Strangely, as marketers we’re a lot more comfortable with science than with emotions. Strange, because as readers we know we respond best to emotional content. But time and again, I see article after article pitched at content marketers which use data to tell us how to create successful, shareable content. But it’s misleading. With a digital marketing strategy, that’s like putting the cart before the horse.
Have you seen those articles? They will be the result of “analyzing 527,000 individual web pages” or some similar BSN (Big Scary Number) claim. They will claim your posts need to be 825 words long. That your headlines should be seven syllables, and have a number in them. That all sentences must be active. And your most important point must be in the first three lines on the left-hand side of the page.
I made up all those figures in the previous paragraph. They are for illustrative purposes only.
I can see the appeal of the data-driven approach, even if I don’t agree with it. And I understand why marketers find it comforting.
My problem with that is that data can only map actions after those actions have occurred. To then say that the best route to successful content is replicate previous successful content is making a large (and unscientific) assumption.
A data-driven digital marketing strategy
Using data to drive creativity is like studying the way people use a shop. You could conclude that because 50 per cent of the people who walk into the shop buy something, we should put all our efforts into optimising the door.
The door is important. There is no doubt you need a door. But do you need to spend all your time getting the door right? Do you need to put more efforts into that than you do into, say, customer service?
We all know from our own personal experiences as shoppers that all we need to do is find the door in. But our decision to buy is based on a lot of other factors.
The power of empathy
Now, I’m not arguing against data. I believe data for measurement is vitally important. But data shouldn’t drive creativity, because we don’t gather enough data from each individual reader to effectively inform creative work.
That’s not a disaster. I think there is an alternative to data: empathy. Marketers are often uncomfortable with that, because it’s harder to sell ideas like empathy and shared values to your boss. It doesn’t seem as scientific.
The greatest headline of all time
A far less scientific way of writing a headline is trying to think of a phrase that would appeal to the person sitting at the next desk. I’m guessing that person is someone you know. Have a look at them. Give them a smile.
If you think of what you can write to appeal to that very person—perhaps something that will make them laugh, or that will shock them—you will end up with a very powerful headline.
That empathic approach is really what drove the creation of the greatest headline of all time. It’s a big claim, I know. That headline was from a New York tabloid newspaper, and was ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’. It was legendary. Journalists still remember it today. And it was all driven by empathy and rhetoric—nothing to do with science. I explain that is more depth in this article I wrote for Linkbird , which came out a few weeks after the headline’s author died.
In that article I pointed out that the first step with any great headline is to reflect the content of a great story. The second step was to use some rhetorical device to make the headline delightful.
Empathy is more important than data during this creative process, because empathy can explain individual action. And we, as marketers, don’t need to understand a group response to our marketing so much as a hundred (or thousand, or million) individual responses.
That’s because the channel to our market has changed from a one-to-millions broadcast model to a one-to-one digital model.
Your next steps
If you think you’ve got the right approach to your blog, your next step will be to get your strategy in order, and start thinking about how content marketing will work for you. Or if you’re all over that, maybe you need some ideas on how other writers generate ideas for content.
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Finally, if you disagree with anything I’ve said here, please feel free to leave a comment. We do read them and comment back, and I’m more than happy to discuss it with you.