It turns out that research has more than one purpose.
What does it really mean to have writer’s block?
According to Merriam-Webster, writer’s block is “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.” Basically, it’s something happening in your head that’s stopping you from writing.
For example, if you’ve always created content following your morning cup of coffee, you might attribute writer’s block to the interruption of that ritual.
The routine cup of coffee in the morning has had a psychological effect on you, and because it didn’t happen, you can’t proceed with writing–the very definition of writer’s block.
Whether you actually have writer’s block or not, there is just not enough time in your workday to create the content you need to, writer’s block can be a real problem for marketers.
How do you go about curing it then?
One way to cure writer’s block that you may not have expected involves UCG (User-Generated Content).
User-Generated Content and Writer’s Block
It would seem almost obvious that if you’re having trouble creating content, have somebody else do it. With UCG, not only is it free, but you also get the benefits of interactive content.
User-Generated Content (UGC) is a hot topic in content marketing today. “67% of consumers (73% of Gen Z and 70% of Millennials) say it’s important for brands to provide them with a personalized experience,” according to Stackla.
UGC would allow you to create this original content at scale. The only problem is that people are people and everybody’s different—not everyone will share each others’ enthusiasm for creating or forwarding your brand’s content.
This is where the writings of Mark W. Shaefer come into play with his book, The Content Code: Six Essential Strategies to Ignite Your Content, Your Marketing, and Your Business. In it, he explores whether there’s a secret code to unlock good content. Part of that code is having what he calls an “Alpha Audience.”
He defines an Alpha Audience as an engaged group that “are more than 250 percent more likely to transmit your content!”
An example of an Alpha Audience would be Apple fanboys and fangirls–more or less, these are devout advocates of the Apple brand. Such diehard loyalty to Apple would beg the question, how do you find these Alphas? In a keynote, Shaefer himself says that you can do this by tracking down mentions in your analytics and personally thanking them.
Although, getting those Alphas to create content for you might happen faster if you employed a psychological method of persuasion written about by expert psychologist, Robert B. Cialdini. In his book, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, he identifies the Principle of Reciprocity.
That’s basically a tit-for-tat exchange. For instance, in terms of UGC, if you’re looking for success stories, kick off the success story-generation effort by sharing a success story of your own.
It works because, according to Cialdini, people feel like they want to pay you back. In terms of our example, prospects and customers feel like they have to pay you back in the form of their own success story for the value you’ve provided them.
This bears out some interesting marketing campaigns. Take Wayfair. They created a hashtag for their customers–#WayfairAtHome–to show-off what those customers bought. The Principle of Reciprocity takes shape when Wayfair’s customers receive their products. It’s enacted when they use the hashtag to show off the value Wayfair provided them.
It’s a neat way to get over writer’s block–have someone else do it!
More Traditional Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block
Research is a tried and true way to get rid of writer’s block. Dive deep in it. This approach isn’t without credibility—it’s how David Ogilvy would’ve done it.
In fact, the legendary copywriter said in Ogilvy On Advertising, “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”
Ogilvy believed in research to find creative direction and illuminate, not prove his point.
It might seem a bit disingenuous to say Ogilvy used research to cure writer’s block if what he actually said was simply not to ignore research. A more direct quote comes from the famous copywriter, Rosser Reeves, also featured in Ogilvy On Advertising:
You won’t find ‘creativity’ in the 12-volume Oxford dictionary. Do you think it means originality? Says Reeves, ‘Originality is the most dangerous word in advertising. Preoccupied with originality, copywriters pursue something as illusory as a swamp fire, for which the Latin phrase is ignus fatuus.’
What Reeves meant by speaking out against creativity is that creativity uninformed by research is a dangerous prospect. Reeves is quoted by Ogilvy in his book, which was an implicit endorsement by Ogilvy of Reeves’s views.
Together, their views were personified in Nike’s 2012 “Find Your Greatness” campaign. The point of the campaign was to show Nike as a brand for athletes of any variety, not just professional ones. It involved detailed personas that could only be obtained through research.
It’s clear from the two quotes mentioned above that Ogilvy believed in research to inspire original content. Framed another way, research is a cure for writer’s block.
Research, and Research Deep
Where Ogilvy and Reeves might’ve given you a more general answer on how to cure writer’s block with research, Ann Handley and C. C. Chapman provided a more nuanced answer. This is recorded in their book, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business:
Insight inspires originality. Know yourself better than anyone. Get your brand story straight, and give voice to your distinctive point of view based on your mission and attributes. Know your customers, too, and what keeps them up at night. What are their concerns and objectives? What do they care about? How will your brand help them in their daily lives?
The authors of Content Rules don’t come right out and say it. You have to read the passage closely for pieces of marketing wisdom. The above passage speaks to the importance of knowing your audience through data to deliver original content.
The keys to the passage are:
- Know yourself
- Know your audience
- Let these two sources of data inform your content creation efforts
This is undoubtedly a popular approach to creating content–just look at the success of Netflix and their original programming. Data motivates some of their best content decisions. Take Netflix’s $100 million decision to air the wildly successful show, House of Cards.
But as successful as Netflix is, in the end, it’s still a B2C example, not B2B. For a B2B example, you only need to look to Randy Frisch of Uberflip.
His book release, F#ck Content Marketing: Focus on Content Experience to Drive Demand, Revenue & Relationships, speaks to Netflix’s success while also telling you that B2B companies are expecting a B2C, Netflix-like experience.
Netflix has distribution down to an art with personalized recommendations and content so you don’t have to look for it. B2B companies want to give that same experience to their customers.
To that end, you get Kanopy, a streaming service for educational institutions and libraries. They curate content to expand the horizons of their users–a way to get them to try out content they wouldn’t normally consume.
When creating a system that curates and recommends content based on preferences, by default, you’re working with lots of data. Data that helps create content. (Netflix originals come to mind.)
In summary, data helps with writer’s block.
Overcoming all of the challenges that writer’s block poses involves research. Whether it’s providing a B2C-like experience for B2B marketing, getting an alpha audience, or involving them in UGC efforts, writer’s block can be addressed in a couple of ways, but they all bear out the same result. You just need quality data–the rest will follow.
What have been your experiences with using data and research to inspire content? Let us know in the chat below!