When I was a university student majoring in journalism, pinpointing stories that had once been untouched, left untold and still lingering in the minds of those itching to tell them, was exactly what drove great content to becoming just that. Now, knowing what will drive “virality” online means having a quick-witted style that requires you to write for someone who typically has no attention span, or who will only give you the average 15 seconds to read what you’ve got to say.
Within that 15 seconds, you somehow need to hook and reel them into the the marvellous creation you’re busting with anticipation to get out. And that’s a whole other game.
Still with me?
So, you’ve made it to the average of 2 out of 10 readers that continued on past the headline, so that means I’ve done something right in my books. Somewhere along the line, you’ve decided I’m worthy of at least a few more seconds, so here’s what I’ve got to say before you head off to watch some Netflix:
Content marketing only works if you understand the two types that form it — sugar and substance.
Throwing words together is no longer just a creative art-form or method of expression, but rather a science that requires understanding modern psychology, human behaviour and the power of mass influence. While only a couple of years ago reaching users meant knowing how to climb up through Google’s hierarchy and enforce all SEO efforts known to man, these days there’s a whole lot more on offer.
But with that opportunity comes the necessity to know and embrace what kind of content users are demanding. And that, my friend, is the scientific, psychological wonder that is modern marketing.
Viral content works because it plays on social interests
Also what I refer to as “sugar content”, these pieces are the Buzzfeed-styled ones that pop up and flatter your attention with their click-bait titles. And whilst they’re usually not what we expected to land on, these articles go viral because they’re quick, snappy and offer some kind of humorous, on-demand news topic that behaves in a way the modern social user requires it to.
With so many of us now consuming this style of content — tagging our friends and sharing across our networks — we’ve come to love sugar content because it is an easy read that doesn’t ask much of us. As marketers, we love it even more because it drives quick, sharp traffic to the intended landing page in huge spikes.
In the marketing game, sugar content allows for the opportunity to drive eyes to a specific location without having had much time to research, write or create a heavy piece. But, it does demand that there is an understanding towards what exactly the audience will deem as been sweet enough for them to spend their precious seconds scanning their eyes over. And that’s tricky.
Buzzfeed didn’t find its success by stumbling across a few memes and chucking them up without a will or cause. Now with over 175 million monthly users, this viral news giant has become a benchmark for establishing a content marketing strategy that’s based on “listicles” — stories in the form of lists or “snippets” of stories on the go. For those with next to no time or no interest to read in depth pieces, this format is perfect. And to top it all off, it’s got that mobile-friendly responsiveness that we all crave.
Never underestimate substance
For content marketers with a passion for journalism, like myself, clinging onto editorial pieces that are crafted on storytelling, depth and vision is instinct. While some still argue its decline, journalism is seemingly making its way back into the digital space with the rise of content marketing and the world’s better understanding of how words effectively make the world turn.
Writing with substance in mind means having a clear-cut aim and objective for the overall piece. It means knowing the message you’re trying to get across and establishing a collection of research, data and analysis that allows you to access exactly how a reader will respond.
Medium is the perfect example for this, attracting writers from all across the globe who are actively interested in sharing their content in a way that honours the meaningful, purposeful written word.
At the core of the piece, a solid message is revealed to the reader, somehow sparking action or unravelling an epiphany — it’s a powerful realisation that something within those very words had a deeper purpose than just to exist on a screen.
So which should you use in your strategy?
My biggest rule of content marketing is that there is absolutely no blanket approach. Each and every campaign should be custom tailored to suit demographics and user behaviour, and then further refined by content structure and format.
Sugar content is great for collecting “quick wins”, and can be extremely useful for campaigns centred around offers and special pieces. For marketers working on behalf of a brand, however, sugar content will only give sporadic spikes of traffic, only for it to fall off when the piece is no longer “sweet” enough.
Substance content, however, will generate long-term views that may not be deemed to gain a huge influx of traffic in each hit, but will allow for the possibility of loyal readers in the future. And the biggest, most prominent advantage of all…substance converts.
Where to from here?
Ask yourself whether you’re after rapid results or long-term wins. Then, question whether you’ll be targeting a user who will even respond to one type over the other.
If you read this entire article, you already know that you’re prone to engaging with substance-styled content, but how about those around you?
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