I had a professor in college who loved to play a game “Shakespeare wrote every possible story.” He would challenge a student to name a movie they liked, and he would say without hesitation a Shakespearian play that had the same plot. It was kind of annoying, but it was his class, and he was an expert on Shakespeare, so whatever.
I’ve found that the basis of good stories and good writing goes back much further than Shakespeare. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Aristotle’s Poetics. He told us pretty much everything you need to know about crafting a good story, and with so much focus on content and storytelling in marketing, that’s an important skill to have.
Now I do take exception to his comment about women not being clever. (I think I can be clever once in a while.) But he also said women have fewer teeth than men and considering he was married twice, you’d think a guy as smart as him would have been able to confirm that’s not the case. Anyway, he did have a lot to say about constructing a story that still rings true.
Perhaps his most famous formula for writing is that every story has to have a beginning, middle, and end. That sounds simple enough, but that’s like telling someone to use good grammar is simple. It’s a simple statement, but actually having sparkling grammar isn’t so simple at all.
We often are taught a version of this formula when we learn to write essays in school. We start with a thesis statement, followed by paragraphs with supporting information and ending with a conclusion.
When it comes to marketing content, the structure is similar. We often open with a problem, give supporting information as to why we have the answer, and then end with a call to action. Of course good content has many subtleties and nuances to them, and really good content writers create a story that draws us in and touch our emotions. That’s where Aristotle’s other big idea comes into play.
Perhaps more important than the idea of beginning, middle and end was Aristotle’s idea of ethos, pathos, and logos. This is the trifecta all good content is based on.
Ethos is credibility and trust. No one cares what you have to say if they don’t trust you. Trust mostly comes from branding and reputation, and content is a major way to reinforce your brand and solidify reputation. It’s no secret that reputation has a major effect on a company’s stock price with research showing it accounts for up to a third of the stock price.
This is all about emotions. It’s showing hungry children and mistreated dogs and pulling at our heartstrings so we open our purse strings. One of the most infamous ads playing to emotions was from Lyndon Johnson’s campaign in the ’60s of the cute little girl with a daisy interrupted by an atomic explosion. It’s a well-crafted ad featuring the overlapping counting of the girl and the bomb launch countdown, but geez louise, it’s creepy, and it evokes fear one of our strongest emotions.
With logos, Aristotle encourages us to use reason and provide proof of our claims. One of the advantages of content marketing is the ability to provide details because it tends to be longer. Short TV ads or Facebook ads don’t really provide the ability to give more than a headline. These shorter versions pull your audience in. Content such as blogs, e-books, corporate communications, and the like helps you give details that prove your claim. Superior content relies not just on creativity, but also on logic.
Aristotle, for all his deep thinking and insightful wisdom, encouraged writers to write simply and write to your audience. He said, “A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.” Good advice no matter what type of writing we do.