The world is meant to be drowning in content. People are being struck down by ‘content shock’ – overwhelmed by words, incapacitated by infographics, folding down beneath obese inboxes bursting with free trial offers, ‘10 ways to…’ blogs, all manner of replyallpocalypses…
…at least, that’s what many ‘experts ‘say.
But hang on a minute. The biggest problem isn’t that there’s too much content. No… the problem is that most of it misses the spot.
Read on and I’ll show you how to avoid making this mistake with your words.
First though, please ignore internet ‘gurus’ who tell you we’ve reached ‘peak content’, or that ‘people don’t read online, they just skim’, or that humans have the attention span of a goldfish. They’re all talking big steaming piles of faeces. You can prove it as well. Next time you meet one, offer them this bet.
Take a piece of paper. Then say: ‘On this piece of paper I’m going to write one sentence. It can be a headline in a leaflet, an email subject line, the front of an envelope. The format doesn’t really matter, because after you read it, I bet you’re going to want to read what comes after.’
The only thing your first sentence must do
Your first sentence has one goal.
To get your audience to read the second sentence. Forget trying to cram in who/why/what – you’re not writing for a newspaper. You just have to write something that grabs your reader by the lapels. Leaving them feeling like they’ve no choice but to carry on reading.
Anyway, back to this bet. Get a pen and ask them their name. Let’s say their name is John Doe. Then write this one sentence down. Fold the paper, and hand it to John. Watch him unfold it and give a rueful laugh. And then make sure he honours his bet to you.
‘The unauthorised biography of John Doe.’
Who wouldn’t want to read their own biography? Especially an unauthorised one. Of course he’s going to read on. You know why? It’s 100% about him.
In theory and in practice
Now, you don’t know every member of your audience. So you can’t hand them their own biography, So do the next best thing. Give them content that they need. Stuff that answers their emotions, meets their needs, and reassures them about the things they wake up at 3am worrying about. Sounds easy in theory, right?
Well, here’s how to do it in practice…
This method comes from the book Breakthrough Advertising, the most stolen library book (allegedly) and available on Amazon for just 500+ of your pounds. Or… you could just carry on reading, and keep your money for a holiday. Just send me a postcard or something in a bottle from Duty Free.
Please do this before writing anything to your audience. Whether you’re a copywriter, content person, business owner. Not many people do, and that’s their biggest mistake. And it’s where you can get the advantage. It goes way beyond the usual persona-building of age, region, education level, favourite TV programme.
It boils down to the following: There’s no point talking about your product and the problem it solves. Unless your audience is aware that they have a problem, and that what you offer will make it better. So first of all, you need to work out your audience’s level of awareness. And then communicate with them on that level.
How it works
Listerine is one of the first and best examples of this. The mouthwash first hit the shelves back in the 19th century. But it didn’t become truly successful until the 1920s. That was when the owners decided to market it as a treatment for bad breath. Various ad campaigns ran, raising people’s awareness of halitosis, and showing Listerine as the cure.
Awareness wasn’t the only thing raised. The company’s revenues went from $115,000 to $8 million – in just seven years.All by making people properly aware of halitosis, and positioning Listerine as the answer.
There are 5 stages of awareness, and it’s your (our? my?) job to guide people from Stage 5 to Stage 1.
Stage 5: Completely unaware
Your audience is blissfully unaware of anything related to you. They’re just focused on their own existence. They feel no need to open an email from you, reply to your voicemail, or respond to your tweet.
Words needed: Storytelling. Educate your audience about the problem you solve. Don’t talk about what you offer yet. Here’s where you find out whether you’re offering a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. If they’re not interested in the problem, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Stage 4: Problem aware
Things are starting to percolate. Your audience is aware of an uncomfortable feeling, but it’s not enough to take action. It’s sort of like having a tiny stone in your shoe, or sitting on a toilet seat that’s still warm from the previous posterior.
Words needed: It’s time to build a rapport with the audience. So focus more on their problem. Describe it, and show them it’s ok to have this problem, and that they’re not alone. Encourage them to sign up to a mailing list to receive advice. Nothing more commitment-heavy than that
Stage 3: Solution aware
Your audience knows the results they want. They just aren’t sure how to get them.
Words needed: Real-life examples of how you’ve solved their problem. If you’re writing an email, include a testimonial. If you’re doing content marketing, create a white paper, webinar, or get some independent research done by a respected agency.
Stage 2: Product aware
Your audience are fully aware of what you offer, they just don’t know if you’re right for them. They’re comparing you with the competition.
Words needed: Offer something that lets them dip their toes in the water. A free trial, or reminder of your guarantee.
Stage 1: Most aware
You superstar. You’ve got your audience’s awareness to the stage where they’re ready to buy. They just want to know the deal, the contract, the terms and conditions.
Words needed: Clear, honest, upfront. Apple doesn’t need words that educate people about what the iPhone is and what it does. So they use copy like this:
Apple might be able to keep it simple…
…but the rest of us can’t afford to.
Yes, it’s tempting to rush in and talk about what you offer. But if your audience aren’t at the stage 1 level of awareness, you’re going to fail. Forget churning out blogs if they’re not at the stage of wanting to read a few hundred words about your subject. Forget making an offer, even if it’s a freemium try before you buy, no risk offer. Otherwise you’re asking to put a ring on your Tinder date’s finger before they’ve even swiped right.
Do this awareness exercise anytime you’re starting a campaign, promotion, or writing an email to someone you want to persuade. People are always wary of something new or different. Unless your product is up there at Apple-level, you’re going to need to raise people’s awareness first.
The way to do that is by writing words that match their level of awareness. Because people will always interested in what you have to say – as long as it affects them. That means making sure your content answers everyone’s number 1 question: ‘What’s in it for me?’
That’s why I hope this blog has had something in it for you.