5 Concepts Poets Know About Good Content Writing


Photo: ashley.adcox/Flickr/Creative Commons License


Poets are flakes, right?  New agey, happy little trees folks who feel it necessary to share their feelings with everyone around them at any given moment? So what could they possibly know of the business world, the world of creative content and marketing innovation? 

Of course, as most creative writers know, the above assessment is invalid – at least for contemporary poets.  These days, the flowery hearts types are rarer than ever.  Poets have websites and blogs, Facebook profiles and online ordering for their chapbooks.  And good poets have quite of few of the best and most intuitive marketing concepts down just by the nature of their creative work. 

What they can teach us about web writing for easy navigation and short attention spans could probably fill 10 of those chapbooks.  But I’ve pulled out the top 5 main points for the sake of brevity, and to go along with the theme here:

Poets are efficient with the words they use.  They’reTwitter naturals, since they have to cut their word count down to say something important in one or two lines.  If you’ve ever seen a poet in the editing stages, cutting out every word that doesn’t contribute something great to the piece, you know what I’m talking about here.  They’re brutal – to themselves and their work.  We should all take a lesson from that practice.

Poets know how to break up concepts into bite-sized chunks.  Poems by nature are usually short, unless we’re talking about the epic variety.  Most poets go for something that can fit on one tiny page in a chapbook.  Even the longer poems are broken up into stanzas, and each stanza is a piece unto itself. 

When we write (or read) web copy, we know the good stuff is chunked into bits that are easily digested by the reader.  The audience can find what they need quickly, navigate by bullets and headers, and not have to sift through a large body of work to get the information.  It’s one of the top rules in technical writing.  So think like a poet, and consider your “chunks,” like stanzas.

Poets understand the concept of empathy.  Empathy is the key to engagement.  Write from the perspective of the customer, we marketers always say.  Knowing how to tap into audience emotion is a talent good poets have honed to a fine point.

Poets laser-focus on theme.  They might be writing about love, family, or nature, or any of the other major tropes in human existence, but they have to pick one or two elements to focus on about that grand and overarching subject.  Nature might be illustrated by one blade of grass. Love, by the crinkle in a partner’s smile.  Family obligation by a portrait of Father in Law in His Tighty Whities (courtesy of my best friend, poet Claudine Moreau). 

Content marketers talk about specific keywords, targeted ads, and landing pages for specific products or services that bring the right audience to the right place for engagement.  It’s all about microfocus.  Same thing, different language.

Poets get the importance of imagery.  They paint pictures with their words.  Content folks spend hours finding the right images to highlight their copy, and work hard to make sure images and video (and any other visual content) creates a balance with the words.  Audiences are visual.  Painting a picture of a concept, creating a scene/scenario – these are paramount to engagement.

These five poetic tips can help you write more engagingly and get a handle on your content before it turns into a novel – two of the most difficult tasks for a long-form writer.  So grab your virtual quill pen and get your great new content out there where it can do some good.

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The Negative Path to Happiness and Creative Pursuits

Positive thinking make you cringe? Hate self-help, or worse, addicted to it and can’t stop the cycle of elation and despair that accompanies the reading of these “reframing” texts?  There may be an “antidote.”

Oliver Burkeman tackles this problem head-on in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking  and may have a solution for the rest of us.  Personally, I have to admit I keep going back to those books, looking for that positive psychology fix but knowing ultimately it doesn’t hold for long. Lately, with a few life-altering life events, disasters, and other general chaos, I’ve realized that there’s no way around uncertainty.  There may be some underlying order to the chaos, but we don’t really seem to have access to that order for the most part, and embracing the uncertainty instead of trying to make our lives fit the mold seems to be the best way to combat the eternal stress that otherwise accompanies us on our trek.

Burkeman went around the world looking for examples of cultures and individuals who took the downward path to happiness, and he found some surprising results.  Check out the following video introducing the concept of his book:

You may be wondering what this has to do with business. The reason I posted this here on the Royal Pain blog is that I think the premise upheld in this book, that “learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure” (as Burkeman writes in The Guardian),  can help us with that ever-elusive pursuit of happiness and boost our creativity in life and work.

