“If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”
Identifying the originator of that sublime quote has been the subject of m`uch debate over the years—one that has encompassed a who’s-who list of the world’s most influential thinkers, from Voltaire to Mark Twain to Winston Churchill. This article on Quote Investigator seems to trace it back to French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in the 17th Century.
Pascal’s saying sounds odd the first time you hear it, but then its premise almost immediately becomes clear: Clarity and simplicity take time. Pascal otherwise prides himself in crafting concise, informative letters to his friends and colleagues that communicate his key thoughts, waste few words, and leave little doubt about his intent. Most of the time, Pascal likely researched, scribbled, sketched, made a list, sorted his thoughts, wrote and re-wrote before putting his final version’s pen to paper. Only after all that planning and envisioning of his message does he arrive at a message that is all signal and no noise. Any information not on point was left on the cutting room floor.
However, in this one particular instance that allegedly produced the famous quote, Pascal was short on time and simply needed to start writing. The letter probably meandered a bit, was not as well organized as usual, and contained more information and ideas than the recipient really needed. It may have been difficult to sort through Pascal’s thoughts and identify his intent. For that, Pascal apologized, basically saying “I was short on time, so I had to throw in everything … Sorry about wasting a bit more of your time than I intended to.”
If Pascal lived in our modern day he’d be a big fan of Post-It™ Notes, I’m sure. Digital project managers, creatives and developers can certainly appreciate Pascal’s approach. Our research, strategy, sketching and wireframing, information architecture, and prototyping represent the “more time” that Pascal preferred to take. This is the work that comes before any design comps, or any lines of code — because it needs to come first. While design and code often seems to many as being more “tangible” progress, a well-thought-out, properly-invested-in Discovery phase involving strategy, research, mapping, and planning is the most important progress of all.
Your project’s goal is to deliver a “shorter letter” to your audience:
- an easy-to-navigate web site;
- a delightful mobile app experience;
- an efficient business software user interface;
- an infographic, data visualization or explainer that conveys complex information.
In short, without the right amount of up front planning, you may be apologizing for a hastily-delivered project being such a “long letter.”
If you work in consumer-facing health communications, you face the considerable challenges of language barriers and health literacy gaps. Here’s how the US Department of Health and Human Services assessed it:
Only 12 percent of adults have Proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.
That level of health illiteracy is of course concerning, because health is related to everything we do. Our health is affected by the amount of sleep we get, the nutrition we put into our bodies, the amount of social interaction we have with friends or family in a week, and even the way we sit in a chair. All of these factors impact our overall health.
So, how do health communications professionals work on this issue? How can they create content that is more understandable, and then spread that information as far and wide as possible? How does a healthcare brand make its important communications ‘contagious’?
Contagious is a sublime book written by Jonah Berger. He goes into six “STEPPS” that can help your content go viral. His framework can be incorporated into health communications and help professionals work smarter—not harder—with their content.
Berger’s STEPPS are as follows:
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Understanding these can help you plan your content to make it a ‘social epidemic.’ If you want to spread your information fast and become top-of-mind, then you need to think about how to apply each of Berger’s STEPPS into your marketing campaigns.
Step 1: Social Currency
Social currency is the knowledge you have to add value to a conversation. The more you know, the more “status” you often have in society.
People are always talking about what was on the news and what they saw on social media. They use this information to start conversations at work, among friends and family, and even with total strangers. When we do this and share the right type of information, we gain social currency.
According to research cited by Buffer, there are two main reasons people share content:
- “to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about”
- “to stay connected to people.”
The research showcases that people want to be liked. Berger explains that “[the] desire for social approval is fundamental human motivation.” With this knowledge, health organizations need handcrafted, creative content so people can engage with it.
Health organizations need to dive deeper into their target audience(s) and find valuable content based on the consumer’s interests and motivations. The content also needs to be remarkable. According to Berger:
“Remarkable content provides social currency because they make people who talk about them seem more, well, remarkable.”
In healthcare communications, you should almost always provide an example or visual to help explain the health-related concept. This will not only help with readers with lower health literacy rates, but it will also boost the attention and social currency value of the content.
Step 2: Triggers
Triggers are prompts that keep people talking about your brand or product. Berger provided a great example of triggers that may help you understand this concept better.
Rebecca Black’s song, “Friday”, has a prevalent trigger associated with it. Can you take a guess on what it is?
Drum roll please… the song’s title, “Friday”, is the trigger! When this song was popular, every Friday people would turn on this song because it was Friday.
Health organizations could easily take advantage of triggers because health is related to everything you do. Content could be focused on everyday health and wellness topics to prompt healthier decisions and lifestyle habits.
Step 3: Emotion
If you make someone feel an emotion with your content, you will create a bond with the recipient of your message. This person then has the ability to share your message with their network and spread your brand to potential new customers of your products or services.
