Two Vital Elements that Might Be Missing from Your Content (and Precisely Where to Add Them)

"We all dream of making such an impact on people that they share our ideas far and wide." – Kelly Exeter

It’s taken you more than 10 hours to write a blog post.

You’ve researched the topic to the nth degree. You’ve edited it to within an inch of its life.

Now it’s time to get it out into the world!

You excitedly press Publish, and … even days later … crickets.

Heartbreaking, right?

We all like to think that the amount of effort we invest in creating a piece of content directly correlates to how deeply it resonates with readers. But, experience has repeatedly shown this is not the case.

So, what’s the deciding factor if it’s not effort?

Luck? Timing? Skill?

Yes, the factors above do play a part. But, more often than not, it comes down to these two elements:

  1. If your content doesn’t hook readers in the first few sentences, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of it is, you’ve lost them.
  2. If you don’t clearly communicate your idea, readers may lose interest after your introduction because they don’t have an incentive to keep reading.

So, how do we write both a strong hook and a strong idea? That’s what I’m going to break down for you today.

What’s a hook?

A hook is a narrative technique that operates exactly as it sounds.

It’s information so interesting that it hooks the reader’s attention, and they feel compelled to see what comes next. So, they keep reading.

The hook works in tandem with the headline; the headline delivers the reader to the first lines of an article, and then the hook in those first few lines launches the reader deeper into the piece of content.

What’s the idea?

The dictionary definition of an “idea” is:

“A thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.”

That neatly sums up what we’re trying to do when we write anything. We want to share a thought, make a suggestion and/or inspire people to take a certain action.

Why is your content’s idea so crucial?

Because your idea drives the payoff the reader will get from continuing to read your article.

That payoff can be:

  • Laughing from your humor
  • Learning new information
  • Taking meaningful action that will help them reach their goals

The idea forms the backbone of your article that leads to a positive outcome for both you and your readers.

We all dream of making such an impact on people that they share our ideas far and wide.

If the people reading your words aren’t inspired to share them with their friends, there’s a ceiling on the number of people you can reach.

Where things can go wrong for your idea

It might be easy to think of an idea for a piece of content, but when we actually sit down to write:

  1. We discover we don’t have as much to say about the idea as we first thought.
  2. We start writing about one idea, but then introduce another halfway through.

In both of these situations, if we publish that content, the reader may be left feeling either bewildered or cheated at the end. Not ideal.

How do you get super clear on your idea?

My favorite technique is to initially write a very literal headline.

Why?

Because it forces you to identify the exact promise you’re making to the reader.

If you can’t identify your promise, then you’re not going to be able to deliver a payoff.

Once you’ve written your literal headline and confirmed you know the exact idea you want to communicate, you’ll use that to:

  • Determine whether you actually have enough material to deliver a payoff for the reader.
  • Edit tightly to ensure you do so.

Here are three examples of literal headlines that sum up the article’s payoff.

When you click through to each of the posts above, you’ll see the actual headline is different from the literal headline I’ve identified.

That’s because your headline needs to hook the reader’s interest without giving away the payoff. If you deliver the payoff in the headline, there’s generally no need for someone to read the whole article.

Struggling to write a literal headline? That means you don’t have a good handle on the idea you’re trying to communicate.

Here are three examples of categories that can help you craft a strong idea … and then we’ll get into writing your hook.

1. Counterintuitive

This is where you take conventional wisdom and turn it upside down.

We all know a balanced diet made up of a variety of foods is ideal, so when someone tells us they ate nothing but potatoes for a year and lost a large amount of weight along the way, that gets our attention.

2. Practical and actionable

Telling people “If you’re organized, your life will be so much easier” is yawn-worthy. Everyone knows that.

Showing them the way you organize your life so that they can learn your tips? That’s far more powerful.

3. Contrarian

When everyone’s telling us not to do a certain thing, having someone tell us we should is incredibly refreshing.

It’s also the kind of thing we tend to share because it’s “ammunition” that justifies our choice to take a path less travelled.

How to write a great hook

One of the most common things I do as an editor is delete the first two paragraphs of articles sent to me.

Introductions are difficult to write, but:

If you’ve written 400+ words of an introduction, there’s a solid chance there’s a decent hook sitting somewhere around the 200-word mark.

Remember, your hook doesn’t need to be the most interesting thing anyone’s ever read; it just needs to be interesting enough to keep the person reading.

Here are five of my favorite hook techniques, with examples:

Hook #1: Ask a question

Humans are drawn to questions for a few reasons. One reason is that we’re inherently competitive.

When someone asks us a question, we’re compelled to first answer it and then find out if our answer is correct. If you don’t have an answer to a question, but someone suggests they do, that’s an even stronger hook.

Here’s an example of Sonia Simone leveraging this:

Headline: The #1 Conversion Killer in Your Copy (and How to Beat It)

Hook: What makes people almost buy? What makes them get most of the way there and then drop out of your shopping cart at the last second?

