How to ensure your content is read without blowing anyone’s mind
If you want to understand likely trends in the B2B marketing space, then have a look at BuzzFeed. They may be very different worlds, but just as Formula One technology trickles down to the cars we drive, so the latest techniques to win attention on platforms like BuzzFeed are often later seen in business media.
So, what’s the latest fashion in headline writing that’s winning eyeballs on BuzzFeed UK? According to editorial director Tom Phillips, it’s litotes.
And what’s litotes (pronounced lie-toe-tees)? It’s the opposite of hyperbole.
Litotes, in its broadest sense, uses understatement to emphasise a point. More precisely it does so by stating a negative to further affirm a positive – often incorporating double negatives for effect.
So ‘not bad at all’ means ‘very good’. ‘Not by accident’ means ‘on purpose’ and something that ‘isn’t the worst’ (as in the title of this piece) implies that it’s pretty good.
Cycles of effectiveness
Speaking on The Allusionist podcast, Phillips said that when it comes to headlines, BuzzFeed writers are finding that less is often more.
‘Beyonce’s latest video will blow your mind’ is being replaced by ‘Beyonce’s latest video isn’t too shabby’.
Phillips explains this trend as the cyclical nature of marketing techniques. An original approach becomes successful, is copied to the point it becomes ubiquitous and so stops being effective and is dropped. At that point a new, often opposite approach feels like a breath of fresh air and gets the readers’ attention. It too is widely copied and so stops working – at which point the original technique will feel novel and be effective.
Litotes may not work for every business, but this point about the overuse and cyclical nature of marketing techniques is something that can be broadly applied.
Less can be more
And you don’t need to go for the full double negative approach. Mere modesty can also be intriguing.
The initial headline for this article was ‘This technique may make your content marketing slightly more effective’. A humble headline that delivers on its small-scale promise marks your brand out as honest and authentic.
No one likes to be duped and clickbait headlines are not an effective marketing policy for any business that seeks to grow customer loyalty.
Underplayed headlines can feel as deceptive as those that seem to promise the world. If readers understand the intention of litotes, their expectations will be raised. If you don’t deliver, they’ll feel cheated.
Litotes, like all rhetorical devices, should be used sparingly, but hopefully you’ll agree that its occasional application is not the worst idea in the world.