The Art of Simplicity: Tips for Writing Content for the Energy Industry

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They have the expertise and knowledge. But how do they translate that in a readable way on paper?

In McDonnell Group’s whitepaper, The Four R’s of Quality Content Marketing, we explored the four key traits that can help content marketers capture the potential of content marketing. In an earlier blog, we discussed the first step of ensuring your content is relevant. The second step is making sure your content is readable for readers or customers.

The clients we’ve worked with – from subject matter experts of oil and gas risk management software, executives at utilities across the country, to scientists studying year to year wind patterns – have a wealth of knowledge they want to share. But how do they get this on paper to convey it to an audience in an impactful, readable way?

Speaking to real humans, not robots

To drive effective search results with your content today – and to reach and persuade customers – marketers need to know how to speak to real humans. All the major search engines, as they’ve gotten smarter and more sophisticated, have increasingly measured effectiveness in this way: does it drive engagement? Does it move a human being to open, to read on or engage in some way? Though meta descriptions and keywords are important, the days of padding in random terms or key words like some sort of magic formula don’t work.

And it’s not as easy as it sounds (especially in the energy industry)…

A full 50 percent of respondents said they consider content marketing “very difficult” to do. And 25 percent of respondents said they outsource it.

From MG’s perspective, that last number should ideally be much larger – and not just because we offer it as an outsourced service! This type of pithy, accurate, yet compelling writing isn’t easy – especially in the energy industry. Few organizations happen to have in-house experts who both understand the complex technology and business issues unique to the energy vertical and also have the skillset – and time – to write well about it.

When Making Technical Topics More Readable? Simplify.

Because utilities, even more than the average customer, trust their peers more than any other source of information, utility success stories are one of the most effective forms of content marketing for this market. Customer success stories are inherently compelling. How can you ensure yours are readable?

When trying to produce “readable” content, focus on what your audience will care about: the essential challenge your customer solved with your product or service. Tell their story simply – no long words needed (or wanted!). Include some of the most telling facts, figures and statistics to quantify the results. For example, for utilities, showing improvement in SAIDI or CAIDI numbers is a powerful and widely understood measure of the impact of your offering on a utility’s overall reliability, a characteristic valued by all.

When you feel you’ve told the story succinctly – everything you need to say to make it complete, accurate and in context – it’s time to package it up. There is a way to connect with readers without resorting to click bait-y tactics. Again, returning to the essential need or pain point is vital. This is where the research you’ve done into your customer’s real needs comes into play.

Spend More Time (Not Space) on Headlines

Short headlines and subject lines generally perform best, but the ideal length depends on the outlet. Behavioral analytics and engagement platform KISSMetrics says the ideal headline is six words. A HubSpot study found headlines between eight to 12 words got the most Twitter shares, while Facebook headlines with 12 or 14 words collected the most likes.

The trend across almost all media platforms is toward shorter content. One study found readers willing to commit no more than seven minutes to reading a blog – approximately 1,600 words (roughly the length of two standard college essays).

While these trends have influenced trade publications and shaped the expectations that even B2B readers bring, readable does not always mean short. In the energy industry, keeping up with the pace of change and anticipating future needs are constant challenges. Content marketing is an ideal outlet for providing long form content to inform customers and to tackle complex marketing goals such as shaping future markets. Recently, for example, we’ve helped several global corporations develop white papers on topics including the future of microgrids, the digitalization of oil and gas asset management and the move toward artificial intelligence in grid management. Readable content, thoughtfully marketed is one of the best ways to showcase your thought leadership to energy industry customers and prospects.

There may have been a time when readability could have been considered a luxury, something debatable, hard to define, a matter of taste. In today’s digital world, it’s simple: does it drive engagement? Does it move a human being to open, to read on or engage in some way? If so, you’ve succeeded in creating readable that can make an impact on your target audience. 

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