Build a better blog post

Content marketing writer takes message from meh to masterpiece

What a difference a format makes: A communicator in one of my recent social media-writing Master Classes used the temple story structure to fill in the blanks to a great tipsheet.

Build a better blog post

Form follows function Once you know the temple story structure, writing blog posts and other content marketing pieces becomes a matter of filling in the blanks. Image by André Sanano

Here’s how she changed her writing style from an original story she submitted before class to a new story she wrote during the workshop.

Ann’s notesOriginal storyNew story

The original headline focuses on the topic. The new headline focuses on the reader’s No. 1 interest: herself and her needs. Write about the reader, not about “us and our stuff.”

Sharing personal information with retailersProtect your privacy on the Internet of Things

Don’t drop the deck, or the one-sentence summary under headline. It’s the most-read element on a webpage. At 29 words, the deck in the new piece is more paragraph than microcontent. Keep your deck to 14 words or less, with an emphasis on less online.

By the time the read the headline and deck, readers should understand the gist of your story.

Simple steps such as checking how your personal information will be used and shared and turning off Iinternet-connected devices when you’re not using them can help reduce privacy risks

The job of the lead is to grab attention and get people to read the second paragraph. The best way to do that is with concrete, creative, provocative details. The original lead is too abstract. The new one, though, is specific and tangible — and so more effective.

A stop at a retail checkout desk often results in a number of requests for your personal information. What is your telephone number? Postal code? Email address? Do you want to become a member of a loyalty club?Your fitness tracker knows when you’ve skipped a trip to the gym. Your TV knows you’ve been binge watching old episodes of “Friends.” And your fridge may soon know that you’re out of milk – and how much ice cream you’ve been eating.
Background section

Give yourself one paragraph — three sentences maximum — to deliver the broader context, or “the reason I’m telling you this today” section.

More and more everyday objects are connected through the internet. Increased connectivity offers conveniences such as never running out of milk again, but it can also create risks for your privacy.
Nut graph

The new one is a little shorter and more elegant. But let’s speak directly to the reader instead of about “the document.” How about “Here are some simple tips you can use …”

This document offers information about some of the privacy issues that can arise in retail stores and options to consider if you feel uncomfortable sharing your personal information.This document offers some simple tips to help you to protect your privacy while enjoying the benefits of what’s known as the Internet of Things.
A second background section

Uh-oh. More background. I’d rather see this synthesized and combined with the first background section.

Researchers predict there will be 50 billion connected devices active by 2020. These range from simple identification tags to smart meters that track energy use to sensor-equipped cars that can diagnose engine problems and track how fast you drive.

As the Internet of Things grows, your daily activities and behaviors are increasingly being tracked, measured and analyzed. This raises questions such as: Who will be able to see your information? How will your information be used?

Body section 1

Notice the focus on background — aka the blah-blah-blah — in the original story. Readers want the tips, not the explanation.

In the new story, I’d like to see a shorter subhead — maybe 5 to 8 words. Eleven words is more of a sentence than display copy. Maybe 9 ways to protect your privacy with IoT. Then number the list of tips.

Check out those brilliant bold-faced lead-ins, which lift the tips off the screen. And steal the parallel list of imperative voice to-dos.

Also note the shorter paragraphs and sentences throughout. By cutting both about in half, the writer makes this piece 26% easier, according to the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test.

Why they do it
Retailers often ask for information in order to better target their marketing efforts. They collect information and then use it to reach out to people with special offers and incentives.

Another reason that retailers collect personal information is to prevent fraud. Retailers suffer great losses at the hands of thieves, credit card swindlers and other fraudsters. For example, shoplifters will bring in a previously stolen item for a cash “refund,” claiming they lost the receipt.

Merchants generally have policies and practices aimed at curbing such crimes. These typically require customers to prove their purchases or returns are legitimate. One popular approach is to ask for picture ID, such as a driver’s licence, to confirm the identity of a customer or to validate the ownership of a credit card.

