Simple Complexity: Using Single-Image Narratives to Drive Attention and Traffic to Long-form Content

Posted by Owen Matson, Ph.D. on January 14
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You're developing a post on a highly technical topic--let's say the development of software for a company that produces autonomous navigation technologies.  You have developed a story that integrates all the relevant information, and you've presented this material in a tone and voice appropriate to the target audience.  Still, to include all this information in a narrative, your piece, after editing, still reqquires 2000+ words.   

As a conscientious and professionally engaged content writer, you keep pace with best practices. But the experts seem to give contrary advice. You’ve read, for instance, about the "eye-tracking studies" that reveal online readers will spend more time focused on the images in an article than they will with the associated text. 

Looking through Forbes' website, you find a slideshare that tells you "How to Get Your Blog Real Attention."  The article tells you to, “Write short, pithy posts" and goes on to warn that after 750 words—or sometimes after only half that—you risk losing your reader’s attention.”

Yet you also know that Google search favors long-form content, and others have shown that blogs must be over  1500-7000 words to engage audiences and establish authority.

Besides, you think, "I read long articles all the time.  Could I really be that outside the norm?"

So do you go short or long?  To an extent, the topic makes the decision for you: To effectively present all the necessary information, you need writer a longer piece: In short, complex topics require long-form content.

But does the necessity of long-form preclude the potential engagement and draw of a shorter post?  Some version of this scenario haunts the project of producing content on complex topics.  

The Contrary Demands of Effective Content Strategy:

As I have explored in a previous post, many content creators deal with a nagging dissonance: Should they capture attention with shorter content and risk reducing the complexity of the piece, or should they present complex content that risks getting passed over as too long? (For an excellent and wonderfully inspired discussion of this dilemma, I highly recommend a post on why people matter in content, by master storyteller Christy Miles.)

Still Image-Narratives as Drivers for Long-Form Content

One answer lies in the use of narrative images. Narrative images work in the same way movie posters work for the longer feature.  Effective narrative images do not merely “hype” the story in a film.  Rather, by presenting details that highligh narrative elements like conflcit and resolution, an image can tell a certain, complex and nuanced version of the story itself.   Content strategy can, in fact, learn much from the synergy at work between movie posters and their full-length narrative counterparts.  To see how, read my piece on the use of the movie poster for the film Home Alone.

To draw interest to longer content, content creators can circulate narrative images as separate posts, with links to long-form content--again, the same way movie posters draw interest to the longer film.  The brevity of the image captures viewer attention that drives greater interest and traffic to the more immersive experience of the long-form narrative. Better yet, marketing teams are no longer left to choose between simplicity and complexity: Because the image circulates as a separate short-form publication that links directly to the longer piece, the short piece does not replace or reudce your longer, more complex narrative. Rather, the shorter piece merely supplements the long with yet more information.

Driver Content

Rather than getting forced into a choice between simplicity  and complexity, these shorter pieces act as a newly efficient means of adding complexity to long-form content. At MarketScale, we’ve come to call this shorter, attention-grabbing material driver content. Employing single images to show and tell the main ideas of your longer story, driver content presents a powerful strategic tool in marketing’s ongoing battle against what I have elsewhere called marketing’s greatest enemy: The Age of Distraction.

By Dr. Owen Matson

Topics: Content

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