Six steps to creating content that can trigger change

Valuable, useable, relevant content can do amazing things. But what's the secret recipe?

By: Clare Howdle,   4 minutes

Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to work with a fair few initiatives, charities and social enterprises – all inspiring organisations working hard to make change happen, by encouraging people to see things differently and take action.

One of the common challenges they’ve all faced is how to engender behaviour change – whether that’s to improve workplace culture, or encourage better water awareness. And although the projects have been very different, the means of helping them achieve their goals were often very much the same.

Because if you want to encourage people to change the way they do things, content is a great place to start.

But not just any content. Valuable, useable, relevant content that makes a connection with its reader can do amazing things. From Oatly’s  recent smart (albeit controversial) Help Dad campaign to encourage intergenerational discussion of the environmental ramifications of dairy consumption, to Ecover’s 2020 Laundry Against Landfill campaign, or Sport Club Recife’s much older programme to increase organ donations, get it right and content can not only change behaviour, but transform lives.

Valuable, useable, relevant content can do amazing things.

So how is it done? Well, great content that gets a response is much like baking. It involves creativity and it involves process. There’s a recipe to getting it right, but along with that it’s the flair you bring to it that will make it stand out.

With that in mind, we think there are six steps to follow when you’re creating content to make change happen.

Make sure your content does something

People don’t want to just hear about your product, service or project, however important the work you are doing, or needy the people you are helping. Making someone care isn’t just about tugging at the heartstrings – you’re far more likely to get a connection with your user if you give them something valuable.

Whether that’s a menu planner to help with weight loss, a guide to the best ways of getting outdoors, or a plan to change the way the world works post-pandemic, people want insight, they want something useful, they want to be entertained. That’s how you get remembered. And that’s how you get people to act.

Understand your audience

To give people something of value you have to understand them. Who are you talking to and what makes them tick? What do they need in their life and what are the questions they need answering? Understand the people that you hope to reach and you’ll be in with a much better chance of your content encouraging action.

So don’t make up pen profiles or imagine snapshots of your customers. Get out there and meet them. Run surveys, do interviews, hold focus groups or sessions to really draw out the information you need. Then create content that responds to them. Really responds.

Story Shop

Make it interactive

People remember and react better to content that they’ve actively participated in. It could be an invitation to tell their story, or uncover others. For example, in 2015, World Vision’s Story Shop changed the idea of chugging with an enticing installation that opened peoples’ eyes to the important work the charity did by letting them discover it for themselves. Their pop up ‘vintage furniture’ shop with curios, letters and videos hidden in drawers to encourage shoppers to donate (World Vision’s trailblazing Story Shop) is still something that impresses us, six years later.

If you give your user something to do, they are far more likely to take your message onboard, which in turn is more likely to lead to action.

Confront and challenge

Sometimes being blunt works. In today’s savvy society, spin turns us all off and we can smell bullshit at a hundred paces. The smart organisations have cottoned onto this and have responded – with rabble rousing campaigns that hit hard and tell it like it is.

Gone are the doe eyes, sad stories and pleas for support. Instead they’re using content and campaigns that confront us head on, trading on our natural instinct to fight back, compete and win. It’s a powerful strategy that gets results. From the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria’s award-winning and very hard hitting Meet Graham campaign, to honest, open campaigns like End Period Poverty content that doesn’t shy away from big issues and packs real punch can be far more emotive, making it more effective at leading to change.


Do it differently

The world is full of stories and consumers are time poor. They have access to content wherever they go and a million sources vying for their attention and their money. So standing out is paramount. Making sure you cut through the noise with a message that’s unique and content that’s engaging is critical if you’re going to have any kind of impact.

Campaigns like Sport England’s long-running This Girl Can, encouraging women to get active, are a great example of challenging traditional approaches and messaging and standing out (not to mention ticking off points 2 and 4 in our list neatly too).

Similarly, the National Trust’s equally long-running 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ took an original approach to encouraging kids to get outdoors when it first launched a few years ago. And it’s still going strong. The series of How-To videos presented by kids demonstrates a deft understanding of audience, while the campaign itself is a perfect example of developing an on-point tone to really connect.


Test and measure – and don’t be afraid to change

The bottom line is that there are all sorts of factors to take into consideration when you’re developing content that you hope will encourage action. The economic and social landscape, the channels you’re using, even the news of the day will have an impact on whether your content hits home and gets results.

Before going all out, try your content out on some trusted contacts that represent your audience group, gather feedback, do a beta release and measure responses. Then listen. And listen some more.

only you can understand what your audience wants, what your cause needs and how to bring those two into line.

If it isn’t working the way you want it to, change. As novelists say, don’t be afraid to kill you darlings. You might think you’ve had the best idea and created the greatest content in the world, but if it isn’t hitting home, you need to evolve it into something that does.

Above all, the way to create content that makes change happen is to put the thinking in first. Anyone can write a series of blog posts, film a handful of videos or put a call out on social media. But only you can understand what your audience wants, what your cause needs and how to bring those two into line. So do it. We dare you.

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