Devising Content Strategies for Businesses

The Irish economy is apparently recovering. People’s perception of that recovery may differ, but I’m inclined to believe that the recovery is real. That’s because businesses have started to look for content from me as well. There’s a greater interest among businesses in content marketing, which means creating content that helps them reach their customers and be more visible on search engine.

Content marketing is part of a wider phenomenon called inbound marketing, where you aim to draw people to your business by giving them valuable information and building relationships with them. HubSpot, a social media marketing platform, offers online certification in inbound marketing, which I will study for during the quiet summer months.

copywriting image
Marketing content can have many hidden messages.

I know that businesses want results, and in the coming months, I’ll be focusing on writing content that doesn’t just read well, but delivers tangible results for them. But I still believe that before you employ any of these fancy marketing techniques, you need to figure out what you want to say.

I create content strategy documents that outline this for businesses, and which they can use when they’re talking or writing about their business. I wrote one for a new business recently, and here’s an outline of what it contained.

About Us

This is the most important section of the content strategy document. It outlines the fundamentals of your business. You define what you do and most importantly, why you do it. Knowing why you do it keeps you motivated, because it connects you with the passion and creativity that made you want to start the business in the first place. You also outline the mission of your business, the goals you want to achieve for your customers.

Our Services

In this section, you further define what you do for your customers. You give a detailed outline of what the service is, how it works and how it benefits the people who avail of the service. You also include a section explaining the ways you go the extra mile for your customers, the extra efforts you make to deliver great service.

Our Audience

We’d all love to think that everyone will be interested in what we offer, but the reality is, there’s a certain core group who’ll be more interested than everyone else. In the section, we define that core group. A helpful way to do this is to create a profile of a typical customer: their age, location, educational background, family situation, interests and use of social media. You can then pitch your content to match their interests and concerns.

Why Us

This section is one of the most important, because it gives you a chance to tell customers how great you are. It summarises all the reasons why it would be worthwhile for people to avail of what you offer. It highlights the benefits you can bring them, the ways you can solve their problems and enhance their lives in lots of little ways.

How do you approach writing content for your business or organisation? What strategies do you use?

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Why Children Can Read Dark Stories

A few months ago, I read a comment from a mother in a newspaper article that she would not read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett to her six-year-old daughter, because of its racist overtones, particularly in the early chapters which reference the lead character Mary’s life in India. I was dismayed to hear this. Partly because she was allowing modern-day values to colour her view of the book. And partly because I don’t think she was giving her daughter enough credit. In my experience, children are much better able to handle dark material than adults give them credit for.

The Secret Garden

In a way, it’s easy for me to say that. I don’t have children and if I did, I might feel the same fierce urge to protect them from dark or troubling subject matter. But I’ve given numerous creative writing workshops to children over the years, and children are willing to embrace darkness in a way that adults are not. I also think of my own childhood, when my parents were willing to answer any question I had, and when I came across anything dark in a book or TV programme, they were able to contextualise it for me and take any fear away.

Processing Truths Through Stories

From time to time, you’ll hear parents say that they won’t allow their children to read fairy tales because the material is too graphic. But in earlier eras, parents used fairy tales to explain the world to their children, to teach them lessons about good and evil and about the right way to behave. Stories give children a safe way to process dark and difficult concepts, and this is something children instinctively understand.

It strikes me that stories can be a useful jumping off point for discussion between adults and children. In the case of The Secret Garden, yes, the attitudes to race were somewhat unsavoury. But they were a product of their time. I myself wouldn’t be mad about its portrayal of disability, but again, I have to accept that this was a product of its time. Besides, the book also teaches lessons that are still vital today, about the redemptive power of nature and the value of kindness.

Children Embracing Darkness

In a week’s time, I’ll be giving a children’s Easter creative writing workshop. During the workshop, I’ll do a Chinese Whispers style exercise. The story will begin with the words, “The girl went into the wood,” which tends to conjure up dark fantasies in people’s minds. When I did it with adults recently, they stopped the story just as it was starting to get dark. But when I do it with children, they will be willing to go all the way with the material, taking the story to lots of crazy places. They will thoroughly enjoy the process and, as far as I can tell, emerge from it emotionally unscathed.

What do you think of children reading or writing stories with a dark theme? If you are inclined to shield your children from this material, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. It’s always worthwhile to have another perspective.

A Wonderful Writing Workshop

In February, I was to give a memoir-writing course in Dungarvan, but the numbers weren’t high enough for the course to run. This was becoming a regular pattern for my workshops, and I decided it was time for a workshop revamp. After all, I love giving them, and the people who come to my workshops seem to love attending them. I decided I would take back control of my own workshops and promote them myself. My promotional campaign was a success, and on the day of the workshop, 12 souls arrived – my biggest number ever. People were even fighting for places, which was a great boost to the ego.

Workshop Introduction

The workshop was being held in a truly heavenly location, the Coastguard Cultural Centre in Tramore. The day happened to be sunny, and the sea views were stunning. The windows are deep-set, and some of the participants used the window ledges for their writing, looking out the window for inspiration.

Coastguard Cultural Centre

Coastguard Cultural Centre. Pic taken from the centre’s website.

After introducing the workshop and talking generally about the evolution of memoir as a form, we kicked off with the warm-up exercises, which were all designed to help people tap into their natural storytelling abilities. A Chinese Whispers style exercise showed them that stories can take you to unexpected places. A paired exercise where people told stories about their day helped people to see that ordinary lives are rich with events that provide inspiration for stories.

Shaping the Story

In this workshop, my goal was to give people the tools and confidence to put a story together and realise how doable it was. As it was a three-hour workshop, a relatively short space of time, I kept the focus on plot and structure, in particular, the three-act structure. This is a classic structure. In the first act, you set the scene, in the second act, the action unfolds and in the third act, the story reaches a resolution.

We did brainstorming to help the group come up with an event in their lives that they could develop into a story. I asked them to identify three events in their lives, big or small, recent or from the distant past. Out of those three, they would choose one to expand into a story. At this point, there was some confusion. The group were finding it hard to see how this process would lead them towards a story. There is always this point in a workshop, and as workshop facilitator, you ask yourself if you’ve taken the right path, or brought the group beyond where they’re able to go.

Writing the Story

But then, once they had chosen the event, I gave them a questionnaire to fill out, based on the three-act structure, and once they started to fill that in, the structure started to make sense. As the group started to write the story itself, “the hum” had begun. This is what I call that moment when all the pieces start to fall into place and a workshop group starts to understand how powerful writing can be. The air goes still, but there’s a current of concentration in the air, a current so strong, you almost fancy you can hear it come.

Some groups need a lot of time to put their story together, and I had allowed plenty of time for that. But the stories came together remarkably quickly for this group. I had noticed that before when I used this structure with the group, and I thought that was a one-off. But it seems that using the three-act structure really does help ideas to fall into place. Some of the group read their stories, and the room filled with laughter and tears. By the time the workshop ended, each person had created their own unique story, something I hope they will always treasure.