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3 Ways to Create Extraordinary Content

By Karen TaylorAug 12, 2016

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Every minute of every day our world is flooded with a new wave of content. In the latest version of its popular infographic, Domo provides a glimpse of the mind-boggling quantity of content published every 60 seconds. Twitter users send 347,222 tweets every minute. YouTube users upload 300 hours of video. Pinterest users pin 9,722 images.

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Then there are the number of blog posts published every day—2 million. And the number of articles. The New York Times alone publishes 230 pieces of content every 24 hours and BuzzFeed posts 222 daily.

All of that is just the tip of the content iceberg.

Any content marketer has to wonder: How is our content going to stand out and make an impact in this deluge? How can we make our content extraordinary? What is extraordinary content anyway?

Everyone has a different definition of exceptional content. But a few characteristics consistently rise to the top—including content that uses storytelling techniques, evokes emotions and is highly readable.

Storytelling captivates readers. Emotions build strong connections. Readability removes obstacles. Here are insights on how to use these three content qualities to help your content stand a chance in today’s vast ocean of content.

1. Stories Captivate: Choose a Plot Archetype

“A story is a trick for sneaking a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind.” —Jonathan Gottschall, author of “The Storytelling Animal”

You’ve probably heard many marketing experts praise the power of storytelling. But have you employed this essential tactic into your content marketing yet? There are several ways to leverage storytelling to create more compelling, memorable, and impactful content. We’re not talking about writing Grimm’s fairy tales, Tom Clancy thrillers or Tolkien-esque fantasies. We’re talking about telling interesting stories in blog posts, client case studies, eBooks and videos.

One of the key elements of great storytelling is plot archetypes, which help shape relevant narratives. According to author Christopher Booker, there are seven primary story archetypes: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth. Do any of these archetypes sound like a good fit for your brand messaging?

  • Overcoming the Monster (think Beowulf). In these stories, heroes must fight and slay evil monsters threatening their world. They must emerge triumphant and receive a great reward. How do your products or services help customers overcome obstacles and win?
  • Rags to Riches (think Superman). Heroes go from insignificant and dismissed by others to exceptional. How do your products or services transform your customers’ lives?
  • The Quest (think Lord of the Rings). Heroes set out on long, hazardous journeys, battling obstacles until they are triumphant. What values does your brand represent that your customers can channel to overcome challenges and achieve their goals?
  • Voyage and Return (think Gulliver’s Travels). Heroes travel out of their normal world into the unknown, before escaping back to the safety of home. What journey to a new world and back can your brand deliver?
  • Comedy (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Comedies often involve mistaken identities, misunderstandings and confusion that result in hilarious chaos. What unfortunate alternative situations might your customers find themselves in that you can help them conquer?
  • Tragedy (think Breaking Bad). Instead of slain monsters and triumphant heroes, these stories do not have happy endings. What kind of unhappy ending will get your message across with shock and awe—and power?
  • Rebirth (think Beauty and the Beast). Heroes fall under dark spells, such as sleep, sickness or enchantment, before breaking free and being redeemed. What dark spell are your customers living under, and how can your brand reconnect or inspire them to redemption?

Are you having trouble visualizing how these storytelling archetypes actually work in content marketing? If so, take a look at seven award-winning examples of creative videos that use these plot archetypes—such as Under Armour’s “I will what I want” overcoming-the-monster story and Guy Cotten’s “trip out at sea” tragedy.

2. Emotions Connect: Find the Sweet Spots

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

It’s no surprise that people are much more likely to buy from companies they feel connected to emotionally. Several brands have mastered this reality. Think Apple, Harley-Davidson and Nike. Customers feel a strong emotional attachment to these brands, and the companies strengthen that connection in their marketing content.

Researchers conducted a study that looked for connections between emotions and viral content, and emotions and commenting behavior. They found what matters most is where emotions fall within the Valence-Arousal-Dominance (VAD) model. The scale is frequently used in psychology to categorize emotions. It says that each individual emotion is a combination of three characteristics:

  • Valence. The positivity or negativity of an emotion. For example, happiness has a positive valence, while fear has a negative valence.
  • Arousal. This is the range from excitement to relaxation. Anger is a high-arousal emotion, while sadness is low-arousal.
  • Dominance. This is the range from submission to feeling in control. Fear, over which a person typically has little control, is low-dominance. An emotion like admiration, over which a person has more choice, is high-dominance.

The study’s two key findings were:

  • Social Sharing. Sharing was connected to feelings of high-dominance where readers feel in control, such as inspiration or admiration. This explains why our Facebook newsfeeds are often filled with feel-good stories shared by our friends.
  • Commenting Behavior. Articles with a large number of comments evoked high-arousal emotions, such as anger and happiness, paired with low-dominance emotions, such as fear. For example, the New York Times articles that received the most comments in 2015 all featured emotionally charged, and often divisive, topics. They included Amazon’s stringent workplace policies, Kim Davis, a police officer charged with murder, the San Bernardino shootings, and the Benghazi panel.

What emotions are you willing to trigger in your target audience to inspire commenting or social sharing?

3. Readability Scores High: Aim for Simplicity

“A writer’s style should not place obstacles between his ideas and the minds of his readers.” —Steve Allen, founder of “The Tonight Show”

If people find it difficult to read, even the best stories or emotionally charged content won’t have the maximum impact. In other words, if your content contains “50-cent words,” complicated language and convoluted sentences people will stop reading. What’s needed instead is clear, simple language. When content is simple to read, it’s more likely to grab a reader and maintain interest. This means you should be creating content at a seventh- or eighth-grade reading level.

Writing content for 11- or 12-year-olds doesn’t mean that your adult readers have low intelligence. It means that complex content alienates readers. In fact, research on communication within the legal profession by Christopher R. Trudeau found two enlightening points:

  • The more educated a person is and the more he or she is a specialist, the greater their preference for plain English
  • 80 percent of readers prefer sentences written in clear English—the more complex the issue, the greater that preference

According to Mark Morris, head of Clear English at the U.K. Department of Health: “Those with the highest literacy levels and the greatest expertise tend to have the most to read. They just don’t have the time to wade through reams of dry, complicated prose.”

Luckily, you don’t have to guess about your content’s readability quotient; you can put it to the test. Testing your content is as easy as clicking a button in Microsoft Word (click “Options” within the Spelling and Grammar function). You can also use one of the many apps online testing tools, such as ClarityGrader or Readability Score. A free tool, Online Utility, provides feedback on how to improve your score.

While there are a variety of readability tests, the two most popular are:

  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: gives a score from 0.0-30.0 (very difficult to read) to 90.0-100.0 (very easy to read).
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: assigns a specific grade level to content.

Readability scores use different algorithms. But they all use similar factors, such as sentence length, syllable count and percentage of multi-syllable words. You can set yourself up for success by following this checklist:

  • Keep sentences-per-paragraph low. Break text into shorter paragraphs rather than huge blocks of content.
  • Keep words-per-sentence low. The ideal is about 25 words per sentence. This keeps the subject clear, makes your writing easy to read, and allows readers to breathe between ideas.
  • Keep characters-per-word counts low. For example, use “went” instead of “intended to go to.”
  • Eliminate the passive voice. Use “Sally ate an apple,” instead of “The apple was eaten by Sally.”

Fun fact: Two readability scores for this article, according to Readability Score, are: 

  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 58.4
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 8.1

The fight for attention in today’s content-saturated world will never end. The only chance any of us have to stands out is to produce exceptional content that captivates readers, builds strong connections and removes obstacles. These three skills will give you a fighting chance.

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Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at KarenTaylorWrites.com.
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