Tips to help protect your privacy when you use internet-connected devices

  • Get in the habit of reading privacy policies to find out about what personal information will be collected and how it will be used and shared.
  • Ask questions if the company’s privacy information is unclear.
  • Turn off connected devices when they are not needed. Check whether it is possible to turn off functions that collect personal information but that you don’t need.
  • Change the default password on your connected device. (Factory-set passwords are often available online, making your device vulnerable to hacking.) Choose strong passwords and do not share them. Change your passwords regularly.
  • Use up-to-date anti-virus, anti-spam and firewall protection on your devices.
  • Install security updates recommended by device makers. Companies may push out security updates, but you should also check the manufacturer’s website for any updates.
  • Consider making your online profile private. If you have any public profile, be cautious about what you put on it, such as personal information, location and activities. Be aware that, even though location services are turned off in your device settings, you can still be tracked.
  • Ensure old devices are wiped of all personal information before you throw them away.
  • Consider buying the non-connected version of a device. And if a non-connected version isn’t available, it may be possible to buy the smart version, but not connect it to the internet.
Body section 2

Uh-oh. More background. All this ’splainin’ makes me weary. That’s 280 words of blah-blah, if anyone’s counting. Instead, synthesize the background into a paragraph and move on.

Privacy laws
Canada’s federal private sector privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), sets out the ground rules for how covered organizations handle personal information.
For example, retailers need to:

  • Explain how your personal information will be used and with whom it will be shared. This explanation should be clear, comprehensive, and easy to find; and
  • Obtain your informed consent before your personal information is collected, used or disclosed.

Organizations may not deny a product or service to you if you decline to provide your consent to the collection, use or disclosure of your information beyond that required to fulfill an explicitly specified and legitimate purpose.

Note: Three provinces – British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec – have adopted private sector privacy laws similar to the federal law. Retail stores in those provinces will be subject to provincial laws, which are overseen by provincial privacy oversight offices.

Body section 3

Finally, we get to the tips! But what are they? “Tips for consumers” doesn’t reveal much.
The italic type recedes rather than coming forward, and is hard to read on the screen, because the slanted type pixelates.

Label subheads — “marketing” and “Driver’s license requests” — hardly lift the ideas off the screen.

Tips for consumers
Ask questions
It’s important to ask questions when you aren’t sure why a piece of personal information is being requested, and what the store will do with it. If the cashier doesn’t know, you may wish to ask to speak with the manager about your questions or concerns.

If you’re not satisfied with the answers you receive, don’t share the information.
If you would prefer not to receive marketing materials or telemarketing calls, and you’re asked for a phone number or email for this purpose, it’s ok to say: “No thanks. I’d prefer not to share that information.”

Driver’s licence requests

Your driver’s licences holds a great deal of personal information about you and should not be widely shared. For the most part, Privacy Commissioners have concluded that, while there may be cases where it is reasonable for retailers to ask to see a driver’s licence card in order to confirm a customer’s identity, writing down the driver’s licence number from the card cannot be justified.

If you’re asked for your licence card and you feel uncomfortable with the request, you can ask why it’s needed and whether the information on your card will be recorded. If you’re not satisfied with the answer, you can ask whether it would be possible to simply provide your name and address

If only your driver’s licence will do, you could suggest that they simply examine your card, without recording excess personal information.

Wrap up

Related stories are helpful to people, but the original needs more set up. An intro, an additional resource for the It-takes-three-to-make-a-list rule and better description of the resources would help.

The new piece needs some sort of next steps, summary or call to action.

For more information

Protecting your driver’s licence

Collection of Driver’s Licence Numbers Under Private Sector Privacy Legislation: A Guide for Retailers


Leave a lasting impression in both pieces with a kicker that’s concrete, creative and provocative. For the new piece, you might come back to the idea that your things know stuff about you — or make another nod at running out of the milk.

Take your own story from meh to masterpiece.

To fill in the blanks to your next content marketing piece:

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