Adaptability is at the core of all successful content projects

Stuart Aitken, former Director of Content and Partnerships at Beyond, discusses how an understanding of Aristotle helped to deliver a range of key projects for Google in 2021.

4 min read
February 7, 2022
Beyond

As a content strategist, each project is unique. At the core of each though is the importance of understanding how to effectively communicate with a specific audience about a specific subject.

In order to do this, we have a number of tried and tested tools at our disposal. Going back to ancient Greece, we often lean on Aristotle’s rhetorical appeals to help us. Aristotle defined these as: logos (logic, reason, proof); pathos (emotions, values); ethos (credibility, trust). Ironically there’s some debate about exactly when kairos (timeliness) was added to this list - but it’s definitely worth considering nonetheless.

If we think then about how we seek to communicate effectively, it’s worth considering these four appeals as a series of levers which can be pulled to a greater or lesser extent depending on the project. Some projects call for a more emotional approach to copy, some require a more logical or reasoned position. As content strategists we have to be ready to flex depending on the audience and the subject.

For a large chunk of 2021, Beyond was involved in a range of projects for Google which forced us to flex these levers.

As an example, in the middle of the year, Beyond was asked to review and suggest improvements for one of Google’s most sensitive initiatives - a website which outlines Google’s work to fight online child sexual abuse and exploitation, and offers resources to help others in this field at the Fighting child sexual abuse online website.

Working closely with our UX team, it became very apparent early on that the challenge here was to deliver important information on an extremely difficult subject in as simple and rational a way as possible. We weren’t looking for an emotional response - rather we wanted to engender trust and to deliver understandable next steps to help people take action effectively.

The resulting solution was a slimmed down, simplified experience with a clear focus on explaining two things: what Google is doing as a global leader; what others can do with Google’s help. In this way the project pushed our information design skills. There was no need here for elaborate design and unnecessary flourishes. Indeed dealing with such a complex and sensitive topic, it was important that the design and copy were stripped back. This is of course challenging. The focus here was to be super functional - and at the same time elegant. Design that delivers the message - but doesn’t get in the way.

In this way, the project differed from another important Google project the Beyond team worked on in 2021 - Global Fibre Impact Explorer. For this project we worked with Google and WWF to help fashion brands make more sustainable sourcing decisions. The solution allows fashion brands to identify high risk fibres in their portfolio, to understand the potential impacts and risks of new sourcing decisions, and provides recommendations on how to address these issues.

In this instance it was important for us to construct the emotional narrative before diving into the solution. We don’t always engage with the fact that the fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to the global climate and ecological crisis. This was a hard truth we had to deliver for this project to be a success. And we had to deliver it in a way that fitted the audience.

We knew that our key audience of fashion industry professionals were more likely to respond to a highly engaging experience that drew them in and encouraged an emotional response. As a result, we dialed up the design and the pathos in order to create a solution that spoke effectively to the people who could make a difference.

These are just two of the Google projects we applied our skills to last year. Others have really pushed our information design skills - again with a heavy focus on logos over pathos as we seek to deliver extremely complex information in as simple and understandable a way as possible. When dealing with extremely complex policy content, it's critical to be factual - especially in the age of fake news. Issues of online protection and privacy are vitally important in the digital age and Google is at the hard edge of working out what's right in a constantly evolving policy environment. These projects are necessarily complex. Which is one of the many things that makes them so rewarding.  

4 min read
February 7, 2022
Beyond