The first thing that we need to do is to make sure that the content is interesting. Otherwise, it’ s just hot air.
Having said that, which remains the cornerstone of any content management strategy, there’s an interesting study by the University of Michigan entitled “If something is difficult to read, it’s difficult to do”. The research introduces an unusual point of view and presents one of the rules to follow to create effective content, where in this case “effective” means “stimulating action on the part of the reader”.
The tests described in the report incontrovertibly demonstrate one thing: if the content must induce the reader to do something, the ease of reading means that the reader perceives as easier the thing you ask him to do.
In fact, we are talking about usability and customer experience.
Everything has its own usability: a mobile phone, a television, an intercom, a device within a production line, an instruction manual… Even a blog article or a commercial offer can be made more easily usable.
And the easier it is to use something, the more likely it is that it will be adopted, used, done.
Real case lived first-hand: A few years ago, we developed a special software to help a customer launch an innovative but very difficult-to-use production printer in Europe and the USA. The strength of this software was the beauty of the graphic interface and the ease of use.
This elegance gave the user the feeling that the 5-meter long printer he was piloting with the software was much simpler than it was in reality. That is, it lowered the operator’s defences and made him more willing to do his job.
Results of the study
But let’s come back to research, in which three tests were carried out:
In the first test, two groups of students were offered the same physical exercise, described in more readable characters in one case, less in the other. Well, the students who read the description that was easier to read had the perception that the exercise was easier, faster, and they were more willing to make the exercise part of their daily practice.
In the second test, two groups of students were given a recipe, written with two different fonts, one easier to read and one more difficult.
The students who read the recipe more readable perceived the recipe as being faster to prepare, and said they were more inclined to prepare it.
In the third test, again on the same recipe, the “easy” reading group indicated that less experienced professional cooks were needed to create that recipe compared to those the students who read the recipe written in less readable characters had thought of.
In conclusion, therefore, people tend to perceive something easier to read as easier to do, and more within their reach. There is a correlation between the ease with which instructions are processed and the ease with which you feel you can execute them.
Reflecting the title of the university paper, let’s say that
The easier it is to read something, the more this is perceived as easy to do.
Marketing and sales content
This research also impacts the content written for lead generation purposes: the more the content is visually easier to read, the more the prospect will have the feeling of something simple, clear, linear, within its reach.
And vice versa, the visual difficulty of reading creates an invisible diaphragm between the writer and the reader, which partly prejudices the ultimate result that the message aims to achieve.
I suggest reading the whole study (it is only 2 pages long) because it is really enlightening. The pdf can be downloaded here: Michigan University study on how to create effective content