“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Whether you’re a journalist, a fiction writer, a biographer, a marketer or a corporate PR pro, the art of telling a good story will invariably lie at the heart of what you do. Attracting the attention of your audience and then holding them captive is an invaluable skill. Stories that inspire, inform, entertain and move are undoubtedly the best way to engage with people and make an impression.
But it’s an increasingly crowded, noisy market out there, with hundreds of people clambering for the attention of an information-hungry and web-savvy hoard. Added to that, not only does everyone have a story to tell, they have the power to publish instantly and broadcast it to the world (or whoever is really listening among the crowd of supposed friends and followers).
While everyone has the power, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have the ability. There may be millions of voices out there but as discerning individuals, we’re likely to seek out the best – the articulate experts, the influential thinkers, the most knowledgeable and reliable. Nothing beats quality, and quality content is king.
It’s how you get noticed – through original, authoritative contributions that people will then associate with your identity, or in marketing parlance, your brand. So how do you create content that will make an impact?
Successful content marketing depends on a number of factors that will inform how you approach your story and how far your story gets – because within that story will lie:
- The key to your SEO success (key words for Search Engine Optimisation),
- Your reputation as an expert (the reason that people listen to you, work with you or follow you), and
- Your appeal (the unique selling points that differentiate you from your competitors).
- Knowing your audience, what they want, what they need and how you can provide all of that is obviously essential. What do your prospective clients or readers currently read, who do they respect, what are their favoured sources of information? This is the context in which you want to operate so it’s important to know what it’s made up of, who your competitors are, and how you can place yourself among them.
- Knowing yourself is equally important, if not more so. It may sound like a no-brainer but it’s amazing how many people haven’t articulated their own vision. Your vision defines who you are and how you will be perceived. It will shape those vital first impressions, so it’s important to get it right. After all, if you haven’t thought through your vision, how are you going to get other people to buy into it?
Here are some useful questions that can help you formulate your vision, or your brand:
- What is your long term goal, what do you want to achieve?
- What are the short and mid-term objectives that will help you get there and act as mini milestones along the way, against which you can measure and review your progress?
- What are your interests (the answers here will inform your key words)?
- What and with whom do you need to connect within your field of expertise, how will you build up a network of contacts, clients and readers?
- What are your Unique Selling Points, what makes you stand out from the crowd and how will you use this to promote yourself?
Answering all of these questions will get you halfway to not only having a vision, but also having a business plan, a well-articulated identity that you can use when describing yourself, and therefore the way that others will come to describe you. This creates an effective communications thread and it will help you to reinforce your profile, through SEO of online content and through the reiteration of your key descriptors in all your communications – consistency is just as important as quality.
When it comes to developing your content, your story, think about the following, because journalists, editors and the reading public are bombarded with information every minute of every day. For them to take notice, your pitch needs to contain the following:
- Hook: what makes a story newsworthy? What is ‘the hook’ to an issue on the current news agenda?
- Timing: is it current, urgent, contemporaneous?
- Significance: how many people does it affect (the more the better), is it surprising or unusual, what’s the ‘wow’ factor?
- Proximity: can readers bond with the story, is it close to their interests or neighbourhood?
- Prominence: is there a famous or high-profile figure involved, a celebrity or a renowned expert?
- Human interest: does it have emotional appeal?
- Case studies: is there someone or something that captures the essence of the story?
Last but not least, how do you ensure your writing is best it can be? Whether you’re writing fiction, marketing copy or web content, the basic principles apply throughout. Here are a few:
- Know your subject area, knowledge is power
- Know your audience, speak to them in the language and tone they understand and will respond to; adapt your style to meet the needs of the people you want to…
- Inform, educate, inspire
- Use examples, tell a story and use pictures
- Read, observe, listen and adapt
- Have an opinion, be an expert, and say it with passion
- Keep it simple and be clear, avoid jargon and if you must use it, explain it
- Check, check and check again: for spelling mistakes, repetition, jargon. Your reputation depends on this, and you want to be remembered for what you say, not how badly or inaccurately you said it.
And finally, remember that in order to interest anyone, you need to make the important interesting and the interesting important. Tell it well, tell it with passion and tell it with meaning.