An analogy can be your new best friend when you need to generate content for marketing, PR or sales.
You’ve likely seen them used in content marketing before…
- 5 Ways SEO Is Like Being In High School
- Look At Marketing Through A Child’s Eyes
- How Content Marketing is Like Mardi Gras
…but what exactly IS an analogy, and how can you harness its awesome power?
What is an analogy?
It is one of the most common building blocks we use to teach concepts in ordinary language — as well as in science, mathematics, philosophy and the humanities — and has been argued to be “the core of cognition.”
“Analogies” include a number of subcategories, many of which you likely remember from your school days…
- Metaphors: Describe a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object (e.g. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”)
- Allegories: A device in which characters or events in a story, poem, or picture represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. (e.g. The Allegory of the Cave.)
- Similes: A figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words “like” or “as” (e.g. “He was as strong as an ox.”)
How to use analogies.
By employing any of the types of analogies above – metaphors, allegories, similes (or even more challenging ones like parables) – you can attract, educate and entertain your audience in an entirely new way.
I am, admittedly, an analogy addict. Here are three ways I’ve used them in my own content…
- To teach new concepts: Historically, analogies have been used to make a complicated subject more palatable for audiences by re-framing it in terms that are easier to understand. For example, I used catering and cooking as a metaphor for developing social media content in this post: Content Catering for Social Media.
- To make a message more interesting and memorable: Analogies allow you to widen the lens you use to describe products and services, to spice up seemingly mundane descriptions and to impart powerful lessons in a way that isn’t too preachy. For example, I used the analogy of flocks of birds to discuss social media measurement in this post: Birds of a Feather Flock Together, But They Don’t Pay the Rent.
- To attract search traffic and new audiences: Analogies can enable you to piggyback on (or newsjack) popular search keywords, which can help new audiences stumble upon your content. For example, one of my highest ranked blog posts for search traffic was, Five Lessons Drag Queens Can Teach Us About Branding. While some people who found the post were likely looking for information on RuPaul’s Drag Race, many apparently stayed to read how a TV show they loved affected another industry.
How to create analogies.
So, now that we know what analogies are, and why we need them, are you ready to start rocking them like a hurricane? There are four different ways you can whip them up…
1. Distil your message to the basics and look for connections.
One exercise you can use to strengthen your analogy skills is to describe what your brand does in as few words as possible. Then review those words or phrases and see if any similar stories or examples come to mind.
For example, let’s say your company used to be part of a larger entity, but then branched out on its own and is seeing huge success in operating independently. That sounds like the story of every pop star who left a successful ensemble to launch an even more successful solo career (e.g. Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake.)
2. Use national news, memes and trends as the starting point for analogies.
While meme-jacking and news-jacking can be hit or miss for brands, if you see an opportunity to make a natural connection between your industry and something that is being talked about (or riffed on) in the news today, go for it.
For example, you could play off of themes found in popular movies or television shows that parallel the brand story you are trying to tell, like in this post on How Apple’s story is like ‘Breaking Bad.’ Please note though, it is CRITICAL that there actually is a solid connection between the two things. If your analogy is weak people will be annoyed.
3. Choose analogies that lend themselves to great imagery.
If your analogy has some great images associated with it, don’t be afraid to milk them for all they are worth and use those images throughout your brand presence. Is your bank like a mama bird, protecting your customer’s nest eggs and fighting off market fluctuations that threaten their security? Then create an infographic with a bird mascot that shows us that process, or create a video that transposes images of how this occurs in nature and how you artificially mimic it.
Again, just make sure the connection is solid. Don’t be like Geico and their lamewad gecko (Yeah, I get it, “Geico” and “gecko” sound alike. But what do geckos have to do with car insurance? Why is he rarely around any cars? Why does he speak with a cockney accent?)
4. Be original and follow through.
Like I said above, analogies have been around since the beginning of language. That means many of them have been seriously played out by the time you get to them.
Two great examples Tristan Higbee gives in this post, 3 Blog Posts We All See Way, Waaay, Waaaaay too Often include, “Running a business is like running a marathon—you have to work hard to succeed,” and, “Blogging is like planting a tree—you plant it and then give it what it needs and it grows.”
Also, make sure you fully flesh your analogies out. You have our attention, now we want some pay off. Far too many posts begin with “[Blank] is like a [car/tree/cow/whatever]” and then quickly abandon the analogy to list a bunch of things that have nothing whatsoever to do with cars, trees, cows or whatevers.
In a way, analogies are like a hurricane — they should instinctively pull us in and (done right) make it hard for us to walk away. So, whatever type of analogy you use — or however you use them — just be sure to honor their purpose and power. They will make you, not just a better writer, but a content warrior who is always ready to rock.