Writing Well is Overrated

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Lots of people are engaged in writing multitudes of stories – daily — for social media and episodically for email, websites, video scripts, and podcasts. Even more are writing business copy for their organizations.  Good stories often stand out because they’re unexpected or haven’t been shared before, while other content may stand out because it’s particularly well-researched and well-written.

So why are there so many websites and articles out there with seriously good content, but only a few readers?

There is an inordinate amount of time spent discussing “Content” these days (with a capital C!). Yet not nearly enough attention is paid to questioning whether this content serves a strategic purpose.

Common strategic missteps include “the humble brag” (and its cousin, blatant self-promotion), shoe-horning your brand into a conversation without adding value or talking about something that’s new to you but has already been widely covered elsewhere. Others mask their opinions with rambling and hedging – a sure way to lose reader attention and jeopardize the brand. No amount of superb writing will save a useless article from being ignored.

It’s time to stop focusing on enthusiastically written content and start paying attention to strategically written content.

Why Your “Why” Matters

For many of us in the communications industry, it’s easy to get caught up in writing exceptional prose. But content creation isn’t a category for a Pulitzer Prize.  It’s vital to start any content initiative with questions that set the stage for forwarding a strategic initiative.

I begin by asking myself why I am writing a particular piece. While it’s great if the content feels good to me, building an initial rapport with the reader, rather than simply diving into what I want to tell them, will help the audience better interpret, embrace and remember what I’ve written.  Is the audience supposed to experience the topic in an emotional or a rational way? Am I looking to change the reader’s attitude?  Is there a call to action? If not, I may need to scrap an idea or alter my approach.

Getting the Balance Right

Once I’ve answered these questions, it’s time to get writing. The North Star for me is to write in a way that resonates and is easily understood.  Doing so requires avoiding the temptation to pile everything into one piece; to not deliver an information-dump that makes it hard to focus on the big ideas.

To attain the right balance, I start by outlining everything on my mind and all the ideas I’d like to share.  Are most of the ideas supported by data? Facts? Examples?  Are any of the ideas something others have covered?  If so, scrap them unless you have a way to present them as unique to your brand or organization.

Now it’s time to edit!  [This is the hard part that opinionated writers hate – and editors hate even more.]

Take a page from the best stand-up comedians – tell a captivating story and get to the punchline without a superfluous word.  Too many ideas may lose your reader now and forever.  Be sure your content brings the story to life and proves your point.  Save some gems for another time!

Put your Content in Context

Context is critical. And nailing it means, yes, more questions to ask and answer!  How, when and where will your content be read?  What is the platform that will deliver this story?  For your content to stand a better chance of being read, it must come on a platform and at the time your audience will be best able to engage with it.  Be thoughtful about business and life calendars and assess the time of year and day of the week that your audience is most likely to be receptive to hearing from you on your particular topic.

Readers also have an expectation of how much time they will have to devote to consuming content.  They assume a blog post will be short. And they should be. A bylined article will require more commitment, but even The New York Times and USA Today are flagging their in-depth online pieces as “long form” so readers are forewarned.

A client recently purchased a two-page advertorial in a magazine seeking to tell its story in detail. The client was wondering how to convey a brand story within the editor’s limit of 400 – 600 words, so we built the piece around one key idea that would entice readers with its intrigue and value. We also encouraged the client to create compelling infographics and charts to illuminate the brand’s promise, anchored by using small blocks of copy to deliver the punch. 

No Pulitzers — but More Effective Content

Writing well should always be a given, as long as that writing meets strategic content objectives like brand awareness, education and lead generation.  The takeaway: know your audience and offer them content that is searchable, specific to their interests, and meets their desired method of engagement.  Tell a captivating brand story that lets readers apply key points to their own lives.  Only then will your good writing make your content marketing program effective.

Ivy Cohen

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