Creating content that readers can engage with is a challenging process, even for experienced digital marketers. A major part of formulating a digital marketing strategy is being able to think of a compelling story for the reader to follow.
The internet has given rise to many groundbreaking mediums of communication which can be used for storytelling and marketing, including video, streaming, podcasts, and many more. Increasingly, readers and viewers want content that speaks to them in an informative yet concise, down-to-earth manner.
While studying for my degree, I found a niche in creative writing. Now, as a qualified graduate working in the marketing sector, I like to explore how the principles of good storytelling can be applied to the field of writing digital marketing copy.
Today, we will focus on writing narratives for content and the best practices, techniques and frameworks for doing so.
Basic Narrative Techniques in Digital Marketing
Don’t Be Afraid of Conflict
Most narratives, fictional or otherwise, hinge on a basic three-act structure: a beginning, a middle and an end. Experimental avant-garde stuff notwithstanding, these rules are so universal that we take them for granted.
Some writers like to rigidly stick to tried-and-true formulas – some may even take inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, or other theoretical frameworks. Personally, I do not consciously think about all that when writing for webpages or campaigns. As many marketing experts will happily tell you, nobody innovates by completely playing by the rules.
Establishing key ideas, concepts and conflicts early in a text before delivering a satisfying payoff is critical for both conventional stories and marketing copy. Conflict in particular is often called the heart of drama.
How Do I Work Conflict Into My Webpage Copy?
When we talk about conflict, we do not necessarily mean it in the violent sense of someone to defeat – but any kind of problem or obstacle that needs to be overcome. This includes internal conflict within characters. Trying to write a whole coherent novel without any trace of conflict would be near impossible.
Many examples of marketing copy begin by presenting a problem that needs to be resolved – one that cannot be amended without help from the service being offered. This initial conflict sets the stage for the eventual resolution that will be provided by the service you are marketing for. Sometimes, conflicts can appear without any conscious intention.
Sources of conflict that can appear in your copy:
Conflict in Action
Internal GLO Case Study: B. A. Boyle & Son — Electrician Service Page
In this electrician service page I wrote for B. A. Boyle & Son, an “enemy” is constructed out of the electrical problems that the customers may be facing – faulty installations, degraded wiring, and so on. In the first headers, these issues are characterised as an annoying nuisance, making the reader think that they need to be dealt with quickly. Then, we transition into positive, eye-catching headings presenting the solutions to these problems offered by the company.
External Case Study: Hovis — “Go On Lad”
For a full marketing campaign that contains a strong balance of positivity and negativity, look no further than Hovis’s highly successful and influential 2007 ‘Go On Lad’, which shows a boy travelling through British history, from the origins of Hovis Bakery to the present day, to deliver a loaf of bread to his family.
What stands out about this campaign is its unflinching depiction of both the prosperous and troubled periods of our recent past. We see the Suffragettes’ march for votes in the early 1900s, the aftermath of the Blitz in World War II, and even a clash between riot police and flying pickets during the 1980s Miners Strikes, yet there’s always a bright optimism that the next corner he turns will be a better future.
Can I Write Marketing Copy Without Conflict?
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to write short narratives without any real conflict, though to do so would go against many core conventions and can be difficult to pull off well. For example, the Japanese genre iyashikei, which translates to “healing”, is all about fluffy slice-of-life tales where the main characters have nothing significant to overcome.
Some marketing campaigns exist in a similar conflict-free garden of paradise, but while that may sound nice, it’s not always the best route to take.
External Case Study: The Downfall of Corporate Memphis
In the late 2010s, many Big Tech corporations began using the “Corporate Memphis” style, which would be instantly recognisable for any regular internet user across Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Hinge, and many more. The style is defined by flat, garish colours and a geometric, minimalist aesthetic. Any text that appears has a bland, neutral tone.
The oddly-proportioned characters in these adverts are always depicted as living in utopian harmony with their surroundings. Since this doesn’t reflect reality at all, the style has been widely mocked and criticised within the industry. There’s no authentic human element to get attached to. I see it as a good case study for how hyper-positivity and aversion to depicting conflict can damage brand image.
Tailoring the Story for Your Audience
To reach the widest audience possible, it is recommended that copywriters produce content for webpages at a 12th grade reading level. As much as we may try to make the text simple, helpful and digestible, it can be hard to strike a tonal balance between accessibility and condescension. When you’re trying to sell a product or service, nailing a compelling tone of voice is especially important, as is writing something substantive that people will actually want to read.
Conducting research into target audiences, search intent and high-ranking keywords can be extremely valuable in helping you understand the kind of person who is most likely to read your content, giving you the chance to tailor the story to them.
Tone as a Differentiator
Internal GLO Case Study: RJ Insulation/Top Up Loft Insulation
Recently, I worked on two very similar projects for the same insulation installation client – RJ Insulation and Top Up Loft Insulation. The only tangible difference between them was the exact products they sold (the latter sold cheap, conventional fibreglass insulation while the former offered more expensive, eco-friendly materials).
However, the real difference between them lies in their disparate tones. The client wanted RJ, the environmentally-oriented company to have a professional, “premium” tone, whereas the “cheap n’ cheerful” company Top Up was to have a more informal vibe catered to people working on tighter budgets. Separating the tone of these two companies was a fun and rewarding writing challenge.
The Top Up Storyline
For Top Up Loft Insulation, the client and I worked together to brainstorm a rough storyline that would be reflected in the webpage content. The idea would be to convey the sense that a potential customer has randomly bumped into the owner of Top Up in a bar, and the owner is pitching them all the benefits of cheap fibreglass insulation in very simple, informal terms, constantly emphasising the low cost of the material and no-frills service that they provide. The content flows from an attention-grabbing intro to a nicely flowing series of USPs, processes and contact options.
To some extent, the site is meant to appeal to people who may not have the time to research the ins-and-outs of eco-friendly loft insulation – they just need some easily understandable explanations before getting it installed at low costs.
Tone as a Vessel for Accessibility
External Case Study: NHS Website
A classic example of universal accessibility in webpage copy can be found in the NHS website, which keeps flowery language and medical jargon to an absolute minimum. There is no creative flair to be found there, but writing in such a restricted way is a challenge in itself! Anyone who is concerned about symptoms or diseases will be able to understand the pages. In this case, plainly conveying information to the widest audience in the simplest, most straightforward way possible is the goal, so it can easily be forgiven.
Nevertheless, these NHS advice pages all follow a concise narrative structure that flows from point A to B – they introduce the disease or ailment in question, the symptoms of it, and explanations for why it happens, before providing a resolution in the form of treatment options that the NHS recommend.
Final Takeaways On Narrative in Content Writing
So, in this blog post, we have taken a look at some very interesting case studies on narrative techniques used in various areas of digital marketing, from advertising to webpage copy. We have covered issues of conflict and resolution, which should hopefully give you some inspiration on how to structure your content in the future!
Let us quickly recap some top tips for applying narrative techniques in content writing
- Present problems first before providing solutions
- Keep the content flowing organically, in such a way that would be most pleasing to the reader
- Tackling challenging topics is good!
- Maintain an appropriate tone for your target audience
- Always take notes from other websites, marketing campaigns and alternative media to get the most valuable inspiration
For a content marketing strategy, using a solid narrative structure for your writing while taking your target audience into account can be one of the main tickets to success. Stories unite people across all nations, cultures and age groups – tap into the power of storytelling to bring customers to your business!
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