Creative writing + content strategy: your new secret weapon?

Creative writing + content strategy: your new secret weapon?

Creative writing + content strategy: your new secret weapon?

Creative writing + content strategy: your new secret weapon?

Nic Evans

Product Content Design Manager, Shopify
Storytelling has earned its stripes in the complex, abstract, and often misrepresented world of content strategy.

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Rather than being simply deemed a poetic take on content creation and communication, storytelling and its associated features have played a very functional and insightful role in content strategy.

Creative writing is often perceived as frivolous, imagination-driven entertainment as opposed to the highly-structured, highly-focused writing it is.

However, the various levels of writing structure and creative writing elements are just as relevant to the world of content strategy as they are to playwriting and screenwriting.

The value of creative writing in modern content strategy

Many of the principles and frameworks of creative writing can be adapted and utilized to plan, create, and communicate meaning via content.

For instance, user experience and inspirational design are moving up the ranks in website planning, so it only makes sense to consider the role of a good story in these and other content projects.

Website content, social media content, and marketing campaigns of all sorts can benefit in the long-term from a content strategy that’s:

  1. Rooted in meaning
  2. Relevant to the audiences they’re created for
  3. Acknowledges the importance of brand story and user interaction

One such long-term benefit is improved SEO performance. Marco Genaro Palma, Head of SEO at PRLab Hub, said this:

"Creative writing is all about uniqueness and engaging content. If a creative writer works on a piece of content, that content will surely have increased performance in search engines. This is important for business strategies because it has greater audience reach, and this means the content has more impact."
Marco Genaro Palma
Head of SEO, PRLab Hub

With this in mind, let’s consider some creative writing structures.

Four types of writing and story structure

There are four main types of creative writing structures, each of which can be used for more business-focused content.

Creative Writing Structures
Four structures of creative writing that can be used in business contexts

1. Linear writing

The most common type, linear writing is described a series of events in chronological order. There’s an intro, an inciting incident and escalation, a climax or turning point, followed by de-escalation, and the end of the story.

The advantage of this structure is that it’s straightforward, leaving little room for readers to be confused about either the story details or the practical message it delivers.

2. Conventional writing

Conventional writing involves a more academic writing style and is, therefore, slightly more complex than a linear structure. It abides by strict rules for writing mechanics and content hierarchy/organization.

Since it’s more formal than other types, it's best for organizations with a more formal brand personality and voice, although it's still suited for some creative writing projects.

3. Integrated writing

Thalita Ferraz, Creator and Editor at Her Bones, explains:

“An integrated writing structure can be described as a review that incorporates the ‘analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of information’ on a given subject. It’s useful for the business world because it conveys a lot of information in an actionable way.”

Especially since it often involves presenting several points of view on a topic so that audiences are well-informed and can make educated decisions.

4. Metaphoric writing

Metaphoric writing uses figures of speech as symbols to explain other concepts. As long as you choose metaphors that use simple symbols to clarify complex concepts (and not the other way around), this structure can be great for grabbing and holding an audience’s attention.

However, because it’s less direct than linear writing, it’s also essential to choose symbols that your audience can readily understand. This is where having a deep understanding of your customer personas comes into play.

Three elements of creative writing: Plot, pace, and character

Of course, putting your creative writing skills to use involves more than picking one of the structures above for each piece of writing. It also involves using the elements of compelling storytelling skillfully—plot, pace, and character included.

1. Plot for mapping meaning

As the success of the award-winning Allstate Mayhem campaign proves, a narrative structure full of drama, disruption, and against-all-odds success can be effective.

Allstate Mayhem Commercial
Allstate uses tales of disaster to highlight the use cases and benefits of its offer (Source)

However, you don’t have to go that route. Although the word “plot” has dramatic connotations, I see plot structure as examining what I want to say and when to say it. It magnifies:

  • Your objectives. Do you want to inspire, educate, demand?
  • Your vehicles for meaning. This could be language, images, or even CEO life stories.
  • Timing. When to make what info available. How do you want to map out the customer journey—do you want them to interact with you on Twitter or respond to a CTA?

