Content marketing. We hear about it. We talk about it. But then, we actually have to do it.
If you’re in a business-to-consumer industry with attractive or interesting products or services, coming up with topics might not be that big of a challenge. However, for the rest of us who are trying to create engaging content for lawyers, plumbers, business software providers, and property maintenance companies, it isn’t as easy.
At the SEJ Summit in Chicago this year, I’ll be talking about how to create engaging content for “boring industries.”
How did I get pegged as someone knowledgeable in something so boring? Experience.
After years of writing for various industries and later managing large content teams, I have gathered a few tools that I keep in my toolbox. These are techniques that will make it easier for you to create content that engages your audience, no matter the subject. It all boils down to three things: storytelling, inspiration, and practicality (or S.I.P.).
Before you roll your eyes at yet another person preaching the power of storytelling, understand that there is science that supports its impact. Stories allow us to create an emotional experience for the reader and/or listener.
A study published in NeuroImage, a Journal of Brain Function, used an MRI scan to monitor brain activity while participants listened to a story. They discovered that the participants’ heart rates fluctuated as they listened to emotionally intense parts of the story (Wallentin et al., 2011). What was even more interesting is that there were responses in the participants’ amygdala, the part of the brain that experiences emotions and is responsible for detecting fear (Wallentin et al., 2011).
What does all of this neuroscience mean to you? When a story moves us or connects with us, we will remember. Taking it deeper, we will live the story.
A story can be told by written words, videos, or even images.
The goal is to put people into the character’s shoes, as they will project themselves into the story. They might empathize with the character and/or experience the same emotions.
Focus on developing stories of how past customers or clients have used your product or service. Think of it as a testimonial, but more in-depth with details and feelings.
Years ago, I was contracted to write content for a company selling LED billboards. During the initial conversations, I was instructed to describe the types of bulbs used, including the wattage and specs. High schools and colleges were among the market segments this company targeted because their billboards could be used to project game scores and announcements. That gave me an idea — instead of focusing on the specs and features of the lightbulbs only, what if we highlighted the experience?
With the client’s permission, I told the story from the school’s perspective of what it was like to see the billboard flashing the winning score of the football game and fans cheering. That article — and later others like it — had much better results than the pages that were solely focused on the actual lightbulbs. The conversion rate was higher, along with the time spent on the page.
You’ll create more engaging content when you aren’t scrambling to think of a topic at the last minute. Taking a proactive approach to content topics will save you and your team countless hours of time and frustration.
We are exposed to thousands of marketing messages each day, not to mention the amount of headlines we hear or see. Pay attention to what’s around you and determine if there is an angle you can take with that topic or message that would apply to your target audience. Ask yourself: “How can I translate this information into something useful for my audience?”
Warby Parker is a great example. Many magazines will feature a section showing what celebrities have in their bags. Warby Parker took a fun spin on it with a series of blog posts.
Any time you come across something inspiring, save the idea. You might be able to take an interesting and unique angle, just like Warby Parker.
If you need some help in the inspiration area, consider using BuzzSumo and Google Trends. When you come across intriguing content that you want to use for inspiration later, use a tool such as Pocket to store the articles or pages.
Google Scholar is another great resource when it comes to getting some inspiration. Regularly look for research and studies that pertain to your business. You can use them to create interesting blog posts and even infographics. Just be aware that you might have to pay to have access to the published articles, but it could still be worth it.
Practicality is one of the many keys to engaging content. Consumers are inundated with content online. How can you make it personal and practical to them?
Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”, provides a great illustration of the power of practicality. In the book, he shares a story about a college that was trying to encourage students to get their tetanus shot.
Initially, the college put out flyers that used fear as an approach. It didn’t work.
So the college took a different approach with its next flyer. They provided the location and time to get vaccinated. Suddenly the information became practical and it worked.
Practicality is crucial to engaging content. Content becomes practical when you can show your audience how they can apply the information.
Explain how your store is located right off the freeway, making it an easy stop on the way home from work. Describe how you can answer someone’s questions by simply clicking/tapping a link.
Practical and personal go hand-in-hand. Your content needs to speak to people on a personal level.
What questions does your target audience have? What concerns should you address?
Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of personal injury attorneys and this concept is something we had to always keep at the forefront. We would spend a great deal of time thinking and researching what people went through after an accident. Our focus would then be on their worries and questions.
When people are searching online and end up on your website, they will be looking for a few things:
- What problem do you solve?
- Why should I care?
- Can I trust you?
Addressing the common questions of your audience and showing empathy will go a long way in conversion.
There are various tools that can help you pinpoint common questions, including Answer The Public and BloomBerry. BoardReader can even give you some insight into what people are talking about, which can help you find topics that can become personal and practical.
S.I.P. Your Way to More Engaging Content
Whether you’re a writer or manage writers, don’t be discouraged when you’re tasked with writing content for an industry that you might not find exciting.
People become interested in topics when a need arises. Then, suddenly, that topic is no longer boring.
Your job is to ensure that when your target audience finds your content, it engages them, whether that is through storytelling or being practical and personal.
Always keep your eyes open for inspiration. When you do, content creation will become a breeze.
Wallentin, M., Nielsen, A. H., Vuust, P., Dohn, A., Roepstorff, A., & Lund, T. E. (2011). Amygdala and heart rate variability responses from listening to emotionally intense parts of a story. Neuroimage, 58(3), 963-973. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.06.077