Most content marketers understand the importance of trying to evoke specific emotions or sentiments from their readers; eliciting reactions is the best way to keep your target demographics coming back for more, and if those reactions are strong enough, you’ll have a built-in feedback loop to let you know how you’re doing along the way. Many content marketers end up focusing on the practicality of their content, trying to be as useful or amusing as possible to their readers, while also focusing on overall likeability—but the real secret to a successful content campaign is surprise.
Why Surprise Is Effective
Surprise comes in a number of forms, but it always has some core underlying qualities that make it effective. For example, you could create something unusual, such as creating art out of pieces of junk metal, or simply report the latest statistics on an uncommonly discussed topic, like food waste in the United States.
In almost any context, surprise is effective for a variety of reasons:
- Originality. First, surprise is going to make your content more original (by definition). Surprising your readers means you’ll need to show them something they haven’t seen before, which means you’re going to stand out from the competition—and possibly from your past work. Without originality, content doesn’t have a chance to be seen or read, so including some kind of surprise instantly gives you a leg up.
- Memorability. Scientific studies show that surprise is linked to higher memory. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense; if you’ve done something thousands of times, and this time is no different, there’s no point in trying to remember what happened. If you encounter something entirely new, like a new species of animal or a new food, you’ll want to remember your experience with it so you can respond to it better in the future. In the content marketing realm, this means any content you produce that elicits surprise from your readers is instantly going to be more memorable, enhancing your long-term brand visibility.
- Shareability. Surprise also makes your content more shareable and interactive. When people are surprised, they’re more likely to react to what they’ve seen, meaning you’ll have an easier time collecting comments and conversations in response to your work. You’ll also find that your surprised readers will be more likely to share your work with other people, as surprises tend to be contagious; this widens your content’s reach immediately.
How to Include More Surprises in Your Campaign
If surprises were easy to come up with, they probably wouldn’t be surprises; the moment your campaign becomes predictable, you’ll lose any advantage you had here. So how can you include more surprises in your content campaign?
- Deviate from brand norms. Ordinarily, brand consistency is one of the most important qualities for you to control and exhibit. You’ll make great efforts to ensure that your brand follows the same set of norms, values, tone, and even types of content produced to give your audience a consistent experience. However, once that foundation is established, you can fight against it by pursuing something you wouldn’t ordinarily pursue, covering a topic or using a tone that’s uncharacteristic of your brand. This elicits surprise, as most readers won’t see it coming. Just don’t use this technique too often, or your brand voice may become destabilized.
- Find and reveal surprising data. You can also focus your research on mining data points that your users may find surprising. For example, you could conduct a massive survey of influencers in your industry, and publish a new report that emphasizes the findings that would be most surprising to your readers, such as a percentage of influencers hating a new technology or a display of lower-than-anticipated adoption rates for a new strategy.
- Cover unexplored subjects. Unexplored topics are hard to find and conjure, but if you can find one, you’ll net an instant surprise with your readers. Look closely at your competition to see what topics they’ve covered in the past and what they’re currently missing.
- Experiment. Finally, forgo your preconceived notions and spend more time experimenting. Try a new style of content you haven’t touched before, or dabble in a medium that has eluded you in the past. Sometimes, merely trying a new form of expression, such as a podcast or a video, is enough to surprise your readers. Though you should still focus on quality, you need to remember that your content doesn’t have to be perfect; don’t be afraid to try something new.
With these tips, used in balance with one another, you can semi-consistently surprise your readers and reap the benefits of the strategy. Look for audience reactions, comments, traffic metrics, and of course, subjective feedback to illustrate how you’re progressing.