A great story typically revolves around a customer problem followed by the presentation of different solutions, topped off with the benefits of its eventual resolution. So this storytelling principle can help you develop a narrative with the audience at its center, instead of giving them the afterthought treatment. Quest Narratives are an engaging yet highly functional way of tracking multiple boxes at once.

And remember this: Gaps and loose ends are your friends. If you see one, so will your audience. A good plot can help you test the stealth of your current strategy and perhaps influence necessary change. That change may involve the strategic addition of a backstory or even subplots to make the storyline more well-rounded and not overly promotional.

2. Pace for keeping audiences engaged

Much as with plot development, pace and timing can be the difference between success and failure. Creating well-constructed content that presents meaningful milestones and keeps the audience engaged up to those points is a fine art.

Too slow or boring, and you lose that connection that moves customers from A to B to C. But too fast or keen, and you dampen your audience’s curiosity, killing the interest necessary to keep them invested til the end.

A great way to achieve the delicate balance between pace and timing is to create an Experience Map. A combination of a UX strategy and editorial calendar, this Experience Map outlines the role content plays in these experiences, setting mini-goals in the journeys laid at the feet of the user. Some goals could include:

  • Creating back and forth dialogues that spark questions, guide curiosity, and offer reassurance.
  • Scripting content that meets business and customer aims to create predictable engagement opportunities.
  • Developing relationships via digital and real-world connections.

3. Character for creating a brand hallmark

The best brand stories are the ones that integrate history, values, and audience. Characters are the perfect way of embodying all of the above without making business objectives too obvious or impersonal. Plus, characters can transcend mediums and have the ability to become bigger than the brand itself, making them even more versatile and valuable.

Look at Old Spice. I bet even as you read this, you have that advertisement in your head.

Commercial
One of the most famous character-based Old Spice commercials

Yep, the Old Spice ‘The man your man could smell like’ advert showcased their new poster boy. Targeting women, this new main character went viral and became as synonymous with the brand as its classic white bottle is.

Shareability and social media-friendliness were non-existent factors 30 years ago, but now these probably top the list. Character development is worth its weight in gold when you end up with one that targets your market, holds attention, and encompasses brand values.

And characters don’t even have to be people or solo representatives. Your company can become a character in itself. Some brands instill their content with such honesty and sincerity that their brand or product is sold merely on its history.

Jack Daniels and denim masters Hiut Denim, for example, characterize their origins and the people that represent their unique ethos. Your organization can do the same by:

  • Condensing your ethos into a handful of headlines or brand statements. Do you have a USP or definitive identity?
  • Gauging your tone. How should you speak, and what language will you use?
  • Defining characters. Are there people, symbols, or points of origin that represent the above?

Make stories last

Learning to incorporate creative writing structures and elements such as plot, pace, and characterization is a commitment. So don't be discouraged if your first draft or first time surfaces some challenges.

Especially if you have multiple team members involved in the writing process, it can be helpful to explain the role of storytelling in your content briefs and set storytelling guidelines. (You can, of course, tweak those recommendations as you learn more about what forms of creative writing get the best response from your audience.)

With GatherContent, you can include such briefs and guidelines in your custom content templates so that they’re always at arms reach for writers and reviewers.

Case Study Template in GatherContent
Add storytelling guidelines to your GatherContent content templates for easy reference

As you create those guidelines, remember that the best brand stories result from consistency, original delivery, and honesty. They’re shareable, concentrated, flexible, and open to very few varied interpretations.

Although still very much the emotional heart of a brand, stories need to perform, stand the test of time, and the test of medium, too. So, even as you use the tricks and tools of the creative writing trade to preserve the human, engaging aspect of the stories you tell:

  1. Keep the practical, business-driven aims of your company clear in mind
  2. Prioritize the creation of structured content that can be used for any interface
  3. Stick to writing principles to give your content the best chance of meeting your goals

If you do this, your organization will enjoy the benefits of effective, memorable storytelling.

