For Great Content, Why Not Listen To The World’s Best Authors?
Over the last few years, the term ‘content marketing’ has lost currency. Everyone now thinks they’re a ‘storyteller’. But for all the talk about designing experiences and starting conversations, too much brand content is still riddled with unintelligible buzzwords and exists solely to sell a product. If it’s telling a story, it’s not an interesting one.
But while it’s easy to mock the idea that marketers are all storytellers (and of course, many people do), the reality is that the best content does tell a creative and engrossing story. The articles, videos and visuals that resonate with us are rooted in narrative and human emotion. And in the process, they can also deliver business results.
To this end (and as a self-professed bookworm), I’ve put together a list of my favourite quotes from some of the world’s best fiction writers – and how to apply these tips to your own content. After all, these authors wrote books that made us laugh, think and feel, long before every marketing manager dubbed themselves ‘Chief of Storytelling’. So who better to turn to for advice?
“If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word”
The hardest part of writing is getting started. Everyone knows the feeling of staring at a blank page, cursor flickering, while you wait for a strike of inspiration to hit you. Instead of giving up and scrolling through Facebook, just get started. Start writing and keep going, even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going to end up, or you’re just jotting down disjointed thoughts. Soon your ideas will start flowing, and you can turn them into something more coherent.
“Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent”
In business content and marketing, buzzwords abound. Everyone’s an Innovation Rockstar or a CX Guru, disrupting things left, right and centre. Unfortunately, this type of language usually has the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of wowing your audience, you’re more likely to alienate them when they don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Or worse, make them roll their eyes at another brand jumping on the industry-hype train.
If you have something complex to explain, don’t rely on product terminology that makes zero sense to anyone who doesn’t work for you. Break down the concept into its simplest components and look for examples that will make it relatable.
“The personages in a tale shall be alive – except in the case of corpses”
Okay, so it’s unlikely you’ll be featuring any corpses in your next branded e-book. But this tip from Mark Twain is still relevant – stories about your customers or employees should feel vibrant and alive, not stilted and dry. Think of them as characters. Find a point of interest and build a story that focuses on who they are as real people, not just what your products helped them achieve. What were their challenges? What are their goals? What’s their story?
“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling”
This advice is particularly important when you’re trying to engage time-poor business execs. Rich description and beautifully constructed sentences help to paint a picture, but your audience is busy. Get to the point. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make your writing as engaging as possible, but as King also says, you need to “kill your darlings”. Maybe you’re deeply attached to that clever extended metaphor, but is it really achieving anything? The most effective content is useful and actionable, not just entertaining.
“I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company”
This advice doesn’t just apply to kids. The best way to improve a skill is to learn and absorb from others. Study the writers you admire and figure out what it is they do well (and how you can emulate them). Read as much as you can about your industry, and do some research on the content that’s working well with your target audience. The more you can learn and understand about the things your customers are interested in or are struggling with, the more useful your content will be.
“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted”
Vonnegut’s list of writing tips is worth a read in full, but this is arguably the most important piece of advice. Who are you writing content for? And why should they bother listening to you? Too many brands create content for the sake of it – because they’ve heard it’s the new big thing, they have money left in their marketing budget, or they have a product to spruik. These just aren’t good enough reasons. You need to offer your audience something worthwhile so they walk away feeling like they spent their time with you wisely.
What are your top writing tips? Let us know in the comments section below.