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I’m sick of thoughtless lists. Enough already.

When the light in my head went off junior year of high school that I loved and cherished writing and the written word, it wasn’t because someone promised me a list of things I could learn. It wasn’t because I read an article titled something absurd like “What Looney Tunes Teaches Us About Content Marketing.”

No - it was because of a short little man with big glasses and unflagging energy who taught our honors English class. This teacher, the late Mr. Jack Schread, taught me one very important lesson about writing and creating through any medium: You need to find the beauty in it. 

Why? The beauty is what resonates long after the facts and figures dissipate. Writing is writing, that much I know - you can wax eloquent about search rank and sensational headlines all you want. But at the end of that day, you know that person on the other end reading your stuff? They gotta love what you say and how you say it.

You see, "beauty," my friends, is not in the headline. Sure, the over-abundance of content has created a need to garner clicks just to gain a fraction of a second of someone’s attention…but why would they come back? Is there substance behind that headline? There better be, or else you're no better than a spammy banner ad flashing "FREE!" in neon Comic Sans.

Let me give you a quick example using one of Mr. Schread’s favorite novels, The Great Gatsby.

gatsby_book_preview.jpg

At one point in the novel, Gatsby reaches his hand out towards a faraway green light blinking in the distance. To hear Mr. Schread read this section was to feel the emotion Fitzgerald poured into the passage. Schread loved this novel. He wanted us to love it too.

Whenever he read to the class, he'd push these plain, round glasses he wore to the tip of his nose and hold the book comically far from his face. With Gatsby, I remember him stretching his other hand out to an unnamed point in the distance, away through the classroom door. He lifted onto his toes, as if the description on the pages was about to carry him off in the direction his hand pointed.

And then he described to us — quietly but with plenty of power — how Gatsby would “reach, reach, reeeaaaaaaaach for something in the distance…trying, straining, urging himself…,” he'd say.

I was hooked. The fact that words on a page could paint such a picture. Or spoken words. Or an image. Or a video. Or an interactive experience. Or any kind of "content."

And that's where it started for me. Content is much, MUCH more than a way to gain clicks. To bring it to business terms - you can’t rely solely on acquisition. You need retention. I read the same pages that Mr. Schread did. His version just resonated on a deeper, more visceral level.

Content needs to resonate with people, not just reach them.

And if you don't get that, you don't get people.

Posted on April 5, 2014 and filed under content marketing, writing.