How do I make my content better?

April 8, 2022

Listen instead

After 10 weeks of discussing content theory (you can read past editions right here on the Novelise blog) for the next few weeks we’re going to go on a journey to answer 1 simple question:

How do I make my content better?

Before we go any further, the college Debating Secretary that still lingers inside me thinks it’s important that we define our terms.

First, content:

Stuff that fills space on the internet. The words (mostly words), images, video, infographics and other tools your audience uses, reads, experiences, and learns from.

Better, of course, is more subjective.

And - annoyingly - it changes.

To define ‘better’, you have to understand ‘good’

This next bit might be familiar to some readers.

It’s the bit where I talk about how good, better and best are subjective, and change over time. And instead of aiming for a single finish line, ‘better’ instead relies on us aiming for doing our best against a certain set of principles.

So here we go.

When I started my writing degree, back in the hellish brutalist tower that is UTS, The Davinci Code was everywhere. 

And it became the brunt of all of our jokes. 

We - clever, artistic, alternate, wanky - writing students, could tell, without reading more than a few pages, that it was bad. 

And yet, millions of readers around the world disagreed. They loved it. They lapped it up. They wanted more Dan Brown. It became a movie. With Tom Hanks no less. It was good!

Who was right?

Both camps. And neither camp. 

As popular fiction, The Davinci Code is brilliant. Every chapter is short and ends on a cliffhanger. It has a serious pace to it. 

As a reader it makes you think, what’s the harm of reading one more chapter? Next second, it’s 3am, your eyes are watering, your back is sore, and you’ve read the entire thing in one sitting.

It’s the paperback equivalent of the Netflix autoplay feature. And it’s what made it so successful at airport bookstores.

It’s a sign that - when it comes to novels, or film, or any other kind of content - ‘good’ is subjective.

But, there are principles and techniques that guide what ‘good’ is in different contexts. 

And it’s these principles that we can rely on to make content ‘better’.

Until we get into what those principles are (next week - promise!) we need to unlearn some of the marketing jargon we’ve all absorbed over too many years on the internet.

Content principles to unlearn

The original subheading here was ‘the 3 E’s and the case against them’.

I am prepared for angry replies.

Out there in (particularly social media) marketing land, there is this theory that your content should do 3 things:

  • Engage
  • Educate
  • Entertain

I’ve seen other variations.

Your goals should be engagement, education and enjoyment factor.

Every blog should contain a mathematically sound ratio of education, entertainment and selling.

And these aren’t wholly bad principles to lean on. If I suggested that ‘good’ is subjective I have to accept that so is it’s opposite. But these principles are only useful in very specific contexts.

Lucky for you, I’ve thought through how we can reconsider these “rules”.

  • Instead of engagement, think about a focus on clarity and action. Make it easy for people to take in the information, and make their next action obvious.
  • Instead of education, think about providing the information your audience needs, right now, to help them do whatever it is they want to do (more on that soon).
  • And instead of entertainment or enjoyment, think about appropriateness and ease.

People shouldn’t always be oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing over your content. You’re not running a circus.

Instead of reaching for enjoyment as a pillar of your content strategy, let’s just not make people mad, shall we?

  • Chasing a late payment? The kind where you’re using words like ‘debt collection’? Send the clown car packing.
  • Acknowledging an error or apologising for something not being quite right? Tell Dumbo to put away his magic feather, he’s not flying tonight.
  • Running a funeral home? Turn off the stage lights and pack down the mics. This circus gig might not be for you (unless circus themed funerals are your niche, good for you).

Let’s use content to reduce their frustration or friction through the process.

I’ll share more on the principles that can guide us to that ‘better’ place, next week.

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