A good rule of thumb for a blog post is to always lead with an introduction. So, while this may not be the kind of introduction you were expecting, I’m Fiona, Imagine’s new Director of Content. I’m thrilled to be here! Since I’ll be sharing my thoughts on content from time to time, here’s a little of background: I’m a writer and editor with extensive experience developing content and marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies. On that note, let’s kick off my first bog post by talking about what makes content great!
We’re all barraged with content every day. If you’re like me, you have twenty browser tabs open because you truly intend to read all those articles and blog posts. You know, the ones that promise to make you a giant in your field. The problem is, there’s just so much noise.
There’s content constantly coming in from every direction—via email, social media, and the interwebz.
This means you have to have some mental filtering system in place. Your time is limited and precious, so you need to know that you’re not wasting it by reading a piece that over-promises and under-delivers. You can only choose content that you reasonably believe will make your life better.
Which brings us to the question….
How do you make someone read your content?
As we all probably already know, engaging content results in reads and shares. It builds a relationship. It offers the reader something of value, which creates trust and increases your credibility. All of this moves a potential customer further down the path to purchase – moving them from indifference to emotional engagement.
So how does this mysterious and magical process happen? Every piece of content is different, but you can’t go wrong if you incorporate the following five elements:
1. A Strong Headline
You know what they say: never read the comments online. But if you experience a moment of weakness and read the comments in a news story, you’ll often realize that many, many of the people commenting have only read the headline. In news organizations, the author of the piece usually doesn’t write his or her own headline, and for that reason, sometimes the headline actually doesn’t do a great job of summarizing what the writer’s main point was.
But the majority of people still walk away with whatever the headline writer’s take was, because only 20 percent of people actually read beyond the headline.
The headline looks easy to write, because it’s short--but that’s deceptive.
In our age of information overload, the headline has to do the heavy lifting. It has to convey your point accurately and it has to “hook” people in to be part of the 20 percent—or, we hope, an even greater percentage.
In an ideal world, I’d start with my headline already nailed. That can’t always happen, but I find it helps focus me hone on what I’m really trying to convey to my reader.
If you know who your audience is, you should understand their problems.
Ask yourself: What does my target audience want to know?
What’s their pain point? What wakes them up at night or makes them rip out their hair?
What solution or information does your piece need to promise them to “hook” them into reading it? Write it in your headline—and then deliver on your promise.
Just a quick note: do not write clickbait. Sure, you may get a lot of clicks on something that uses the phrase “You won’t believe what happened next!” but those clicks are not building a relationship. You need to make a promise in your headline and then follow through.
2. An Opening Hook
Congratulations! You did. It your headline worked like one of those old-time vaudeville hooks, except it pulled your reader into your story, instead of off stage.
The first paragraph is your best chance to keep that reader engaged. Keep the hook concept going to keep readers going until the end. But how do you do that?
Your headline promised them a solution to a pain point. So, this is your chance to show them that you get it.
Devote a few sentences to their pain. Use examples and a little exaggeration to drive the point home. Are they literally ripping out their hair? We hope not, but we all understand the feeling of frustration that surrounds a problem. Tap into that and show empathy. Use emotion to evoke a feeling of comradery. It’s human nature to not want to feel alone.
And if you’ve been there—in that same boat—tell that to your reader. There’s no bigger relief than realizing someone else has been in your situation and found a solution—which brings us to our next point.
3. Offer Solutions
Your readers now know you understand their feelings. They’re ready to follow you on an emotional journey. Don’t cheat them. The next step is offering real and thoughtful solutions.
You’ve promised them the keys to the castle, so it’s your job to deliver and build the relationship. If you don’t deliver, the relationship will be damaged irreparably.
In the best case, the reader will think you don’t know what you’re talking about and will discount your company for wasting her time.
In the worst case, you’ll come across as a scammer—someone who promised the world, and not only isn’t trustworthy, is actively acting in your own best interests, not the readers.
4. Write for the Reader’s Perspective
It seems obvious, but sadly, it’s often not. Too many pieces are written to benefit the company behind the piece.
Yes, ultimately, your piece should be promoting your company. However, no one wants to read an overt advertorial. If readers—who, remember, are potential customers—are getting a hard sell, they are going to click out of your piece.
After all, they started reading it to learn something that will benefit their lives. If you don’t deliver the solutions we talked about earlier—without a hard sell—those potential customers are gone.
They’re looking for ways to fix a problem, and by helping them, you are building a relationship and making your company a resource. If your solution works or even just makes sense, you’ve positioned yourself as a trustworthy source who will grow in credibility.
Once you’ve established that you know what you’re talking about, the customer is likely to consider you for other solutions—including ones that could send revenue your way.
5. Strong Storytelling
I get it. The word is almost a cliché at this point, because it’s bandied around so relentlessly.
Here’s the thing: humans are wired to understand things best when they can relate to it. Stories humanize companies and products and world events.
Take the news. You hear there’s a war. You’re sad. You think how terrible it is.
But if you read a story about the plight of a specific family displaced by the war and how the children have seen things that no child should ever see, you’re sobbing. And maybe donating money to an NGO that can help people like the family in the story.
It brings home the humanity of the situation.
Now, it’s rare any of us are going to be sobbing because we’re so emotionally affected by a company or product (although there have been some commercials I don’t want to talk about), but storytelling is how we connect to each other.
Storytelling should be ultimately be a way to tell the customer what you’re doing in a way that will interest them, so they can buy into what you’re doing.
Most importantly, it should come from a genuine place so it doesn’t come off as self-interested or false. As a company, you need to know your story and understand what sets you apart from similar brands with similar products.
Want an example? Here’s a page that has almost all the elements, minus the headline. Warby Parker’s brand origin story covers is succinct and tells you what issues they solve.
Warby Parker says: “Every idea starts with a problem.”
What was the problem? One of the founders lost his glasses, and suffered semi-blindly through the first semester of grad school, because he couldn’t afford to replace them.
That’s a pain point. Even people buying glasses for the first time ever can relate to really needing something, but not having the money.
While searching for options, the founders discovered that the eyewear industry was essentially a monopoly, dominated by one company. So, they decided to create an alternative option by starting a company aimed at low-cost, high-quality eyewear. The founders not only resolved their own pain point, they created a business based on solving this problem for everyone.
Write for the Reader's Perspective
The reader wants good-looking eyewear at affordable prices. As Warby Parker says “We believe that buying glasses should be easy and fun. It should leave you happy and good-looking with money in your pocket.”
I mean, sign me up and take my money. And what’s more, their stores and website live up to their promises of being fun and easy to use.
We’ve already heard how the founders faced an issue and solved it—not only for themselves, but for everyone. What’s more, they expand upon what their brand is all about and tell us how they are solving additional pain points:
“Almost one billion people worldwide lack access to glasses, which means that 15% of the world’s population cannot effectively learn or work. To help address this problem, Warby Parker partners with non-profits like VisionSpring to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need.”
While this isn’t a heart-wrenching story involving a kid and a pair of glasses, we get it. When you read the Warby Parker origin story, it’s immediately apparent what the brand stands for and the problems they solve.
When you buy from them, you not only come away with glasses you like, you feel good about your purchase--and about yourself for choosing their brand. That’s pretty masterful.