IMO, it frees us up to try new things, take that creative or entrepreneurial dive into the unknown, or take our businesses or our creative pursuits to the next level.  Maybe it’s the equivalent of saying, “ Screw it!” and going for whatever kernel of an idea you had instead of brooding over it in fear that it won’t work out.  Maybe this book should be the bible of the startup movement.

In any case, even just thinking about the premise makes me feel a little more at ease.  I’m not a failure because I can’t maintain positive thinking indefinitely.  And neither are you.  And if you are a failure at something else, so be it!  Roll around in it, let it cover you like catnip, and run into the next big idea, taking everything you learned on the way down with you.

Inspired by a post on Brainpickings.org, Against Positive Thinking: Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/06/21/oliver-burkeman-the-antidote/


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Color Can Impact Your Business, or Beware of Brown!

I’m a true believer in color psychology.  For instance, the pervasive red inside Pizza Hut makes people hungry but keeps them cycling through – they don’t want to linger at the table.  If you’re still working on your brand logo and designs, take color into consideration.  It may sound hokey, but color has an effect on us as human beings.  How do you want to be perceived by your customers?  Optimistic and cheerful?  Serious and straightforward as an expert with the knowledge to back up your claims?

Check out this beautiful chart on branding and color psychology by Marketo for inspiration.  Favorite quote? “[U]se caution with brown as it reminds most people of dirt.”

True Colors: What Your Brand Colors Say About Your Business by Marketo

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Social Media Is Your Embassy, and More Zen Identity Tips

Zen Garden wikimedia Social media is your embassy.  Be true to your online self.  This post from zenhabits is a great contribution to getting rid of clutter in your digital house.

We’re all suffering a little from online information overload, and since we’ve been online for a while, it’s like when you do spring cleaning on a house you’ve been living in for 15 years and realize how much of your old life is still there.  You’re not that person anymore, but you still have all that person’s stuff.  The digital world is much the same way, and Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology notes that we should purge that stuff and not mourn the loss of it. We’re becoming more of the person we want to be and staying true to that with the things about us that live online.

The idea behind this has everything to do with branding, as well as our online habits and the way we gather information. There are great tips on letting go – it is zenhabits, after all – and keeping clutter at bay so we can be more productive and enjoy ourselves a little more.

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Signs of Perfectionism

Signs of Perfectionism

Need to get this through my head, both creatively and in general. Thought a big, bold, orange sign might do it.

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Blog Content Strategy: What Are You Talking About?

What are you talking about on your blog?  If it’s yourself, you’re probably not getting readers.  You don’t want to be the guy at the party whose stories about himself only pause when he has time to stuff an hors d’ouevres in his mouth and continue with “and then I….”

When marketers say the 20 year or so old refrain Content is King, what they mean is the stuff you put on your Web site needs to be interesting to your readers, not just you.  Your blog is not a mouthpiece for your sales department.  It is a virtual conversation that provides something valuable to customers and partners and whomever else you are trying to get to read it.  It’s educational, entertaining, and probably informal.  The more natural a voice you adopt for your blog, the better.  Have fun with it.  Your blog is your creative arm.  It’s where you connect with people who are like you, who would enjoy your product and the subculture that surrounds it the same way you do.

How to come up with ideas to write about:


Go to places where your customers hang out, in person or digitally, and see what they talk about.   What else do they like? What can you tie back into the values of your product? Educate them on how to use your product.  Provide profiles and links on people who are doing interesting things with the type of product or service you provide, though not necessarily customers all the time, since that all comes back to being completely about you.  There’s nothing wrong with telling a story or two about yourself.  Just don’t abuse it.  Have other stuff there.

Pay Attention to Subcultures

I read blogs because of the interesting stories they tell about subjects I follow.  And I’ll check out a book or product a blogger is promoting because I trust her, because she writes about other subjects that interest me.