Rather than being simply deemed a poetic take on content creation and communication, storytelling and its associated features have played a very functional and insightful role in content strategy.

Creative writing is often perceived as frivolous, imagination-driven entertainment as opposed to the highly-structured, highly-focused writing it is.

However, the various levels of writing structure and creative writing elements are just as relevant to the world of content strategy as they are to playwriting and screenwriting.

The value of creative writing in modern content strategy

Many of the principles and frameworks of creative writing can be adapted and utilized to plan, create, and communicate meaning via content.

For instance, user experience and inspirational design are moving up the ranks in website planning, so it only makes sense to consider the role of a good story in these and other content projects.

Website content, social media content, and marketing campaigns of all sorts can benefit in the long-term from a content strategy that’s:

  1. Rooted in meaning
  2. Relevant to the audiences they’re created for
  3. Acknowledges the importance of brand story and user interaction

One such long-term benefit is improved SEO performance. Marco Genaro Palma, Head of SEO at PRLab Hub, said this:

"Creative writing is all about uniqueness and engaging content. If a creative writer works on a piece of content, that content will surely have increased performance in search engines. This is important for business strategies because it has greater audience reach, and this means the content has more impact."
Marco Genaro Palma
Head of SEO, PRLab Hub

With this in mind, let’s consider some creative writing structures.

Four types of writing and story structure

There are four main types of creative writing structures, each of which can be used for more business-focused content.

Creative Writing Structures
Four structures of creative writing that can be used in business contexts

1. Linear writing

The most common type, linear writing is described a series of events in chronological order. There’s an intro, an inciting incident and escalation, a climax or turning point, followed by de-escalation, and the end of the story.

The advantage of this structure is that it’s straightforward, leaving little room for readers to be confused about either the story details or the practical message it delivers.

2. Conventional writing

Conventional writing involves a more academic writing style and is, therefore, slightly more complex than a linear structure. It abides by strict rules for writing mechanics and content hierarchy/organization.

Since it’s more formal than other types, it's best for organizations with a more formal brand personality and voice, although it's still suited for some creative writing projects.

3. Integrated writing

Thalita Ferraz, Creator and Editor at Her Bones, explains:

“An integrated writing structure can be described as a review that incorporates the ‘analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of information’ on a given subject. It’s useful for the business world because it conveys a lot of information in an actionable way.”

Especially since it often involves presenting several points of view on a topic so that audiences are well-informed and can make educated decisions.

4. Metaphoric writing

Metaphoric writing uses figures of speech as symbols to explain other concepts. As long as you choose metaphors that use simple symbols to clarify complex concepts (and not the other way around), this structure can be great for grabbing and holding an audience’s attention.

However, because it’s less direct than linear writing, it’s also essential to choose symbols that your audience can readily understand. This is where having a deep understanding of your customer personas comes into play.

Three elements of creative writing: Plot, pace, and character

Of course, putting your creative writing skills to use involves more than picking one of the structures above for each piece of writing. It also involves using the elements of compelling storytelling skillfully—plot, pace, and character included.

1. Plot for mapping meaning

As the success of the award-winning Allstate Mayhem campaign proves, a narrative structure full of drama, disruption, and against-all-odds success can be effective.

Allstate Mayhem Commercial
Allstate uses tales of disaster to highlight the use cases and benefits of its offer (Source)

However, you don’t have to go that route. Although the word “plot” has dramatic connotations, I see plot structure as examining what I want to say and when to say it. It magnifies:

  • Your objectives. Do you want to inspire, educate, demand?
  • Your vehicles for meaning. This could be language, images, or even CEO life stories.
  • Timing. When to make what info available. How do you want to map out the customer journey—do you want them to interact with you on Twitter or respond to a CTA?

A great story typically revolves around a customer problem followed by the presentation of different solutions, topped off with the benefits of its eventual resolution. So this storytelling principle can help you develop a narrative with the audience at its center, instead of giving them the afterthought treatment. Quest Narratives are an engaging yet highly functional way of tracking multiple boxes at once.

