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Going Beyond Text: How to Experiment with New Content Formats

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The sheer volume of information being generated around the globe is truly mind-boggling. Every minute some 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created, 473,000 tweets are tweeted and hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube — with all signs pointing to continued growth.

That’s a lot of content. To break through this onslaught and connect with you audience, it can help to experiment with new formats beyond text. The problem is that many creative teams — even those well-versed in text-based storytelling and thought leadership — don’t know where to start.

We asked experts in video, visual content and podcasting for their advice. How can creative teams move beyond text and step into other worlds of content?

Video: Don’t Wait for Perfection

Every marketing blog out there will tell you to start using video. And while years of data strongly support the benefits of video marketing, the production costs and difficulty of the format can be intimidating for many creative teams, particularly those at smaller companies.

It’s time to overcome that fear, says Aaron Carr, a content strategist at Ubico Labs who has been creating videos since he was a teenager and who has been recognized by YouTube as a Silver Creator. He says many people think they need a lot of money and top-notch production values to break into video, but he has found that authentic, simple videos — even talking directly to your phone — do best on social, by far. In his words, “when you're scrolling on Facebook, you don't want to be advertised to.” So it makes sense that when people are on social media, they’re drawn to the raw, authentic videos instead of the polished commercials.

That should feel freeing to marketers who are trying to figure out how to create more videos. You really don’t need a commercial. You need to make a human connection.

Aaron, who as a content strategist for brands has amassed more than 30 million views and 130,000 followers, says that in his experience people are blown away by the results of even a small video experiment. You don't need big budgets or a huge crew. “Social media is all about experimenting,” he says. “Don't overthink it. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

Infographics: Break Through Content Clutter with Visuals

Josh Miles, chief creative officer at Killer Infographics, a Seattle-based visual communication agency, says people have been communicating visually since prehistoric times and remain distinctly drawn to visual messages.

“Now we’ve got world leaders tweeting emojis to communicate policy changes,” he says. “This is how humans have always communicated. As there is more and more noise out there, it’s the quickest way to really cut through everything.”

Josh says that when teams are considering a visual like an infographic to present key information quickly and easily, they first need to have a conversation about what they’re trying to accomplish — either with an internal design team or an external partner.

Once you’re clear on what you want to do, he says, you can start thinking about how you want to express the idea visually in a way that’s true to your brand and audience. “I think that upfront legwork is really important,” he says. “Frankly, you’re just wasting your money creating something without putting any strategy behind it.”

His advice: Focus on accomplishing one thing rather than trying to solve multiple problems at once.

It’s also important to think about where people will see your infographic. Most long infographics are not a great fit for social media, he says, so it’s a good idea to break them up. Pull out snapshots and scale them for different social channels. Your audience can click through to get the full infographic.

While infographics are best when simple, Josh says some clients, such as financial firms, often want to express more complex ideas via visuals. The solution in these cases, he says, are visual blog posts that include blocks of structured around graphic elements.

“It’s basically just a blog post with images, but we’re thinking more strategically how we’re applying those visuals so they’re really driving that message forward,” he says. “Those images are created not only to supplement the story but also push it further.”

Any good piece of visual content should have a narrative arc, Josh says. For example, a visual blog post will usually have an initial header image or spot illustration that helps orient the reader to the problem or issue you’re addressing.

“As you move through the different images and the different sections of text, you basically should be able to not read the text and just see the images and get a decent sense of what we’re talking about — and with that final image feel like you're back in that place of conclusion where we’ve returned to what that initial image is. But something has changed, some sort of outcome has been resolved,” he says.

Podcasts: Build Relationships with Customers by Telling Stories

Podcasts are more popular than ever. In its annual study of the industry, Edison Research found that 44 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast at some point during 2018, which amounts to 124 million people, an increase of 12 million over last year. And those listeners are engaged — 85 percent said they listened to all or most of each episode they downloaded.

Steve Pratt, co-founder of Pacific Content, a Seattle-based podcast agency, says podcasts are highly effective at creating relationships with customers over time — and they are more accessible than many marketing professionals realize.

“You could do it at any scale, very similar to any other media — blogging or video,” he says. “The whole beginning of podcasting was about democratizing the tools and the distribution where anybody could do it for next to nothing, and that’s still true today.”

But that doesn’t mean podcasts are easy to churn out. He says a successful brand podcast registers high in “creative bravery.”

Your budget will influence what format you choose for your podcast — narrative storytelling or long-form interview, for example — as well as the amount of production that goes into the show and how often you produce it. But he says that regardless of the format, if you have valuable information or stories to share with an audience, they will reward you with their attention and loyalty.

To get started, Pratt suggests stepping back and asking why you want to create a podcast. What business problem are you trying to solve?

“Podcasts are really great for building relationships with people over time, for positioning your brand and raising awareness of your brand,” he says. “Making an original show that’s designed to suddenly goose your sales numbers for the next quarter is pretty challenging because you have to talk about your product and service all the time. Which means you’re making an infomercial, which means that nobody actually wants to listen to it.”

When it comes to format, remember that long-form, serialized, narrative storytelling can be difficult for smaller companies with few resources for marketing. “It require a lot of expertise, time and creativity,” he says. “That’s probably not something that’s a great fit to do in-house at a small company.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t develop a narrative arc. Even if you’re producing an interview podcast, Pratt suggests thinking about the order and type of questions you're asking to try to build a sense of narrative progression.

Pratt says that if you’re able to produce high-quality content, successfully market your show and build an audience, a podcast can build a powerful connection with customers in ways that other content rarely achieves.

“You’re getting people to spend a half-hour an episode over and over again with you,” he says. “They’re voluntarily spending their time with you and getting to know who you are and what you stand for. When it comes time to make a purchase or a decision, you're way ahead of your competitors because of the relationships that have been built.”

Jeremy Harper is a former newspaper reporter and currently an independent writer, designer, editor and dad who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremyinbr.

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