I’ll buy a beauty product from a company if it is a natural product company that writes articles about growing organic herbs and aromatherapy, what collagen actually does for the skin, and how bee farming is humane and generates all sorts of useful ingredients, such as beeswax, which are used in products like theirs.  A blog like this is not designed to push a product, though it informs me about aspects of the product and reminds me of the natural organic subculture that I have unofficially joined through my interests.

Build (and Join) Community

As a side note, I really really love that company if it also sponsors events with recyclers, crafters, and craft brewers in the local organic community and writes about the festivals it supports, since that fits in with my subculture and helps me connect to their idea of community and my own even better.  But events are a whole other ball of beeswax. Though they help immensely with figuring out what to write about.

One way to tap into this community-building and be a local participant is to begin using Twitter to find others like yourself.  Put your interests or your business summary in your profile – as well as a link to your Web site.  Seek out and follow others by typing the words you used to describe yourself into the search bar in Twitter.  People will find you and begin to follow you.  Thank them for following you.  Comment or reply to others in the industry who put tweets up you enjoy, or people who enjoy the same things you do.  It builds on itself until you have a great group of folks who are engaged with your interests, and you can all share ideas – sometimes they are your direct customers telling you what they want, or showing you what they are reading (through the links they put up on their feeds), which is valuable information to have.

Use any or all of these methods to find ideas to write about and good content to link to on your blog. It’s not just about search engine optimization (SEO) or converting sales. You’re relationship building, and you do this through community – and through providing information people care about. Educate. Entertain. Inform. “Convert” comes later.

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Daniel Pink Talks About Motivation and Purpose

Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, A Whole New Mind, and Drive gives a great TED Talk on motivation and business.  He’s a riveting speaker, and the 18 mins of video fly by.  Even if you’re not running a business, it’s useful to understand where we get our motivation from and what a large discrepancy there is between science and business on this subject (and likely many others).

Basically, Pink argues quite well that rewards don’t work on creativity.  We need to tap into autonomy, mastery, and purpose to get innovative results from ourselves and others.  He brought up Google’s 20%, the time allotted to each employee to work on personal projects, as well as several other examples of companies gaining from trusting their employees to be passionate about what they do and bring their work and outside creative impulses together to make business better.  It’s really worth taking a look/listen, especially if you are a company that employs creatives in any capacity.

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Small Business Identity Crisis: The Genius of Landing Pages

Ever find that as a business, you have multiple personalities? That you can’t claim just one type of audience and you don’t know how to address these disparities, these fragments of identity that keep you from being able to write to one type, or have your web site formality set up to attract one type?

This is a common problem in business, especially small business.  Small businesses don’t feel they have a big enough operation to set up landing pages and separate sites or areas for each type of audience.   How will people know where to go? they say.  It’s hard enough getting them to my web site in the first place. 

Sometimes you can write to a variety of audiences, and provide content that resonates with all of them – like Web developer freelancers and CIOs, or teenage girls and their mothers.  But sometimes it just doesn’t work. 

If you sell cakes, you’re not going to appeal to brides and parents of little kids on the same page – unless your audience is

Optimus Prime Cake: More Than Meets the- Naah. Too Cheesy.

like my best friend, who had a Snork cake at her wedding.  You need landing pages to appeal to these specialized audiences, so you can provide your bride with beautiful wedding cake photos that evoke the emotions of her special day, and tout your partnership program with the florist next door who makes the most ethereal arrangements.  The Dad on the Run looking for the perfect Transformers cake for his 6-year-old, a man who wouldn’t know “fondant” if it hit him in the face, will not stay long enough on your Web site to find your Optimus Prime masterpiece if he sees a bunch of frilly wedding sculptures tufted with pearls.  You get the picture.

5-Step crash course in targeted vertical marketing.

