There’s so much content marketing out there that’s perfectly ok … but it lacks creative spark. Here are some ways you can get more vitality into your blog posts, videos, and podcasts.
When we write, day-in and day-out, it’s easy for things to get a little stale.
In this 16-minute episode, I talk about some of the techniques and approaches we use at Copyblogger to keep the creative flame burning. Specifically:
- Tell quick stories
- Find striking metaphors or analogies
- Mix the senses
- Maybe you’re funny?
- Practice your voice (social media works!)
- Escape your echo chamber
- Fire off The Godin Hack
Listen to Copyblogger FM: Content Marketing, Copywriting, Freelance Writing, and Social Media Marketing below ...
The Show Notes
- If you’re ready to see for yourself why more than 201,344 website owners trust StudioPress — the industry standard for premium WordPress themes and plugins — swing by StudioPress.com for all the details.
- My post on The 5 Things Every Great Marketing Story Needs
- Brian Clark on The Persuasive Power of Analogy
- An example of how I used my “Godin Hack” as a recurring podcast theme: Things I Love / Things I Hate #4
- I hope you’ll join our Content Excellence Challenge — this month’s pair of prompts will help you get more creative spark into your content
- I’m always happy to see your questions or thoughts on Twitter @soniasimone — or right here in the comments!
7 Ways to Boost Your Creativity
Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.
Sonia Simone: Copyblogger FM is brought to you by the all new StudioPress Sites, a turnkey solution that combines the ease of an all-in-one website builder with the flexible power of WordPress. It’s perfect for bloggers, podcasters, and affiliate marketers, as well as those of you who are selling physical products, digital downloads, or membership programs. If you’re ready to take your WordPress site to the next level, see for yourself why more than 200,000 website owners trust StudioPress. You can check it out by going to Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress. That’s Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress.
Hey there. It is good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always get extra links, extra resources, and the complete show archive by pointing your browser to Copyblogger.FM.
Today I want to talk about some ways you can bring a little more creative spark to your content. Maybe you’re producing content. It’s technically good. It’s useful. It’s structurally sound. It’s well written in terms of grammar and usage, but it’s too similar to too many other things, and it just doesn’t have that kind of juice to it. It doesn’t have that creative edge that you need to have if your content is going to work in today’s super competitive environment.
I pulled together seven techniques or approaches you can use to just get a little more life into your content and to bring that something extra, that something special to what you are creating, whether it’s writing, videos, podcasts. It works for any of these.
Tell Quick Stories
The first one is the most powerful one, but in a lot of ways, it’s the hardest one to bring in, and that is to tell a good story. You can tell a good story right off the bat, or you can lead into it. They’re both very, very powerful. Your ability to tell a quick, relevant, punchy little story is something that can do more for your content than probably anything else you’ll ever learn how to do. If you want to get some ideas about how to tell these quick, effective stories, look at jokes. Look at the way that jokes are constructed and the way that they’re told, especially fast jokes, quick jokes.
You also want to keep an eye out for good stories. If you read popular nonfiction, popular nonfiction is full of good stories. It’s just required now for that genre. Keep an eye out for how they’re told, and when you find one when you’re reading, take notes about it, really look at it. How does it establish the characters of the story? You cannot have a story without some kind of character, at least one interesting character. How does it establish the conflict in the story, the thing that keeps the story interesting and compelling? And then what’s the punchline? What’s the moral of the story? What’s the point of telling the story in the first place, and how is that delivered? How is it shown? How is it illustrated? How is it highlighted?
I did write about this for Copyblogger, so I will get you a link in the show notes, with just some kind of specific craft tips for how stories actually get constructed. I think a lot of people think that storytelling is an innate talent, and some people for sure seem to be very good at it, but it is something that can be learned.
Find Striking Metaphors or Analogies
The second way that you can put some more creative life into your content is to keep an eye out for interesting metaphors or analogies, comparing one thing to something that it is not very much like on the surface. The more different the two are, the more energy it creates, and the more interest, the more texture it lends to the content.
