Why You Will Live or Die by Your Ability to Write “Content”

 

EH 8410P Ernest Hemingway, Cuba, 1954.  Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

EH 8410P
Ernest Hemingway, Cuba, 1954.
Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

In academic circles, publishing in peer reviewed journals is considered the indispensable route to becoming tenured.

In producing a paycheck, writing–and becoming “published” in the form of your correspondence, your business letters and emails, your marketing and advertising campaigns and your social footprint (articles, white papers, blogs, videos) is even more critical.

Once you’re tenured, you’re more or less locked in to your job for life. In business, every subsequent check you receive is dependent on your ability to communicate and persuade effectively. Or, you’re only as good as your last campaign.

As an art director or a video editor or janitor, you express yourself graphically, visually and in the results you achieve. (That’s a nice shiny floor, Joe, good work).

But if you’re a creative (and I’d argue that since we are all selling ourselves all the time, we had all better consider ourselves creatives) working for yourself or “the man,” and even if you’re account side…you’d better know how to write compelling, actionable content or be able to pay someone who can.

In this, the era of pull vs. push, engagement-oriented sales and marketing, there are tons of garbage diatribes with plenty of confusing jargon to contend with. Much of it is written by bloggers or hustlers trying to sell you their system of “tripling your conversion rate with these 9 subject lines” or “keeping your sales funnel full of premium customers who will beg you to buy” without you needing to do much in the way of selling.

A good pitch, a great blog, a complete and on-going content-built campaign are all built on three simple, immutable principles:

1. Keep the attention of your prospect or audience. If your letter, blog, email or even brilliant marketing book (especially a whole book!) doesn’t GRAB and HOLD the attention of the reader, you’re dead meat right out of the gate.

2. Engage, inspire, inform and entertain your prospect or audience. You’ve got ’em for now, but you’d better rub their feet, cook for them a gourmet meal in 5 minutes (or show them how to do so themselves) and make them want to read every last word of what you propose while leaving them wanting more.

3. Be the resource, fulfill the promise. Everything we do every day arguably consists of “selling” something…from the merits of beef vs. quinoa to your skeptical spouse or family, to yourself or your firm for the account, the contract or the job. Hyperbole is no better than bragging these days, even if, as they say, it’s true or you can back it up. Or, in the event you’re hawking Shamwows, maybe.

Everything, from your résumé to your strategic or creative brief, to your account analysis and recommendation and justification for budget MUST be as compelling, as reasonable and logical and as moving as an excruciatingly well-turned sentence from a Hemingway novel.

Go easy on the jargon and the hype. You don’t care to be spoon fed that tripe any more than your audience or prospect does.

So–how, or through the assistance of what how-to book or writing seminar–can you achieve this level of writing great content? From a classified ad to a complete campaign, Website or direct email program?

By reading great writing that grabs your attention, engages and inspires you to action and leaves you with a clear or implied call-to-action and emulating said writing. That means copying, to use plain English, in your own words. 

As Picasso famously said, it’s impossible to simply copy someone else’s work or technique–in doing so you inevitably flavor it with your own peculiarities.

That’s what makes YOU unique, of course. And practice. Lots and lots of practice. And testing. And refinement.

And consistency when you find a style that works for you.

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