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7 ways to make content that matters

Quick: Think of one of your favorite movies. Does thinking about it bring on any feelings or emotions? Of course it does. If it didn’t, it never would have become one of your favorites – it would have been instantly forgettable.

The last thing you want is for your nonprofit’s content to be forgettable. Far too many brands feel accomplished just getting content made and out the door. But if that content isn’t made by storytellers who know how to evoke emotions and inspire an audience, it may have been a waste of precious time, resources, and effort.

Your content must matter to the audience. And yes, you should absolutely be making story-based content: Stories are the way humans have communicated information since we came into being. Audiences are 22 times more likely to retain information if it’s presented in the form of a compelling story. If you aren’t communicating with story-based content, you’re just pushing marketing messages.

The great news is that nonprofits are especially well-positioned to tell gripping stories – stories that are more worthy of an audience’s time than most. What’s needed is a little storyteller’s magic to make sure the message is delivered via memorable content that matters.

Here are some tips to make sure your content isn’t just a pitch, but a message that matters, is memorable, and will move your audience to act:

1. Establish the setting.

Nonprofits know their cause areas deeply. Where they go wrong is assuming that those who consume their content are just as knowledgeable. Nope: That’s your 24/7 concern, not theirs. You can’t skip over the context: You have to take the time to pull them into your world. What’s the landscape like? What are the current challenges? Who are the players?

2. Clarify the challenge.

How many legendary movies or TV series had a plot without challenges, conflict, or tension? You have an obligation to pique your audience’s interest, and you can’t do that without a threat entering the picture, or a mystery to be solved. You have to make your audience ask, “What’s going to happen next? How is this going to turn out?”

3. Raise the stakes.

The average human attention span – the longest period we can go without being distracted by something else – is eight seconds. Eight seconds! So how do you keep your audience from tuning out? By deploying well-timed twists and reveals that take the story’s initial concerns and kick them up a notch. This keeps the audience invested in seeing the story through to its outcome.

4. Identify a hero.

When there’s more trouble afoot than we can handle on our own, we instinctively look for a rescuer. A hero or heroine is someone we can invest in, cheer for, and aspire to be like. In brand communications, a product or a brand can itself be the hero. For nonprofits, that hero could be a program or service, a staffer or a volunteer, a beneficiary or a donor; whoever or whatever it is, it serves, ultimately, to resolve the tension we’ve built in the story.

5. Reveal a better world.

After the hero has faced the challenge and relieved the tension, you must paint a gratifying picture of the results: a better world for everyone involved. This is the audience’s reward for seeing the story through and sticking with the hero. For nonprofits, this should reflect the vision your organization has set forth as your mission’s aspirational end-result.

6. Play to your audience.

The hardest thing to do is make a convert out of someone who has no interest in your cause – it’s possible, but it takes lots of time and money. Your content distribution dollar will go much further if you’re realistic about who is most likely to pursue the kind of content you’re making, and aim it squarely at them.

7. Recognize the skill it takes.

Effective storytelling is a discipline: It takes training, experience, passion, intuition, and empathy to create a crowd-pleasing story that compels, thrills, or inspires. To compete for attention in today’s crowded, noisy content world, professional brand communicators must bolster their marketing skills with help from those who know how to entertain and captivate.

Mike Stiles is a partner at Valverde & Stiles, an Atlanta-based content strategy firm helping nonprofits and other businesses achieve content clarity through consulting, production, and scaling services.


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