Now, metaphors and analogies, as you can imagine, often combine nicely with story. You can tell a quick story, even a two or three sentence story, about something completely off topic, completely different to what you typically write about. Maybe you’re going to tell a story about the lifecycle of a particular kind of moth, and that brings you around. The punchline of that story makes a point in your primary topic, and then you elaborate a little bit about why that is.
These kinds of metaphors and analogies really bring life, really bring something fresh to content. Again, Brian Clark actually wrote about this quite recently on Copyblogger, so I will go ahead and give you a link in the show notes.
Mix the Senses
The third thing that you can do, and this takes advantage of the actual wiring of the brain, is that when we have memories or experiences that involve multiple senses, they make a stronger impression. They’re more vivid, and they’re much more memorable, in fact, if you need to learn something, anything. You need to learn Spanish verbs, or you need to learn the periodic table of the elements, or whatever it might be, if you could combine multiple senses so that you think of copper as being green and smelling like bleach, you will remember it more effectively than if you’re just memorizing a two letter symbol for the element and its atomic weight. That’s why post images matter, because they immediately give you a visual element that combines with text to create a multi-sense experience that makes the content more engaging and more memorable.
Beyond just try and find some good post images, in your writing, and again this applies to spoken word writing, like you have in a podcast, or video tutorials, whatever it might be, work hard to think about invoking specific images. Do things like describe smells, describe sounds. Obviously in a podcast or a video, you may be able to introduce interesting sounds as part of the texture of that content. Talk about colors in your writing. A single color word can create a visual impression very, very economically.
You don’t want to go overboard. You don’t want to have, “It was a dark and stormy night” flowery descriptions all over the place, because those get boring very quickly. But weaving in some of this multi-sensory texture into your writing will really help your words make an impression.
Maybe You’re Funny?
The fourth one is a little tricky, but I’m going to include it anyway, which is maybe you’re funny. I say it that way, because everybody says, when they’re talking about writing or content marketing, usually the common advice is, “Well, don’t use humor, because humor is very subjective.” What that actually means is it’s very possible you are not in fact at all funny. Just because you think you are funny does not mean you are funny. If you are, like people often laugh when you say things, and those people, you don’t pay them, they don’t work for you, being funny works really, really well.
Obviously the humor has to suit the audience, so if you are writing content for attorneys, you’re going to need a very, very dry kind of a touch, just that little bit of a raised eyebrow. The word “arch” will help you when you’re thinking about the right tone if you’re going to work in a little bit of humor to make your content a little more memorable. If you’re writing for engineers, think about The Far Side, the great, the great, comic strip of engineers and scientists with an absurd, educated, slightly surreal, and then just slightly goofy kind of combination. It’s a classic piece of American humor, and it works really well with engineers and scientists.
I am not brave enough to go out with very much content that is supposed to be funny the whole way through, because when you bomb, it’s really painful. Much safer is when it doesn’t have to be funny, when it’s just an aside. It’s a way of putting things, it’s a little wry observation, and somebody can smile, or they can not smile, and it works great either way. That’s what I would suggest. If you include some of that, just some kind of wry observations, some little asides without it being overwhelming, that goes a long way, again, to making the voice of that content more distinctive.
Practice Your Voice (Social Media Works!)
My fifth point is to talk about voice, and in a way, I was wrong about story being the most difficult. This one is probably the most difficult. You get a writing voice by doing a lot of writing, and if you do enough writing, then you can’t help but acquire a voice. You will have a voice. You will have a way that you tend to frame things, a kind of range of words that you tend to gravitate toward.
Something that a lot of people might not think of is that social media is hugely helpful in developing your writing voice, because it gives you a place to put a lot of words together in front of other people and see how they come across. Are you making your point? Are you making people smile? Are you making people angry? Are you making people think? Social media can be a really, really good proving ground for writers, which is why there are so many writers on Twitter, even while all the normal people think it’s a horrible place and can’t understand why anyone would ever go there.
