A good analogical explanation is like a fine ship. It can transport your message over a great distance between you and your audience, acting as a vessel for your explanations and arguments.
Analogies are also an effective way to teach unfamiliar ideas to your audience, which make them a powerful weapon in your content marketing mix. Take something your audience doesn't know very well, isn't innately compelling, and put it into terms that they can relate to.
You can compare ideas (transportation and content marketing) or services (Dropbox and Google Drive), or any two things really. It's about leveraging similarities to create the context you need to explain or argue something that's new or different to your audience.
You can even use an analogy to add another layer of intrigue if you were to, say, write a blog post about explaining the value of analogies in content marketing.
What exactly is an Analogy?
While the difference between an analogy, a simile, and a metaphor is often debated, I think it's more important to understand how to use comparison in general as a strategy in your content marketing—to explain, teach, and argue by analogizing.
Put simply, similes and metaphors are different breeds of analogies, almost like how a dog and a wolf are both canines. The difference is the logical structure of an analogy.
An analogy is an explicit or underlying comparison between two things or ideas for the sake of explanation or argumentation. Analogies help communicate the unfamiliar by using familiar or concrete concepts as an anchor for your audience.
Analogies make wonderful teaching tools and supporting arguments since they’re not only capable of engaging our pattern-addicted brains, but also rendering complex or abstract concepts in a simpler, more accessible structure that's easy to follow.
The Problem with Analogies
But analogies have their flaws, which I think are important to understand.
An analogical argument can be fun but fragile—like a party balloon.
While fun to bounce back and forth, it isn’t hard for someone to poke a hole in your analogy simply by extending it, with what’s called a disanalogy, and deflate your argument. Analogies better serve to support and explain your core argument or idea rather than become the meat of it.
Analogies further restrict your audience—like a high-end night club.
Analogical content relies on the assumption that your audience is already familiar with the anchor you’re using to illustrate your topic. Analogizing might turn potential audience members away at the door.
For example, I might be able to follow a basketball analogy about content marketing but not a curling one. And I would be a lot more interested in a movie analogy than a sports one because I'm more interested in film.
Analogies might make readers fall off—like a poorly built bridge.
There are many instances of analogical posts that try too hard to force an analogy, but the two ideas just don't seem to meet in the middle. Be careful what you choose to compare your topic to. You might be able to find some similarities between any two things, but reaching too far can make for a thin comparison.
Analogies can give birth to clichés, becoming a crutch to lean on.
Analogical statements are so catchy that they’re prone to turning into clichés (e.g. “Content is King”, “Marketing automation is no silver bullet”, "a crutch to lean on"). If you think this will become problematic for you, tools like Cliché Finder are there to help.
When to Use Analogy
While analogies aren’t always going to be the most effective communication approach, there are certain scenarios when analogizing your topic can enhance your content:
- Creating topical content to connect your industry to a trending conversation (e.g. holiday content for Christmas).
- Differentiating your content when you’re covering a boring or abused topic.
- Developing a visual theme for infographics, SlideShares and blog images.
- Delivering an engaging introduction to hook your audience.
- Repurposing/curating other content with a fresh angle.
For example, we recently repurposed our eBook about Data-Driven Content Marketing as a SlideShare presentation by aligning lessons about data-driven marketing with the idea of creating your own luck (which we published around St. Patrick's Day for maximum effect).
Analogies are effective at illustrating ideas through words by using the concrete to connect to the abstract, and they play well with visuals.
Since analogies connect the dots between two seemingly disparate ideas, they require some degree of lateral thinking and creative effort. But the result has the potential to be more insightful, creative, and original.
How to Use an Analogy
We can all probably do this without thinking much about it. But I think it helps to break down the process so you can iterate with confidence.
Step 1. Choose one concept your audience is familiar with and align it with your subject.
Take the concept you’re trying to communicate and a concept your audience is familiar with. Ensure it’s accessible for your target audience.
e.g. Content Marketing & Farming
Step 2. Identify commonalities between words and ideas (think laterally, not literally).
Brainstorm a list of words, use a Venn diagram, or simply wing it—whatever works for you. I usually generate a list and do a mental Venn diagram, but for the sake of this post, I used a real Venn diagram:
Step 3. Find a cohesive way to express these similarities to illustrate your point.
You can do this either implicitly or explicitly, using a simile or running metaphor to tighten your analogy. Get creative with the meaning and relationship between the words without reaching too far or going overboard. I might be pushing it in this example:
Content marketing is like farming.You reap what you sow only if the soil is fertile. Without a good user experience, your content won’t bear fruit. But while UX is an important aspect of content performance, strategic distribution will help you avoid a drought of visitors and harvest the results you want.
Analogies can make an effective hook at the start of your blog post. But you can also carry it through and touch on it here and there to help your audience follow along.
Here are some stand-out examples of successful analogical blog posts to inspire you:
- 3 Steps to Creating a Content Playbook for the Sales Process by Sam Brennand (Uses analogy to explain Sales & Marketing's relationship)
- Why BuzzFeed is Massively Underrated (and 9 Things Publishers and Brands Should Learn from it) by Shane Snow (Uses BuzzFeed to make claims about the state of content marketing)
- Inbound Marketing Explained in 6 Simple Analogies by Corey Eridon (Analogy post meets list post? Brilliant!)
- The Skrillex Way of Content: Build and Drop for Better Blog Balance by Kevan Lee (Comparing content marketing to dubstep? It actually works surprisingly well if you focus on a single commonality and flesh it out in detail)
Analogies are like...
...a secret spice in your content marketing recipe. You don't want to sprinkle analogies all over your content calendar, but every once in a while it's nice to prove that your brand isn't bland with a dash of analogical flavor.
Just for fun—share your own content marketing analogies in the comments below ;)