According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, purchase decisions, brand loyalty, and customer engagement are directly related to the subconscious mind. Emotional benefits can overpower the rational benefits of a product or service because people care about how they feel with a product or service.
Healthcare organizations should be factoring in how they can make people feel. A prime example of doing this step right, is Health Beat, a brand journalism publication of Spectrum Health. Health Beat publishes inspiring patient stories of hardship, hope, love, joy, and excitement that spark a range of emotions in their readers, leading them to share those stories on social media so others can share in that emotional connection.
Step 4: Public
Another step that is crucial is “public.” A key factor of this step is observability — meaning if people see something, they will engage with it. How far the engagement goes depends on the content and the person.
Berger also relates this concept to “social proof.” Social proof can be seen in how people wait in line for an overpriced cup of coffee. People assume the longer the line, the better the coffee. But in reality, they are herding to “social influence.” Social influence has a big effect on behavior.
Health organizations can take advantage of this step, but have to be careful what topics they promote and educate about.
For example, Berger discussed how anti-drug ads aren’t always the best tactic to prevent people from using them. Although the aim of these ads is to prevent young adults from using drugs, the response was often the opposite. Berger informs us that anti-drug ads promote drugs as bad, but clearly showcase that people are using them.
Showing the drug use creates visibility and social proof that can increase the appeal of drug use among teens, and even create a larger problem. It is important to remember this example as a cautionary tale when moving forward with health-related campaigns.
Step 5: Practical Value
People share practically valuable information to help others. This includes useful information.
Useful content is different for every person. It could be a tutorial video on how to prepare a meal, or an infographic giving consumers useful, relevant information. The opportunities to create useful informative content in healthcare are endless.
So, how do you know if your content has value? Ask yourself if the content provides a functional or emotional benefit to someone. If it does, you have your answer.
Step 6: Stories
Stories carry things — a lesson or moral; information or a take-home message. According to Berger, stories “provide a quick and easy way for people to acquire lots of knowledge in a vivid and engaging fashion.”
So how do you know if you are creating a good or bad story?
Good stories provide social currency, emotion, and practical value. Bad stories do not.
If you want to create desirable, shareable content in healthcare you need to put these STEPPS into action.
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Think about how your message could be woven into these important considerations, and then wait for your consumers to engage with it or not. Then make adjustments and try again.
Remember, you can’t make something viral, but your audience can.
Meet: Joe Greve
Welcome Joe Greve, our new web developer at Elexicon! We are thrilled to have him join our team. To help you get to know Joe better, we asked him to answer a few questions.
What is your educational background?
I have an associates degree in Web Design from Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and spent a year at Ferris State University studying Game Design and Animation.
What are five interesting facts about you?
- No matter the topic, I probably have some random fun fact about it
- I like to think I’m pretty great at making food
- I’m exceptionally detail oriented (sometimes to a fault!)
- I can repair most anything on a car
- I once solved a Rubik’s Cube, by following a guide
If you could visit anywhere in the world you’ve never been, where would you go?
Japan! Osaka, Tokyo, Toyota City, the mountains — all of it.
How do you wind down after work?
Usually by cooking myself a nice meal. I find cooking really therapeutic. Maybe just because you can’t really rush a good meal!
What’s a topic you wish you knew more about?
I feel like my answer to this changes every week. But right now, I think I’d say automotive metalworking.
If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Africa, by Toto. Extra points for the Weezer cover.
Who inspires you?
In no particular order: Steve Jobs, Christian von Koenigsegg, anyone who can stick it out with a personal project for more than a few weeks, and my fiancé.
Because I’m the Astronomy Guy at Elexicon, I’m once again going to use my work as an excuse to post about Space.
Here’s a breathtaking photo of the Orion Nebula.
This image of the Orion Nebula is one of the largest and deepest ever taken. It was done using the HAWK-1 infrared camera attached to the Very Large Telescope in Chile, an 8.2 meter telescope that can see celestial objects in extraordinary detail. This image is not exactly what was released by the European Southern Observatory originally; the observations were remastered by astrophotographer Robert Gendler to bring out more detail and to really shine a light (so to speak) on the phenomenal beauty of this immense stellar nursery.
There’s some important science lurking in this image, but there’s something I want to point out first. The glowing part of the nebula is actually just a small part of a much larger complex called the Orion Molecular Cloud. It’s a dense, cold cloud of gas and dust, invisible to the eye, and stars are forming in it. A clutch of stars happened to form near the edge of the cloud, and once they switched on after birth their intense radiation began carving enormous cavities in the gas, chewing away at the material in the cloud.
Because they’re near the edge, they eventually ate a hole on the side of the cloud. In a sense they popped the bubble, blowing out the cloud at their location, which happened to be on the side of the cloud facing us. When we look at the Orion Nebula, we’re actually seeing a dimple or divot scooped out of the denser material. The lower density and much hotter gas filling that dimple glows brilliantly, creating the nebula we see.