When I say that social media is a good place to develop your voice, it’s not about sloppiness. It’s not about that excessive informality that you get very often on social media, or being too lazy to type out the entire word “you.” It’s three letters, I mean seriously? It’s really about getting comfortable with communicating with text, communicating in writing, and getting to a point where you can be relaxed and confident when you have something to say. Social media actually, oddly enough, can really help you with this.
If you are spending some time on Twitter, or on Facebook, or LinkedIn, or wherever you like to be, think about how you’re using language, and maybe make an effort to use all the prompts that are talked about in this podcast, and use your language more creatively and more compellingly, and see how it goes. Social media’s a great place to test these things out.
Escape Your Echo Chamber
My sixth tip, this is almost .. you almost cannot do without this one, is you’ve got to get out of your echo chamber. If you are a writer, go do something that’s not writing. Join a hiking club, or a sketch group, or try skydiving, or do something that’s not about writing, whatever sounds fun, and whatever has absolutely nothing to do with content marketing.
You also want to read outside the topic you write about. You want to read about biographies, or adventure, or romance novels. I don’t care. What is important about this is that it has nothing to do with what you’re spending all day every day writing about, because you’re going to get very boring very fast when the only thing that you think about is your content marketing topic.
Fire Off the Godin Hack
My final tip for you is what I call the Godin Hack, the Seth Godin Hack. In other words, I pretty much stole this technique wholesale from Seth Godin’s blog back in the day when I started my blog. I actually used this very explicitly on my other podcast, Confessions of a Pink Haired Marketer, which I think will rise from its state of slumber at some point soon, and that is things I love, and things I hate.
In other words, you go around through the world doing your thing, going to work, getting to work, taking a lunch break, etc., and you encounter things you love, and you encounter things you hate. And you’re thinking about this all day long. You’re thinking, “I hate that. I love that. I love that. Oh, I really hate that.” You want to capture those, because any post written around those things is almost guaranteed to be interesting, because you’re building on a foundation of an emotional response and a connection, and emotional responses are interesting. Look around for the things you love, the things you hate.
Seth Godin has this way of walking around through the world, and maybe he’ll see a sign in a coffee shop, and he’ll write a two paragraph long post about why it’s a great piece of marketing, or why it’s a horrible piece of marketing. If you think about the world in that way, it applies to the things that are relevant to your topic, and also it applies to all those things that are outside of your echo chamber.
Keep a list. Capture this stuff when you see it, so that you’ll have ideas for either more interesting whole pieces of content, more interesting blog posts, more interesting podcast episodes, or you just need an interesting analogy. You need an interesting example. You need to tell an interesting story. That’s where you’re going to find it, is by capturing these little scraps of things, small observations, as you go around your life doing what you do.
That’s it, seven creative prompts for you that will help you just get more spark, more life into content that works, that is certainly effective and useful but just might need a little more vitality.
If you have not checked out our Content Excellence Challenge posts yet, every month of the year this year, we’re putting up two creative prompts for you. One has to do with your skill, your ability as a writer, with developing you as a writer, and one has to do with making you more productive, with helping you get more writing done, more content created. Both of the prompts this month are directly related to ways that you can get more creativity, more spark, more vitality into your content, make it more interesting, and that’s going to make it more competitive, and more useful.
Check those out if you haven’t already. They typically will run up the first week of every month. April’s challenges are up Thursday from last week. And as always, of course, I will give you a link in the show notes. That’s it for this week. Thank you so much, and I’ll catch you next time.
Tom Bentley says
Sonia, such fun—and with a kicker, instructive fun—to consider these ways to improve craft. Your stuff is so useful in that it always stimulates an open curiosity about language and creativity. I love the advice to get out of your content-marketing backyard and into something (anything) else.
As for being funny, I just wrote a post today about how editors across genres take a bite on pieces that have a wry touch from the first paragraph on, using some example lede paragraphs from recent pieces of mine. But I think your thought about paying someone to laugh at my writing might be more direct. Here’s the post if you’re interested:
Things I love: Those high-end chocolates with bourbon in them.
Things I hate: People who dangle lit cigarettes from car windows and flick the ashes. (But I probably love to hate them.)
Thanks for the good stuff!