What Satan Taught Me About Content Marketing

Remember that English teacher who taught you to write five-paragraph essays? The pattern was simple: introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Tell them what you’re going to tell, tell them, and tell them again.

From this basic structure, the writing assignments evolved. They moved from exposition to more complex arguments, pages instead of paragraphs, primary and secondary research, visual rhetoric, a companion video or slide deck.

For me, it all came together in a paper on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, arguing for an interpretation of Satan as epic hero that differed from popular criticism. My desk was littered with the flotsam and jetsam of my efforts—the primary text (PL); a position to take; a list of key points, supporting data, and examples from the text; a somewhat annotated bibliography of my research sources; what might pass for a flowchart that laid out the argument and possible objections; and a rough outline of the paper.

That desk doesn’t look much different today.

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, of John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Those same writing and research processes from academia are useful tools for any kind of business writing, but especially for creating collateral such as white papers or case studies, or posts aligned with defined blogging strategy, or the email messages used in a lead nurturing campaign.

As content marketers, our most fundamental goal is to persuade an audience and motivate them to take action. We take a position—our unique selling proposition —and we develop, support, and defend it.

Sure, it feels good to say our main goal is to inform, educate, and nurture our audience, but a business needs to keep the lights on.

Each message in the customer lifecycle, from marketing to sales and services, is another piece of evidence in support of that position. Its effectiveness in getting, closing, and retaining customers is more measurable now than ever.

The ROI of our efforts is splashed in bright colors across the pie charts and graphs of our CRM dashboards.

While the simple five-paragraph structure is hardly feasible (or desirable) in our marketing communications, the exercise is. The creative process of writing that paper for English class can be adapted to help content marketers develop a messaging framework, and then use it to produce content that’s consistent and value-based, across marketing channels.

From 5 Paragraphs, 5 Concepts for Content

Whether writing a post on the company blog, a case study, or a status update, marketers can deliver an effective and consistent message by keeping in mind five basic concepts:

  • Audience
  • Argument
  • Appeals
  • Evidence
  • Opposition

Audience. The art of persuasion is equal parts writer and reader. Good content is adapted for a target audience, never one size fits all.  Not only do we need to create content for a specific buyer persona, but we also need to set expectations for that audience, and deliver a content experience that meets those expectations.

In B2B marketing, there are often multiple people involved in the decision-making process, each for different reasons. Segment that house list for targeted communications. Offer content relevant for the end user (how a specific functionality saves time), and something for the business decision maker (how the complete package saves money).

Argument. Again, the Unique Selling Proposition. Who should buy your product and why? How will they benefit? Do existing customers feel good about their purchase decision, and will they stick around? A product or service can’t be the best at everything for everyone, so this core concept should focus on what differentiates that product or service from others in the marketplace.

Appeals. To persuade and motivate that target audience, look to the Aristotelian rhetorical appeals ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Ethos refers to the appeal of the speaker’s character or authority. It’s how we position the “About” page and our online company profiles, what we put in our bios. A good example of ethos in advertising is celebrity endorsements.
  • Pathos appeals to the audience’s emotions. It can be used to convey feelings of confidence and integrity in a brand and trigger the desired response.
  • Logos is logical appeal. This persuasive strategy is usually marked by facts, figures, and data.

The most effective content combines all three appeals.

Evidence. This one is closely tied to logical appeal but worth calling out on its own. General statements only bring an audience so far. Providing credible evidence to support a claim shows the buyer how other people just like them have realized tangible benefits from a product or service. And it doesn’t need to be boring. The statistics part may be a bit dry, but things like video testimonials, case studies, and online communities can turn this evidence into a more interactive experience for the audience.

Opposition. What are the opposing viewpoints in your marketplace? The reasons for not buying your product or service? If the price point high, for example, then provide some quantifiable ROI data from current customers. Opposition to a change in process or technology? Reinforce the benefits of making the change with evidence, and remember that change brings about feeling of both excitement and fear. Build on the former while addressing the latter with a solid nurturing program.

Putting these concepts together in an internal corporate essay, so to speak, with an introduction, supporting ideas, and conclusion helps clarify positioning, communicate value, and motivate the audience to the next step in the sales cycle. Those ideas make up the parts of the whole, the overarching narrative told through our website, blog posts, social media efforts, sales collateral, and customer service.

It’s worth noting that the essay outline mentioned earlier wasn’t so much an outline as a collection of sticky notes and pizza napkins that could be rearranged while the argument in my paper developed based on new research and perspectives.

The corporate narrative should be organized this way, too—it’s a fluid process as we learn more about our audience and how they interact with our communications, or introduce new products and functionality.

A messaging framework based on audience, argument, appeals, evidence, and opposition helps content marketers tell a consistent and compelling story. It may not be the same as writing about Satan, sex, and the phenomenology of sin in Paradise Lost, but the same concepts of argumentation that we learned in English class can inspire a content strategy that adds color to the marketing dashboard.

This blog post originally appeared on B2Bbloggers.

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  1. #1 by Jessie Johnson on March 24, 2011 - 9:32 pm

    Just leaving a comment so I get a link to moderate…forgot my password again.

  2. #2 by Travis Kurtz on May 4, 2012 - 9:01 am

    Great post. You hit the nail on the head regarding audience. We see so many of our clients try to tell their story without adapting it to their audience, let alone a segment within their audience.

    • #3 by jjhnsn on May 4, 2012 - 9:39 am

      Thanks, Travis! And you’re so right–getting clients to understand that they are not their target audience can certainly be a challenge, especially when they say things like, “Why do I need to develop buyer personae? I know what my prospective buyers want, intuitively.”

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