If you have a website with a shopping cart, I defy you to stop reading the article after those first two lines.

Hook #2: Focus on the reader

This is probably the easiest hook to create. By using the words “You,” “You’re” or “Your” in your introduction, you directly address the reader.

Take this example from Alexandra Franzen:

Headline: This one’s for you

Hook: Your inbox is full of ego-rattling rejection emails, but you’re emailing 10 more literary agents today. … Your podcast has exactly three fans (and two are your parents), but you’re posting a new episode every single week, nonetheless.

The reason this hook works so well is because the reader now feels they’re part of the article’s story. This creates a strong need to know how that story ends.

Hook #3: Add dialogue

Who likes listening in on other people’s conversations?

We all do. We can’t help it. When an article starts with dialogue, we’re quickly hooked because we’re getting all the pleasure of eavesdropping, without the guilt.

Here’s an example from Jerod Morris:

Headline: Why Your Greatest Asset May Be Slowly Eroding (and How You Can Rebuild It)

Hook: “Why are we sending this email to this list again?” Kim asked. I was incredulous. “Umm, because we never sent it a first time,” I thought to myself. Still, before responding, I decided to check. Glad I did.

This hook combines both spoken and inner dialogue. The latter of which is next-level intriguing because it gives the reader access to the writer’s inner thoughts.

Why was Jerod “glad he checked?” We have to know.

Hook #4: Make a big statement

This is where a writer makes a “big call” — usually in both their headline and their opening line. It’s effective because it makes people think, “Really? What have you got to back that up?”

It’s a favorite technique of Penelope Trunk:

Headline: Living up to your potential is BS

Hook: The idea that we somehow have a certain amount of potential that we must live up to is a complete crock.

The reason this hook is so effective is because it captures the attention of people from both sides of the argument.

People who agree with the sentiment want to find out why they’re “right” in thinking so. People who disagree? They read on because they want to rebut.

Big statements are not for the faint-hearted. If you don’t want to engage in robust conversation about the ideas you’ve expressed in a post, stay away from this one.

Hook #5: Tell a story

If you present information in a story format, people immediately pay attention. Using a story as a hook, however, is a pro skill.

You can’t kick off with just any story; it has to be relevant. For an ongoing master class in this technique, simply follow Bernadette Jiwa.

Here’s a recent example from her blog:

Headline: The Unchanging Nature Of Business

Hook: It’s a cool November day in 2014, and a young couple pause on a suburban street to snap a selfie with an iPhone 5C.

Why does the above statement hook you? Because you want to discover the link between the headline and a young couple taking a selfie.

Let’s recap

I’ve covered a bit of ground, so let’s touch on the key points again.

  1. If you don’t hook readers at the beginning of your article, they’re more likely to move on to a different piece of content.
  2. If you can’t summarize the idea of your article in a “literal” headline, then you don’t have a firm grasp of what you’re trying to communicate — and you’ll fail to deliver a payoff for the reader.

Where to go from here?

A simple exercise I urge you to do regularly is: pay attention to the articles that you read all the way to the end and share.

Study them by identifying:

  • The hooks the author used to get you reading.
  • The hooks the author used to keep you reading. (For example, subheadings also function as hooks.)
  • The underlying ideas. (Write literal headlines once you’ve identified those ideas.)
  • What moved you to share those articles?

When you understand the writing techniques that work well on you, you can use them in your own writing to ensure that if you put a lot of time and energy into creating a piece of content, then it will get the attention it deserves.

The post Two Vital Elements that Might Be Missing from Your Content (and Precisely Where to Add Them) appeared first on Copyblogger.


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How to Build Trust and Enhance Your Influence with Content Marketing

"Building trust is bigger than tactics — it’s your entire mission." – Brian Clark

Know, like, trust.

At its essence, those three things are why we do content marketing. And if you’re not hitting all three, you’re likely not enjoying success with your content.

Traditional marketing is big on the know — it’s all about creating awareness in the marketplace. Add in some clever messaging to prompt some level of liking, and mission accomplished, right?

It’s as if awareness of a brand is enough to spark trust. And it’s true — we do tend to prefer brands that we know, even if there’s no true difference between one product and a generic one.

But when it comes down to choosing between two or more brands, trust becomes critical. This is one of the benefits that content marketers have over competitors who don’t create and freely share valuable information — and it can be substantial if done correctly.

Trust works on many levels:

  • Do you do what you say you’re going to do?
  • Are your products and services solid?
  • Do you treat customers fairly?
  • Will you be in business next year?
  • Do you abide by the core values you claim?

Content marketing allows you to tell stories that touch on each of these over time. Even more, your brand can be viewed as not only trustworthy, but generous. Even selfless.

The art of disinterested goodwill

In terms of persuasion techniques dating back to the time of Aristotle, ethos is an appeal to the authority, honesty, and credibility of the person speaking or writing.