This image actually shows that extremely well. Redder material is denser, and the blue glow suffusing the nebula is lower density, hotter gas, tracing the shape of the cavity. It’s an extraordinary glimpse literally inside the nebula.
In other words, you’re looking at a star factory. This video from the Science Channel explains what goes on inside that factory:
The TL;DR version: when gravity clumps enough material together, pressure can build to a point that the atoms of that material fuse together. Those atoms then release their energy in a chain reaction that ignites as a star. A star is a perpetual series of nuclear explosions balanced by the contracting force of gravity—until the fuel runs out.
How star formation relates to content strategy
We sometimes see attempts to trigger website ignition by throwing all available website-y material together in one collection of web pages. Unfortunately in those cases, physics isn’t taking over just because staff bios, a company history, and excerpts from brochures about products or services are gathered together.
Without strategic planning and intentional organization of content, you can end up with a loose mess of material adrift in a nondescript corner of the universe—er, the internet.
Here’s the thing: those clouds of dust in the photo above are the same material that ignited to become stars. The clouds are reflecting light from nearby stars or radiating heat from those stars as light—they’re not giving off their own light.
A website that is similarly just a loose association of website-y stuff is also defined in contrast to other, ignited websites using similar material—competitors. And it won’t look as good as a cloud of space dust backlit by stars.
This applies at the page level, too. For example, efforts to make the homepage ignite can lead to unusable clutter that drives visitors away or leaves them with an unclear path to what they need. You don’t want a page like that standing in contrast to the ignited homepage of a competitor.
The lesson: you won’t get ignition with your website without some intentional arrangement of the material. You want the web equivalent of the atomic fusion that ignites a star.
But also remember: once you have ignition, you won’t have the balanced forces of chain reactions and gravity holding it together. You need a plan in place to keep the fires going.
We can help with that
Elexicon’s content strategy services can help you figure out what you have and what you need, as well as how it all should be arranged to achieve a stable, lasting ignition. Together with our design and development services, we can help you achieve a clear, usable, and human-centered experience for your users.
Your website can shine on its own. And, hopefully, outshine the rest of the stars.
Marketing guru Seth Godin’s Purple Cow is written for marketing professionals, and anyone who wants to expand their horizons with a unique perspective. He explores marketing strategies and uses case studies to help explain his point of view.
Godin begins by explaining that marketing doesn’t have enough “P’s,” referring to the famous “Four P’s of Marketing”:
- and promotion.
Godin suggests that we need to account for more “P’s,” such as positioning, publicity, pass-along, permission, and Purple Cows.
What are Purple Cows?
Purple Cows are standout experiences (like literally seeing a “Purple Cow”) that create more than just the typical desired outcome such as a purchase, a reaction, a click, etc. Purple Cows are a promotion technique that works best when the goal is to spread more than just awareness. The goal of a Purple Cow is to generate something deeper and more lasting: loyalty, a relationship, a creative spark, even an obsession.
Purple Cows are important in your business because people are too busy and will ignore your messages if you don’t break through the noise with something exceptional.
I know firsthand that consumers are frustrated with the clutter of advertisements and traditional marketing, so much that their disdain for ads has led them to ad blockers.
So, what should marketers do? Create Purple Cow experiences for consumers with otaku.
Otaku is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests. According to Godin, otaku describes something that’s more than a hobby, but a little less than an obsession.
Godin says, “Otaku is the overwhelming desire that gets someone to drive across town to try a new ramen-noodle shop that got a great review.”
As a marketer, I believe that otaku is an essential quality we are looking for in consumers. The more consumers have otaku towards your product, the more chances a Purple Cow phenomenon will occur.
A prime example of otaku in the United States is hot sauce. Boatloads of people are lining up to taste the hottest hot sauce and will compete in the most outrageous challenges. This obsession has led to a real business, therefore showing the impact of otaku.
Moving forward, we as marketers need to understand otaku-driven consumers to implement more successful products.
Purple Cow is a great book to gain inspiration for marketing professionals. Godin provides case studies that provide ideas on how to create remarkable experiences for our consumers.
My favorite case study was “How Dutch Boy Stirred Up the Paint Business.” Dutch Boy, a paint manufacturing company, created an entirely new product based on a key insight: people hated paint cans because they were heavy, hard to carry, hard to close, hard to pour from, and no fun. So, the marketing team changed the product, creating an easier to carry, easier to pour from, easier to close paint jug.
We need to take a design thinking approach towards marketing, and understand that sometimes you need to stop selling the product and think instead about how the consumers are engaging with it. If you exercise a little empathy, you can gain consumer insights that will increase purchasing decisions and sales.
That leads me to end with a question. How can you redefine what you sell and make it better?