and success will follow.

Well, kinda. Effective SEO is only half the story.

The real key to success is customer retention. To achieve this articles need to engage readers emotionally. With increasingly busy lifestyles people are no longer prepared to spend time reading material that does not entertain on some level, or which fails to convey a positive message.

Whatever text you produce, you’re always writing about people. Efforts to sell your products or services will always be more successful if visitors to your website sense attachment. Copy with entertainment value will trigger the release of dopamine, generating a pleasurable response and thus increasing the likelihood of buying, returning, and perhaps most importantly of all – sharing: whatever marketing and promotional strategies you employ, word-of-mouth recommendations between friends will always be a fundamental generator of new business.

New business and customer retention. Is there anything more important?

There are clear, added value benefits in commissioning quality material for your website, thoughtfully produced by someone with experience and skill. Still not sure you need a specialist? For insight into the decisions and techniques utilised to write this post, read on, MacDuff!

The techniques in the text

  1. The first paragraph mentions “SEO” and “content” – these two words are probably why you’re here, and you agree with the statements made. I’m speaking your language. These are also two fairly pacy, jaunty sentences. I deliberately wrote “search engine optimisation” in full for this very reason. The word “nail” was chosen for its punch – when reading this you’ll probably visualise a nail, the strength and purpose of which underlines the importance of this paragraph.
  2. The second, very short paragraph doesn’t disagree with the one preceding it, and also tells you you’re correct – a positive assertion that strokes your ego slightly, releasing dopamine, and gains your trust. The second sentence primes you for the fact that, well, you’re not entirely correct. The informal tone is also a contrast to that of the first paragraph, holding your attention.
  3. Also in the second paragraph the word “story” is a deliberate choice. The natural (obvious) phrase here would be “half the battle”, but “battle” has immediate negative connotations which would establish a barrier. “Story”, by contrast, indicates a pleasurable experience to follow – entertainment, anyone?
  4. Similarly, at the end of the third paragraph I chose “fails to convey a positive message” over “conveys a negative message”, even though the latter is slightly more concise. This was in order to end on an upwards mood. Note the increase in pace here, too. Earlier in the paragraph I could also have chosen “waste time”, but opted for the more positive “spend time”.
  5. The appearance of the piece is balanced, making the text visually appealing. The shorter paragraphs indicate that it is easy to read and digest, while the heavier blocks communicate and support particularly important points. Finally, the post ends on a lighter note, and encourages you to read further (still here?). It culminates with the paraphrase of a Shakespearean misquote. This will engender a positive response from anyone familiar with MacBeth, and the use of an exclamation mark is in any case uplifting. Win-win! Entertainment, anyone?

Similar decisions were made in the writing of these notes. For example, the subheading The techniques in the text was chose for its flow, and the double teck sound. The first draft was produced longhand.

Read my follow-up post, Empathy and Storytelling.


I’m a writer, workshop facilitator, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
Find out more, tweet me, or email.

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Mechanical Heat – friction in workflows

There’s a lot of advice on the internet about how to achieve a “frictionless workflow”, the seamless passage of ideas and text along a productivity chain that increases speed, maximises output and enables you to do more, quicker. I’d argue, however, that a little bit of friction is a good thing, and that speed is not always a writer’s best friend. This is particularly true when it comes to creative endeavours.

You’ve had an idea? Great. Start with a notebook – a proper one made of paper and card rather than a device of glass and metal. Write down the basic concept, the bare bones. Doodle. Flesh the thing out. Draw lines linking possibilities. Fill in some of the letters or use different coloured pens. Have fun! Or try a typewriter. Bash out some words. Enjoy the clickity-clack-ting of the keys and the chug of the carriage as physical impressions of ink are hammered into paper. Cuss and curse at all teh mistaks. Marvel that people used to write novels this way.

When you’ve written or typed the chemical soup in your head into something more tangible, cut up the paper. Savour the sound of scissors as you snip the extraneous, distilling the words into their most concise form. Screw up the remnants and throw them towards the bin. Miss, mostly. Move the rest around. Try various relationships between concepts or characters. Marvel as new possibilities form.

Only now move to the computer. Forget formatting – content is king. When your notes are transferred to the electronic realm allow the piece to rest. Go for a walk or bike ride. Take a long bath. Listen to music or watch a movie. Let your backbrain do its thing, for it is during these periods that further connections often become manifest – and these are sometimes the best.

While true that such an artistic approach may not be practical in the workplace or when a deadline looms, setting your text aside for even a short period is likely to reap benefits. And if the project is in no way time-pressured leave it for a week or a month, then return with fresh, more critical eyes. Rinse and repeat, until the idea begins to generate heat of its own, and allow the work to flow.

snippets


I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
Find out more, tweet me, or email.