  1. So you set up tabs on your web site, and link to them all clearly, with photos if possible, on your home page.  Make the navigation easy as pie, or cake.  Fill your lovely targeted pages with copy and content directed only at the audience for that page.  Have your main navigation bar always visible on the side to help others find what they need if that page doesn’t have it (help Dad discover Optimus instead of Bridezilla).
  2. Write about your various skills in your blog and create categories with lots of keyword tags.  Register your blog on Technorati and hook it up to a Twitter feed, if you have the time to post something to Twitter (or “tweet”) an average of once a day.
  3. You research keywords on the Internet and find out what people are searching for – bless you Google Keywords Tool – then you put some of those keywords on your pages along with great, educational, informative content.  In your own style.  Polished but approachable. 
  4. If you post any ads online, link them to special landing pages just for those customers (your designer will know how to do this, or you can just set up a separate tab in your blog or on the site template and DIY), and add in a promotional code you can track or a coupon they can print and bring in, so you know it’s working. 
  5. Measurement is important (see step 4), which is why you should also visit Google Analytics and register your site so you can look at who is visiting your page, where they are coming from, and how long they stay.  Then you can play around with the site and see if more videos, more photos, or different headlines make a difference. 


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Creativity is Back! Search Gets More Content-Relevant – and Ethical

The “SEO” buzzword still dominates content discussions, and it’s still important. But as marketer Adrienne Waldo points out in Finally: Search Is Starting to Reward Creativity Over Shady Tactics on AdAge (http://bit.ly/pGUu38), marketers, writers, and creatives of all other varieties used to bemoan the issue of trying to write and create content authentically while packing in keywords. We couldn’t compete with those hacks out there using black hat techniques and generally manipulating the system.

The game has changed. Google’s 2011 Panda update is the beginning of something beautiful: A world of real and relevant content. Well, maybe that’s reaching. But this new frontier at least provides a blank screen to start from for those of us actually focused on engaging content. And that’s all we ever wanted.

So get back to quality over quantity in the links and trackbacks. Add some white papers and video to your site because they’re educational and fun for your readers. And get back to being creative. Because even though creativity always mattered, now it’s relevant.

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Chris Brogan’s Batman Formula for Branding

Chris Brogan’s blog post Personal Branding Basics for 2011 offers pop culture pearls of wisdom for both individuals and businesses, managing to work in Batman as metaphor and, in contrast (or perhaps not), a little Madonna for effect – she is the quintessential brand reinventor of pop culture and a superhero to some Gen X ladies, after all.  It’s an entertaining read even if you’re not into branding, but the post reminds us of some important considerations regarding names (not gimmicks), content, action, and tools – as in not getting overly caught up in the tools you use to put yourself out there.

I am Batman

I am Batman, by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

Brogan’s formula for success is common sense, but contains elements and calculations we often forget in the mad rush to keep up with the Big Brands. And there’s an overarching theme about helping others, which is already a focus for many community-oriented businesses and individuals out there, but still isn’t the overarching principle it should be in the 21st century, given all our talk about talented free agents, right-brained thinkers, cultural creatives, and other revolutionaries.

Probably the most important bit of advice from Brogan: Figure out your promise and execute.  That means action, and not a lot of talking about action.  Doing can be a problem for many folks, especially in businesses that require multitudes of checks and balances and that have a hard time with transparency (e.g., not letting employees on Facebook for fear of what they’ll say).  And we all talk about that novel we’re “working on” that never quite comes to fruition.  Maybe it’s perfectionism, but this market moves at light speed and if we think too long about acting, the opportunity evaporates.

Speaking of light and speed, Brogan points out, “Batman showed up every time the signal was lit. He seemed to be everywhere to stop crime and to build momentum on the fact that crime wasn’t a good idea in Gotham City.” So act on your promise and be everywhere.  Great advice for anyone, individual or company.  And Batman’s a stellar role model, maybe minus the vengeance thing.

So here’s the formula:

“You want to crush it in branding?” says Brogan.  “Focus on:

1. experimenting to improve your abilities,
2. executing to bring your promise into the real world, and
3. telling stories by making useful media to build relationships with your buyers and supporters.

That’s where you’ll see your rewards. Repeat, repeat, repeat.”  No rinsing required.  Armored rubber suit optional.

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