And remember this: Gaps and loose ends are your friends. If you see one, so will your audience. A good plot can help you test the stealth of your current strategy and perhaps influence necessary change. That change may involve the strategic addition of a backstory or even subplots to make the storyline more well-rounded and not overly promotional.

2. Pace for keeping audiences engaged

Much as with plot development, pace and timing can be the difference between success and failure. Creating well-constructed content that presents meaningful milestones and keeps the audience engaged up to those points is a fine art.

Too slow or boring, and you lose that connection that moves customers from A to B to C. But too fast or keen, and you dampen your audience’s curiosity, killing the interest necessary to keep them invested til the end.

A great way to achieve the delicate balance between pace and timing is to create an Experience Map. A combination of a UX strategy and editorial calendar, this Experience Map outlines the role content plays in these experiences, setting mini-goals in the journeys laid at the feet of the user. Some goals could include:

  • Creating back and forth dialogues that spark questions, guide curiosity, and offer reassurance.
  • Scripting content that meets business and customer aims to create predictable engagement opportunities.
  • Developing relationships via digital and real-world connections.

3. Character for creating a brand hallmark

The best brand stories are the ones that integrate history, values, and audience. Characters are the perfect way of embodying all of the above without making business objectives too obvious or impersonal. Plus, characters can transcend mediums and have the ability to become bigger than the brand itself, making them even more versatile and valuable.

Look at Old Spice. I bet even as you read this, you have that advertisement in your head.

Commercial
One of the most famous character-based Old Spice commercials

Yep, the Old Spice ‘The man your man could smell like’ advert showcased their new poster boy. Targeting women, this new main character went viral and became as synonymous with the brand as its classic white bottle is.

Shareability and social media-friendliness were non-existent factors 30 years ago, but now these probably top the list. Character development is worth its weight in gold when you end up with one that targets your market, holds attention, and encompasses brand values.

And characters don’t even have to be people or solo representatives. Your company can become a character in itself. Some brands instill their content with such honesty and sincerity that their brand or product is sold merely on its history.

Jack Daniels and denim masters Hiut Denim, for example, characterize their origins and the people that represent their unique ethos. Your organization can do the same by:

  • Condensing your ethos into a handful of headlines or brand statements. Do you have a USP or definitive identity?
  • Gauging your tone. How should you speak, and what language will you use?
  • Defining characters. Are there people, symbols, or points of origin that represent the above?

Make stories last

Learning to incorporate creative writing structures and elements such as plot, pace, and characterization is a commitment. So don't be discouraged if your first draft or first time surfaces some challenges.

Especially if you have multiple team members involved in the writing process, it can be helpful to explain the role of storytelling in your content briefs and set storytelling guidelines. (You can, of course, tweak those recommendations as you learn more about what forms of creative writing get the best response from your audience.)

With GatherContent, you can include such briefs and guidelines in your custom content templates so that they’re always at arms reach for writers and reviewers.

Case Study Template in GatherContent
Add storytelling guidelines to your GatherContent content templates for easy reference

As you create those guidelines, remember that the best brand stories result from consistency, original delivery, and honesty. They’re shareable, concentrated, flexible, and open to very few varied interpretations.

Although still very much the emotional heart of a brand, stories need to perform, stand the test of time, and the test of medium, too. So, even as you use the tricks and tools of the creative writing trade to preserve the human, engaging aspect of the stories you tell:

  1. Keep the practical, business-driven aims of your company clear in mind
  2. Prioritize the creation of structured content that can be used for any interface
  3. Stick to writing principles to give your content the best chance of meeting your goals

If you do this, your organization will enjoy the benefits of effective, memorable storytelling.

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About the author

Nic Evans

Nic is a product content strategist at Shopify who collaborates with designers, developers, researchers, and product managers to design and build Shopify's user interfaces. Previously, Nic was a freelance copywriter based in Glasgow; she believes that no matter what the medium, brief or platform, using the perfect words in the best possible way can create a story, a natural communication between people, their ideas and the rest of the world. You can follow her on Twitter.

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