It’s eighth hour and everybody is ready to go home. English class wasn’t always a thrill fest, but today is even worse. We’re reading Shakespeare. Othello, specifically. Halogen lights buzz, and one at a time the class reads about 50 lines of dialogue. Some succeed in affecting different voices to denote when another character speaks. Others just say the character’s name before every line.
If your education was anything like mine, you suffered through something like this at some point. It was time to cover the Bard in your English class, and your teacher was hell-bent on making sure that you read the play (whichever one you read) out loud in class. At least some of it, at least a few times. It was boring. It was embarrassing. So many words we couldn’t pronounce. So many idioms and turns of phrase we just didn’t understand.
At the time, I thought my teachers were just being lazy. It was an efficient way to fill classroom time. Fine. Today, however, I know the real reason they made us do it, and I know something that should change the way marketers think about their content and how they choose a copywriter:
If you ask me, this is the single biggest reason for Shakespeare’s success. He knew he was funded by the rich, educated upper class, but he wrote his stuff for the unwashed masses who wouldn’t be reading it, but hearing it. In turn, he was adored and remembered and voted President of English Language Writers forever.
Like I said, I’m not sure that knowledge would have changed my appreciation for those in-class reading sessions any, but I do know it changes how I think about my job as a copywriter and the owner of a content marketing agency.
Whatever I write (or any Metonymy copywriter writes) for my clients, whether it’s a single blog post, an important whitepaper, or a whole campaign of content, I always start with my audience. Who are they? What do they want? What do they need? Just like Shakespeare, I want to know not just how to make my paying clients happy (which is important), but how to really connect with the real audience for my content. Nine times out of ten, I base my approach to any piece of content not on my client’s culture or their offerings, but on the audience and their frame of mind at the exact moment when they need what my client has for them. Sometimes that calls for content that isn’t exactly pertinent to my clients’ products or services, and that’s okay.
If you think about many of the plays and stories Shakespeare is famous for, it’s really quite amazing how few of them were original concepts. About a third of The Bard’s works were dramatized retellings of actual historical events. Some were original comedies and tragedies. Many of them were re-imaginings of stories that had been told for centuries. Take Romeo & Juliet for example. It may be his most famous play, but it’s almost entirely a ripoff of the Ancient Roman myth of Pyramus and Thysbe. If England’s most famous writer was able to find such success by repurposing old story tropes for his specific audience, modern copywriters shouldn’t be afraid to do the same. I probably read close to 100 blog articles a day from a wide variety of different publications in an even wider variety of different industries. It helps me to focus on what’s working for other industries and gives me good fodder for topics that might work for my client’s audiences.
Finally, I make sure to keep my content as simple as I can. Shakespeare made it easy for his audience to remember his works by writing them to be recited. Even his sonnets, which weren’t written to be performed by theater companies, always followed the same rhyme scheme and meter. This made it easier for people listening to his stories in pubs and at parties to remember them and retell them to their friends, which of course led to his widespread popularity. When it comes to content like blog posts, I can have a little more faith in my readership. That said, it’s important to do everything I can for a largely mobile audience to digest my content. The trick is to write it well, keep people reading, and break it up. I always focus strongly on headlines that are descriptive and let people skim for what they’ll find most valuable. I always end with simple calls to action to let the reader know what I want them to do next. Simple structures like this make my job easier, and they make the end reader happier. It’s a win-win.
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