Writing compelling content for content marketing is hard. B2B marketers frequently cite that producing engaging content and keeping up with the demand for new content are their biggest challenges when it comes to content marketing. Ernest Hemingway is famous for stating, “Write drunk; edit sober.” That’s another way of saying that passion will make you a writer worth reading.
Being a writer isn’t easy. To quote another famous writer, Gustave Flaubert said, “Writing is a dog’s life, but it’s the only life worth living.” Writers should take pride in their profession, no matter how humble the assignment may seem. Each deliverable is an opportunity for greatness. Your words help mold the marketing and cultural landscape.
Writers are the new gatekeepers in publishing. No matter what the deliverable is, every content marketing effort starts with the word. Your first task is message creation. As philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “The first rule … of good style is that the author should have something to say; this is almost all that is necessary.”
The key is to come up with fresh ideas, stay relevant, and target your audience’s real needs. It’s a lot to balance. But if you’re a writer, then both the right and left sides of your brain should be pretty active. You’ve got what it takes.
Here are a few of my best tips to help you get started with writing compelling content marketing deliverables.
1. Rely on your advanced training.
You have to be a writer to do this job. If you lack knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and composition, you will fail to meet standards of excellence and meaning—which should be the goals of effective writing. Moreover, you should be schooled in the trade of storytelling; for example, concepts such as narrative arc should be close to your heart. You’re going to need some editors on hand, too. Ideally, you can take advantage of the expertise of designers and other visual creatives to help bring your story to life. Good editorial and good graphic design go hand in hand.
2. Look for a lead.
Some great content marketing pieces have journalistic leads that articulate the news value of the story and set up a narrative. If you can weave a compelling lead into the piece, you have the opportunity to grab the reader’s attention and enticing him to read further. In truth, your entire work should be so concise and engaging that readers go to the end without even thinking about it; they are simply carried along by the storytelling.
3. Keep writing.
Writing takes quite a bit of time, so you need a pretty good attention span. I spend hours writing a draft, restructuring sentences and paragraphs, and seeking the best flow for the message. To get started, remember that the person you are writing for has a problem—known as an “inciting incident” in fiction circles—and that’s the basis of your story. Start with the reader’s challenge and build from there. Consider thinking of the reader as the “hero” of the piece. You’re writing in service to your audience. Give it your all, every time. Keep writing. When you’re finished, you can get up out of your chair and do a happy dance. (I used to do that, but then I got older.)
4. Find the right verb.
In my work, I often write about technology and sometimes I get impatient because I seem to use the same verbs again and again. Some typical technology verbs include: implement, deploy, migrate, use, employ, take advantage of, facilitate, enable, need, want, adopt, and so on. Verbs are the heart of language. You should take verbs very seriously (but with a light touch) and use a variety of them. Find just the right verb—precise and accurate—to make your point in composition.
5. Use positive constructions as much as possible.
If you focus on positive language constructions in your writing, you will get a more robust result. For example, instead of writing, “Company XYZ didn’t have a desktop infrastructure,” you should write, “Company XYZ needed a desktop infrastructure.” This falls in line with the guidelines that Hemingway learned working as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”
6. Avoid marketing speak.
Hemingway was known for his lean, hard, athletic prose. Strive for the same elements in content marketing writing. Jargon and overblown language is inappropriate. The job of content marketing is to be credible and delightful. Its effectiveness is in building the reputation and trustworthiness of a brand and helping ensure that customers are satisfied and happy. Avoid marketing speak and—at all costs—exclamation points. (That should pretty much go without saying.) People instinctively trust a story, so tell the story and keep it real.
7. Know when it’s over.
One key to storytelling is to know when your tale is finished. Keep your pieces succinct, clear, and to the point. Trim your copy as much as possible to showcase only the relevant details, and nothing more. Enough said.
8. Work it.
People read your content because they have to make decisions about what solutions to adopt at their company. Still, every good piece of writing needs to have elements of storytelling, including regular instances of surprise and delight. Every article, blog post, and e-book should feature at least one “moment of insight”—that’s another fiction writing metaphor for when a character has an “aha” moment.
In success stories, it usually involves someone discovering how well a solution has solved a company’s business problems. In a blog post, it might be expounding upon how a recent experience or piece of research changed the writer’s perception of a common problem. With a good infographic, it’s all about how looking at quantitative information in a way provides new insight.
And remember, sometimes it’s the reader who has the moment of insight. You just have to lead him or her to it.
Want more? Download our solution brief, “Tell Me a Story: Unforgettable Content Marketing” for guidance on keeping your audience engaged with storytelling.