What is it about “change” that compels people to read, share, engage or act?
Think about the types of ideas that are in a constant state of change; politics, technology, environment, economics and so on.
Why are we so fascinated with the idea of change?
Is it from a sense of self-preservation? The need to understand what risks stand in our way? A fear of existential threat?
“Change” is a nebulous concept that, in the content development process, can take many a guise. “History” might be a better way to describe content that charts the evolution of things like wedding dresses (a piece from one of the teams at Builtvisible produced for Fairmont Hotels).
However we choose to label it, we are dealing with the subject of change, illustrated, visualised and documented in one form or another.
The trick, as with all good ideas, is to understand the emotional triggers that will encourage a reaction to the work. Put simply, it has to be interesting and it has to resonate with people.
Here’s an example. I was asked to look at the concept of inflation and give feedback on a direction to take in the creative. Here’s what I found:
The Notion of Price Increases Interest People
People seem to really like to be reminded of the past price of things; “how much did X cost in…?” People are very visual too, which is why I think this single image resonated with people:
People Care About Price Increases of Individual Items
Look at this search query. There are lots of individual items discussed and their relative costs at different times. Everything from speeding tickets to alcoholic drinks and dress watches to electric guitars.
People Respond Aggressively / Emotionally to Price Increases of Nostalgia Items
In fact, people seem to get more upset about the rising prices of certain things than others. Fundamental services like education and products like university textbooks that have increased at 5000%. The “most hated man on the internet” obtained the manufacturing license for the antiparasitic drug Daraprim and raised its price by 5,556% (from US$13.50 to US$750 per tablet) to a massive (and perfectly predictable) backlash.
If you want to avoid a backlash but, you’d like to get a response to some sort of illustration on the changing prices of items, I’d look at last week’s post on ideas for content marketing inspired by nostalgia for some inspiration.
It’s possible to put some really interesting ideas together, simply by asking “how has this changed?”. I think the most powerful ideas are a combination of demonstrable and easy to interpret data, on a topic that resonates with people because they’re emotionally invested in the subject.
So what sort of subjects exist, and what types of examples are out there?
Some Examples I’ve Collected While Researching This Post
Most (but not all) of the research I did for this post was collected via the /r/dataisbeautiful subreddit. Each one has a history of popularity with no fewer than 2,000 upvotes each.
Our first example looks at a timeline of 1933 to 2100 Age Distribution in the USA.
Age Distribution in General Population(Image Source)
“You’re looking at the observed age distribution for the United States from 1933 to 2010 and then projected all the way out to 2100 using data from the Human Fertility Database and the Human Mortality Database. I also put together a collection of key years on imgur. A lot gets written about the “greying” of the population, but it’s difficult to be enthusiastic about a process that takes decades. So I sped it up!”
More data visualisation from Stephen Holzman on USA age-specific fertility data over time. Here’s a similar piece that compares US fertility rates to Japan’s.
Video Source USA Age-Specific Fertility Over Time
Observing changes in human population numbers and fertility is a popular subject, but I think this interactive visualisation from the BBC really is stunning. It creates a first person perspective that has such impact.
Environment / Climate Change
Environmental data and associated articles are everywhere, and they’re understandably popular. Builtvisible looked at the impact of tourism and climate change on the sustainability of various sites of importance around the globe for Staysure.
Here are a few other examples:
Sceptics of manmade climate change offer various natural causes to explain why the Earth has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. But can these account for the planet’s rising temperature? Bloomberg analysed the data correlation in this long form study.
NASA have been running missions that track climate data since the 60’s. Combined with historical evidence of CO2 and general climatic conditions observed in rock strata, ice core studies and bog wood deposits, they make their case.
This data via Our World in Data generated 990 comments and 4423 upvotes on Reddit.com
This n-gram analysis tracks the use of English words and phrases, no more than three words long, that accounted for at least 0.000001 percent of all one-, two- and three-word phrases used on at least one day between Oct. 15, 2007 (the earliest date for which comments have been collected and indexed), and Aug. 31, 2015
A Few More Examples and a Summary
Whatever your topic, try asking, “how has this changed?”. Has the behaviour of the consumers changed? The services? The product? What about the way the product is manufactured? Can you tap into nostalgia, scale or challenge a convention to make your case? If the answer is yes, you may have a good hook.
Perhaps in some cases, convincing your audience something hasn’t changed would be the preferred outcome. Regardless, there are many ideas for content development hidden in data and everyday conversations.
Always take note of what makes people most animated, and you’ll no doubt find something with an interesting hook.