Adam Fisher
2nd November 2018 - 5 mins read
B

ut there are some themes which run through content that makes people stop scrolling, think differently and take action.

In fact, we believe there are seven critical factors that all written content should strive to include. A piece of writing doesn’t necessarily have to contain all of these elements but consideration to each should be given before you put pen to paper.

 

Emotional storytelling

Humans have been communicating through stories for more than 200,000 years. 

And today, while ‘storytelling’ has become something of a content marketing buzzword, good stories still stand the test of time.  

Compelling content features personal stories which readers can relate to, that stirs emotions and takes them on a journey.

People want to hear stories about other people – humans bring stories to life.

If you think about the stories we consume every day through newspapers and broadcast media, they are all about people. And the first question journalists ask themselves when working on a story is ‘so what does this mean to people?’.

Strong content harnesses this human interest in the same way.

At Thirty Seven, we use journalists to tell captivating stories in the digital world

The ‘so what’ factor

Strong content often excites, shocks and causes people to think differently.

Often, great content is original. Even the best writers will struggle to make the same tired arguments interesting for an audience that has heard it all before. 

It is the same principle that makes a story newsworthy. Journalists are always looking for something unusual or new to write about, whether it is an opinion, some original insight or a new product. Stories that include these factors will get more airtime and newspaper coverage.

To stick with that journalism theme, and to use an old adage, dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog certainly ticks the unusual box.

Just ensure that any new, unusual or bold claims in your content can be backed up. Oh – and just because something is ‘new’ does not make it interesting. Consider this carefully - why should people care about your content?

 

Make it personal

Often the real strength of content lies in how much of themselves the author is prepared to share.

Personal anecdotes add real credibility to content and can bring the message you hope to get across to life.

Referencing problems, issues and frustrations that you have overcome, and how you solved them, shows that you are ideally placed to be producing this content.

In the blogs I have written for our sister company Media First, it is the ones where I have drawn on my experiences in journalism and communications which get the biggest response and the most interaction.  

You can also make content personal by writing the way you speak. I’m a great believer in trying to write the way I would tell the story if I was talking to friends in the pub – just without the bad language.

When producing quality content, draw in on your own experiences. People want to relate to what they're reading. - Via @37agency

 

Originality

Let’s face it, there is a lot of content out there, so to stand out and grab attention in a really crowded marketplace you need to offer something different.

Essentially, your content needs to add something new, whether it is a different perspective or opinion on a topic. This means you need to know your subject inside out, through extensive research and interviews and also know what other people have previously written about it.

Including personal experiences and examples can certainly help boost the feeling of originality and authenticity.  

 

Educational

Valuable content often provides answers to the questions your customers are asking.

This means that in order to produce meaningful content you need have a really good grasp of who your audience is and what the issues are that matter to them.

For some brands, the concern with this approach is that they are giving away their knowledge and expertise with no guarantee of a return.

But those who can see past this and can help customers address their challenges become trusted, are viewed as being credible and tend to build long lasting business relationships.

 

Strong headlines

A strong, interest-sparking headline, can be the difference between someone reading your carefully prepared work or it heading into the content abyss.

But what makes a compelling headline?

Numbers are an important tool – take another look at the headline of this blog. But, we are far from being alone in our use of numbers. If you look around on the internet you will find lots of content headlined ’9 reasons why…’ or ‘7 steps you must take…’.

Relatively low numbers can suggest your content is succinct and incisive, while it is widely considered that odd numbers work better in headlines. They also suggest authenticity because, rather than rounding up advice into a neat ten, for example, you are just giving them the information they need to know.

And as much as it pains me, as a former journalist who was taught to always spell out the numbers one to nine, using the actual digits appears to be more powerful in web content headlines.

 

Bold statements are another good way of ensuring headlines stand out and can add intrigue while asking questions in the title can leave readers wanting more. If you look at the Daily Mail website – the most popular English-language site in the world – you’ll notice it regularly uses questions in headlines to draw readers in.

 

Simplicity

An often overlooked factor in strong content is simplicity.

Readers want content which is easy to understand and consume. They will quickly lose interest and switch-off if they can’t understand what you are trying to say.

This means it is crucial that your content uses the same language your readers would use in everyday conversation.

Short paragraphs and sentences are important factors here, while jargon and unnecessarily complex or decorative words should be avoided – remember, you are not producing content to impress colleagues with your vocabulary.

