“Nobody cares how important your content is.”
So says speechwriter Mike Long in a recent essay. What you have to say, he explains, may be the very definition of essential knowledge – a matter of life and death! – but no one will pay attention if you don’t make your audience care about it.
It’s a lesson that can be hard to learn. Our human nature makes it difficult. “But I care so much about this topic! Everybody else should, too!” As much as we’d sometimes like to believe that’s true, it ain’t necessarily so. Here are a few tips to draw your readers in and help them see the light of your content’s brilliance.
Any worthwhile writing tutorial will tell you the opening line (or headline) is the most important part of anything you write.
One of my favorite creative writing tips is “start in the middle.” You don’t have to start your story at the beginning, as in “Once upon a time ….” You could start it in the middle, when the action is at its peak, or at a turning point in the narrative: “Unshaken, Billy Jr. looked his angry client in the eye and chose his words carefully.”
A line like that puts the reader right into the middle of a relatable conflict and makes them wonder not just what comes next but what led to the conflict in the first place. It would be hard not to keep reading.
My personal most memorable opening line is from “The Stranger” by Albert Camus: “Mother died today.” I’ll confess I remember almost nothing else about that book, but those three bleak words continue to haunt. (Unless you’re selling cremation services, something like that probably wouldn’t work for many product promotion articles.)
At Writer’s Digest, editor Brian Klems discusses seven different approaches for crafting a killer opening line. He’s talking about novels and short stories, but the principles are easily translated to marketing content. For some more marketing-specific ideas, check Michael D. Pollock’s list of how to “open your next blog post with a bang.”
Focus on the Benefits
It may sound very “101” (let’s call it a “fundamental”), but many marketers are so eager to shout about the whiz-bang new features that they almost ignore how their customers will benefit. So don’t talk about what your product does or simply list the services your company provides. Instead, show how you’ll make the reader’s life better. By putting more money in their pocket. Giving them more free time. Providing a unique and memorable experience.
As the old adage says, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Showing them a picture of a new and improved life communicates that and opens readers’ minds to learn more about your brand.
Keep It Brief
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” —W. Shakespeare
Make It Personal
Now that I’ve told you to keep it short, I’m also going to tell you not to be afraid to go long. What the above point really means is, “Don’t make it any longer than it needs to be.” But sometimes it needs to be longer.
People will read a longer article if you give them a reason to. One of the best ways to pull readers into a story is to give it a hero. Use real people, real-world examples to get your point across. That often means providing enough background about your hero to make readers care, which can’t be hurried. When you do it right, you engage your readers emotionally, which creates a far stronger, more lasting bond with your brand.
Revise, Revise, Revise
Even when deadlines are tight, don’t ever settle for work that hasn’t been reviewed and revised. As Ernest Hemingway so pithily put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
John McPhee, longtime writer for “The New Yorker,” maintains that at least three or four drafts are necessary for any quality piece of writing.
Though the idea of multiple drafts may sound a little intimidating, it actually leads to freedom. When you know that several revisions are forthcoming, it becomes easier to get that first draft done, because you don’t have to worry about every word, every thought, being perfect.
“Blurt out, heave out, babble out something – anything – as a first draft,” McPhee advises.
Most of the angst associated with the writing process involves the first draft. And once the dreaded “blank sheet of paper” is gone, it’s easier to really dig in and focus on drawing your readers into a compelling story. And engage them with your brand in new and compelling ways.