I need an excuse to recycle my town crier image.
What did town criers do?
Town criers were actually a remarkable technological innovation at the time, allowing notification over a (relatively) wide area of a newsworthy event.
‘Oyez’ (pronounced ‘oh yay’) comes from the French ouïr (‘to listen’) and means “Hear ye”. The town crier would begin his cry with these words, accompanied by the ringing of a large hand bell to attract attention. It was the job of the crier or bellman to inform the townspeople of the latest news, proclamations, bylaws and any other important information, as at this time most folk were illiterate and could not read….
Having read out his message, the town crier would then attach it to the door post of the local inn, so ‘posting a notice’, the reason why newspapers are often called ‘The Post’.
So in essence the town crier was a rather loud announcement of something that was followed up (for the literate) with written material. Town criers did other things also, but you can read about them here if you’re interested.
From town criers to callouts
However, it turns out that the medieval town crier is NOT the origin of the term “callout.”
Although I think it should be.
(Brief aside: Microsoft advises “callout” for noun use, “call out” for verb use. Sounds good to me. Comment if you think otherwise.)
In reality, call out first appeared as a verb in the 15th century and as a noun in the 19th. But even then, it was used to refer to summoning into action (for example, calling out troops). The definition for “call out” or “callout” as I tend to use the term appeared some time later. That definition, of course, is:
2: an often bordered inset in a printed article or illustration that usually includes a key excerpt or detail
Why call out?
Although I don’t use callouts in these blog posts (perhaps I should), I definitely use them in the case studies and white papers that Bredemarket authors in conjunction with clients. Big blocks of unending text are hard to read, so authors usually like to break up that text with textual callouts, alternative formatting (such as quotes and bullets), and images. Which reminds me:
(Yes, that’s the subtle reminder that I’m a biometric content marketing expert. But let’s continue.)
The hope of the callout-using author is that even if the reader does not read every single word of the text that is presented, including the mispelled word in this sentence, the reader will at least look at the callout and get the message from the callout.
Of course, there is an important question to answer when an author is selecting callouts:
Is there a reason you are highlighting the content that you are putting in the callout?
If you want the reader to look at that text, the callout had better be meaningful, and had better convey a benefit to the reader.
A blue example
Rather than use an example from an actual client, let’s return to my favorite widget manufacturer, Wendy’s Widget Company. You know, the company that used a contractor to market its new square blue widgets.
Now when I previously discussed Wendy’s Widget Company in the context of ABC criteria, I never did get around to explaining exactly how the marketing consultant chose to market the square blue widgets. Of course, one person at the client’s company offered a helpful idea.
“Hey, I’ve seen the advertising for a phone manufacturer, and its advertising is really cool. I suggest that when you write that case study, you include a callout that says, “It’s blue!” And…get this…print the text of the callout in blue text! Isn’t that great?”
The marketing consultant turned to the person and offered these four words:
“It’s blue. So what?”
Then the marketing consultant offered a suggested callout, framed as a quote from one of the first companies to purchase the square blue widget.
“I like the fact that it doesn’t roll away.”
(But the consultant did print the callouts in blue text. That seemed like a good idea.)
When the final written product is created, everything has to work together to convey the client’s intended message, including the headings, subheadings, images, and callouts.
If that fails, then just get a person with a loud voice to hand out tangible copies of your collateral and yell out the important parts.
And if you need Bredemarket’s help with callouts for a white paper or case study, contact me. We will collaborate to ensure that your document’s callouts convey the appropriate benefits.