You can read more about the importance of simplicity in content marketing in this recent blog.  

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Marketing

Why simplicity is vital to content marketing

Adam Fisher 2nd February 2018 — 5 mins read
W

e can probably all recall investing time to read something that grabbed our attention with an enticing headline, only to find it was convoluted and tricky to follow.

Perhaps it is the quest to create something original and valuable that drives organisations to inadvertently opt for content which creates barriers to comprehension and distractions from the main message.

Maybe it is a fear that they will not be seen as an expert in their field that leads them on a path to complicated language and clunky phrasing.

Whatever the reason, it is hugely frustrating for both the reader and the author. Ultimately, if people can’t understand what you are trying to say they also won’t know how you expect them to act.

But this situation is solvable.

Simplicity is the key to understanding and therefore should be the foundation of all written content.

Newspapers and journalists know this.

The average reading age of the UK population is generally considered to be around nine years.

The Sun has a reading age of eight, while the more highbrow Guardian has a reading age of 14. That doesn’t mean they think their readers lack intelligence, it means they know where to set their writing so that the vast majority of readers can understand it.

But how do you make your content simple to understand while still producing something valuable?


Lose the big words

The important thing to remember about your content is that you are not producing it to impress your colleagues with your vocabulary.

And very few of us have time to reach for the dictionary when we’re reading. Invariably if we can’t follow what is being said we quickly give up and disregard that content altogether.

This means that when producing content we should always think twice about the more decorative words we could use and consider if there are simpler alternatives. For example, use ‘start’ instead of ‘commence’ and ‘near’ instead of ‘close proximity’.


Short sentences and paragraphs

One of the first lessons drilled into any young journalist is the importance of using short sentences.

At the start of my career I was told to keep mine between 20 and 30 words long and it is something I try to stick to now, 20 years later.

The reason is that long sentences and those with multiple clauses invite unnecessary complexity.

Similarly, long paragraphs can be daunting for readers and cause them to switch-off and lose interest.

Again if you look at a newspaper or magazine, very rarely will you find paragraphs consisting of more than one sentence.


Avoid the jargon

A regular frustration with much written content is that organisations often fall back on jargon to explain what they do and the messages they are trying to get across.

The problem is that often these words and phrases mean little to people outside that industry or particular company – instantly turning off readers.

But use of jargon in content also suggests that you don’t know the subject perhaps as well as you should or think you do. Remember the famous Albert Einstein quote - “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

It also implies that you have nothing new to say to the reader (in which case why should they read on?).


Stick to everyday language

The key with written content, even with the more formal style used in whitepapers, is to use the language that you and your readers would use in everyday conversation.

When I’m writing content I try to use the language I would use if I was explaining the point to a friend or family member in a pub or café – just without the swearing.


Reading out loud

One of the tricks I use to test the simplicity of my own content is to read it aloud. Sure, it generates some funny looks in the office, but it’s a good way of identifying words, phrases and sentences which may be confusing.

If I stumble over parts of it, or find myself having to reread certain paragraphs, then it is fair to assume my content isn’t as straightforward as I intended.


Test the readability of your content

There are easy to use tools you can use to test the simplicity and readability of your content. Word offers two useful measurements.

The Flesch Reading Ease score uses the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in each word to calculate how easy it is to read a document. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is to read and ideally you should aim for a score of between 60 and 70.

The second check, known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, is an equation which tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your content.

The grade score is based on the American grade system and essentially you need to add five to your grade to find the reading age of your content.



As you can see, in the above image my reading ease is 60.3 and my grade level is 9.7, meaning a 14-15 year old should be able to understand it. It’s also worth highlighting that the average length of a sentence in this post is under 20 words.

To find your score, simply go to the ‘file’ menu, then ‘options’ and then on to the ‘proofing’ tab.

Under the ‘when correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ heading you need to tick the box which says ‘show readability statistics’.

Then when you run a spelling and grammar check you will find the two readability scores.

Simplicity is a very effective content marketing strategy. It is not about dumbing down or insulting the intelligence of your readers.

It is about ensuring your content is easy to understand for as many people as possible. And that takes skill. But, it is well worth it.

Steve Jobs famously once said: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”



At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Adam Fisher
14th January 2019 - 6 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.