And that’s exactly what builds trust and influence when content marketing is done well.

Aristotle also thought that a key component of effective ethos was a combination of likability and selflessness, which he characterized as “disinterested goodwill.”

Disinterest here doesn’t mean you don’t care if you get a beneficial outcome — it means you serve your audience whether or not you get that benefit from any particular person.

When you give away quality content that’s so good you could have charged money for it, you’re acting with “disinterested goodwill.” That means your audience received value regardless of whether they ever pay you a dime.

It’s this very aspect of content marketing that makes it unacceptable to some business people. The thought of providing something valuable to “freeloaders” just drives them nuts.

I’ve been giving away free, valuable content for 19 years, and all eight successful businesses I’ve started were powered by it. I have complete faith that I’m going to get benefits back — and the know, like, and trust I earn is the entire reason.

Just the act of performing content marketing triggers the power of disinterested goodwill. Lacking that, there are techniques that persuaders use to achieve the same goal.

The “reluctant conclusion” technique

A classic persuasion technique is the “reluctant conclusion.” You share with your audience how you had a change of heart based on overwhelming evidence.

For example, you’ve recently raised the price of a product and discovered that it’s killing your sales. You could just quietly change the price back and hope no one notices, but you’ll build more trust and goodwill with your audience if you explain that you were wrong about the price raise and will be reverting it.

Meanwhile, you’ve also met your goal of sparking dormant sales. It’s a win-win-win when you count the additional trust that you’ve built with your audience for future products and promotions.

The “personal sacrifice” approach

Another tactic is the “personal sacrifice” approach.

Yes, the free online workshop you’re doing could have been a paid product, but you’ve decided not to charge for it so you can help more people.

I’m sure you’ve seen this done many times before, with varying degrees of skill in the execution. The key to handling it well is, as always, to know your audience.

The “Abraham Lincoln” technique

And finally there’s the “Abraham Lincoln” technique. Lincoln was an unusual-looking guy with a hick accent and a whiny voice. When he gave speeches during his run for president, he added fuel to his personal fire by claiming to be a poor public speaker with nothing new to say.

And yet, Lincoln was a very bright man with an excellent grasp of the nation’s problems. He lowered expectations by presenting himself as a sincere fool, and by the end of a speech he had won the audience over completely.

So, if you’re a chiropractor who also does content marketing, it’s really easy to claim that you’re “no master copywriter,” even as you begin to deliver some damn persuasive copy. Again, you need to intimately know your audience to understand what’s appropriate when it comes to these things.

Which brings us to something completely different.

What’s in it for you?

If any of the three tactics above sounded hokey or even manipulative, you’re not alone. That doesn’t mean they don’t work to build trust with certain audiences; they just might not work on you.

That’s why I repeatedly say, “Know thy audience.” I don’t use those tactics on you, because I think I’d get a chorus of eye rolls. You’re more sophisticated about marketing than a typical audience, so those approaches might hurt more than help.

Some marketers in our space have resorted to “radical transparency” in order to build trust. The problem with that, especially when talking about revenue growth, is it can come across as bragging more than honesty. And when things start going badly, you’ve got to maintain that transparency, which may actually reduce trust in your product or company.

My approach is to simply never be shy about saying what’s in it for me. It was a lesson I learned back in 2007.

I had been giving away valuable free content on Copyblogger for 18 months at that point. No product, no service, just relentless focus on serving and building the audience.

Then a strange thing started happening. I began getting emails from people who didn’t understand why I was giving everything away for free without asking for a sale.

It caught me off guard, but the people in my early audience were worried that they couldn’t trust me, because they didn’t understand what was in it for me. Color me shocked.

So, even though I still try to be as generous as possible, I never shy away from saying what’s in it for me. If we’re doing our jobs correctly, what’s in it for you should always come across as superior — which makes it a sales strategy as well.

For example, when we launch a new product that has special introductory pricing, we’re doing it for a reason beyond maximizing sales. We want feedback from our initial customers so we can rapidly improve the product.

So, we explain that in great detail. And it’s worked on both the sales and feedback level every time. The more potential for skepticism within your audience, the more you just come right out and tell people the deal — for both sides.

Demonstrate trustworthiness

The most powerful way to establish yourself as a subject matter expert is to demonstrate your authority with your content rather than simply claim to be an expert. Trust works the same way.

So, some of those ancient rhetorical tricks I’ve listed above are good to know, and if appropriate, you should work them in. But overall, serving your audience with the right valuable content is the best way to demonstrate your trustworthiness and establish true “disinterested goodwill.”

Other than that, the natural impulse to hide your economic motivations or business objectives is almost always a mistake. Realize that people increasingly think everyone is “on the take,” and your primary job is to assure your audience that you’re not.

Building trust is bigger than tactics — it’s your entire mission.

The post How to Build Trust and Enhance Your Influence with Content Marketing appeared first on Copyblogger.


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