During COVID, I got a bit annoyed with the content that brands were putting out. Every day, I’d be scrolling LinkedIn, Twitter or my email inbox and I’d have to wade through a sea of bollocks, platitudes and jargon in search of substance, context and actual content.
And it wasn’t just the words. The whole experience felt a little rushed and ill-considered, leaving me to suffer bad content in a bad experience. We spend months arguing over the colour of our logo as though the whole world is going to see it, then copy and paste our blog articles as though nobody will see them.
Whether your audience is sat in their home office (aka 2nd bedroom) reading your content on a laptop, or sipping coffee in the breakout space (aka kitchen) while scrolling on their phone, the experience needs to be pleasant to encourage them to keep reading and stay interested.
We took a look at the brands communicating well during lockdown and collated our top tips for content that makes people want to read on.
We promise, by actioning these tips it’ll make your content gooderer.
Get to the point. Quickly.
Between 2000 and 2015, people’s attention spans dropped by 25%.
Apparently, now less than that of a goldfish.
But what does this mean for your content?
- It needs to capture their attention and hold it.
Or they’ll leave.
- It needs to be punchy, sharp and direct.
Or they’ll get bored trying to decipher what you actually mean.
- It needs to be shorter than you think.
Or they won’t start to read it, never mind finish it.
It’s better to leave them wanting more than battling through to the end. Especially if your word count is high, but the actual content is low.
These rules apply across all communications. You can’t just spend hours crafting ad copy because it’s ‘direct response’. Everything in 2020 should be considered direct response. We’re surrounded 24/7 by a barrage of information and messaging; our brains don’t switch between ‘ad receptive’ and ‘content receptive’, we jump from one content platform to another and expect the same experience. You’re not competing with your competitors; you’re “competing” with all brands.
It’s hard to capture attention, but the fight doesn’t end there. Your intro needs to be compelling, but so does your middle and your end. On mobile, even more so than desktop. Readers tend not to like reading long-form content on a small device screen, so using the fewest words could help portray your message and keep the reader engaged.
While you’ve got their attention they’re yours, don’t give them an excuse to leave, there are enough Netflix notifications to entice them to do that already.
- Get to the point.
- Front-load it - either with compelling content or relevant context. Or both.
- Cut, cut, and cut again.
Respect your audience’s time, and they’ll reward you by giving you more of it.
Everyone is always exaggerating!
Of course, not everyone is always exaggerating, unless you’re doing it for ironic impact then hyperbole and exaggeration are best left for your arguments at home (apparently, I “NEVER” wash the dishes).
I know, it’s easy to fall into the trap of exaggeration and inflation amidst a myriad of sound bites and political statements, but there’s a reason journalists and politicians are two of the least trusted professions in the UK.
The same premise applies when trying to quantify a statement.
Saying ‘many industry experts’ or ‘incredibly rigorous and thorough testing’ has the opposing effect than intended and makes the reader more skeptical. If something needs quantifying, find the number or technical proof point.
It’s like when Boris says there have been ‘thousands of tests’ and you don’t quite believe him. But if he told you there had been 23,490 tests he’s more believable (albeit marginally so).
Research from psychologists found that exaggerations have differing impacts between those that make the statement and those that receive it. In that if you write it, you feel it intensifies your point, however if you read it, it clouds the point and is a surefire way to lose your audience’s trust.
37% of consumers trust brands less than they used to.
- Exaggeration never works.
- If it needs to be measured, quantify it.
- Save the hyperbole for witty impact, not intensification.
Specificity builds trust; vagueness reduces it.
Fit for a gallery
We all agree that writing is an art. We take pride in every word, sentence, and paragraph, labouring over every comma and semicolon, we’d hate to fall foul of grammatical rule-breaking. But then we give little thought about breaking the value promise between brand and audience, the intimate relationship between writer and reader.
Words are essential, but as is the aesthetic of the blog and the experience it provides. We’ve all clicked on a blog that promised fascinating insight only to leave the page immediately after being hit with a wall of text.
We need to craft our content with formatting, sub-headings, bullet points and graphics as though we’re creating a piece of art. You’ve got to entice the reader that the experience will be pleasant or they won’t stay around. Only once you’ve passed the ‘first scroll test’–the process of readers scanning your content to check it’s short, visually appealing and a pleasant experience–will your words be able to play a part in your marketing.
‘Aesthetically easing’ tips:
- Formatting is a treat for the eyes.
- Not every sentence needs to be long and complicated. Honest.
- First scroll test.
You’re contending with Netflix, eBay and Twitter for the attention of your audience. Work hard to earn it, work hard to keep it.
Whether you’re crafting content for a blog, tweet, or internal email it should all be placed under the same scrutiny. Your readers should be hanging off every word wishing the blog would go on all day, rather than searching for the first chance to do a ‘back-door boogie’.
How much actual substance is in your content and how much bloat has crept in? The key to becoming a better content marketer, and with it, a better communicator could actually be in saying less and choosing your words more carefully.