Engaging Content is More Poetry than Personas

poetry“Excrement! That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard! We’re not laying pipe! We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? “I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!”

This was English professor John Keating’s (Dead Poets Society) response to J. Evans Pritchard, according to whom the quality of a poem can be accurately measured by first becoming “fluent with rhyme and meter” and then determining a poem’s greatness by answering two questions: “One. How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered? Two. How important is that objective?”

If you don’t remember the scene…

Of course, poetry can’t be plotted out on a curve like the results of some biology experiment. What makes for good poetry, or any other form of human expression, is impossible to codify.

And yet, when it comes to creating engaging content, marketers attempt to do exactly that. We become obsessed with forecasting conversions and ROI by breaking down engagement into a neat set of data and best practices.

Yes, there exist elements of structure that you should follow. Yes, we need to measure click rates, subscribers, ROI, conversions. And yes, we must pay attention to the quality of our headlines and calls-to-action.

But in the end, what makes your content truly engaging has more to do with poetry than with science. Meaning, the stuff that your audience really relates to, comes from the gut. From passion. From caring enough to stand for something important and telling the world what you really think.

Watch the scene as those kids sit mesmerized, pages freshly torn from their textbooks, Keating unable to contain himself as he shares the ideas most precious to him; individuality, dreams, love.


Do the same. Move beyond personas and markets and rediscover what made you care to begin with. Connect with your audience in a way that straight data and facts can’t. Yes, you should also measure, adjust and test. But don’t make it about the formula and metrics. These are simply structure, a way to focus your thoughts. It’s the heat of your ideas that matter most.

Your opportunity to compete for your audience’s trust has very little to do with facts and data. Anyone can retweet the current industry news or factoid. Few have the guts to lay it all on the line and tap into why they chose to get into that line of work to begin with. To rip out the pages from the textbook and get to the true heart of the matter.

What will your verse be?

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