It’s hard to get people’s attention.
It’s the bane of marketers everywhere, and over the years, it’s led to some truly strange ideas. From bribing a town to rename itself after your company to paying someone to get your brand name tattooed across their foreheads, “attention-grabbing” is often the one thing people want out of a marketing campaign.
“It’s a conversation starter. It’ll get our name out there. That’s enough.”
Is it, though? We don’t think so. It’s one thing if everyone knows about you, but if nobody’s really paying attention, it’s just a bunch of noise. Those old “Head-On, Apply Directly to the Forehead” ads sure got a lot of attention – but when was the last time you actually bought Head-On? Ever? Never.
Never. Of course you didn’t buy Head-On. And that’s because those commercials didn’t offer you anything. There wasn’t even a clear benefit to the product. No, if you want to increase customer engagement, you have to give them something they can sink their teeth into, and make it worth their while.
1) Be valuable
Nobody wants their time wasted; if you take precious seconds away from someone, they don’t get them back. So be careful about whether or not you’re throwing away someone’s valuable, irreplaceable minutes and seconds with boilerplate content that doesn’t help anybody. And if you are? Well, don’t be surprised if nobody cares.
But there’s a better way!
The fact is, while nobody likes a timesuck, people do love valuable stuff that means something to them in their real lives. “Valuable” can mean anything from useful to entertaining, from practical tips to a fantastic story about something they care about.
And the cool thing is that you already know what “valuable” means to the people you want to reach. If you’ve got a product, it means you’re trying to solve some kind of problem. And that means you already know something about your ideal customers – that they’re the sort of people with that problem. That may not seem like much, but it’s everything! By extrapolating out from there, you can make increasingly specific judgment calls to help you zero in on the right kinds of people, and start to get a sense for what drives them and how they think. What would they want to read? What would they be out there googling for? If you can answer those questions (and you can! I believe in you!) then you can develop content that appeals to them.
2) Be human
Writing isn’t easy, but doing it well is worth it. Because the alternative – inhuman prose pumped out as quickly as possible – isn’t something anybody wants to read. It’s impersonal, robotic, stiff – and there’s nothing there for anyone to connect to.
George Orwell (making a substantially different point) gave us the canonical example:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
Good stuff. Technically sound. Accurate. Makes a solid point. Impossible to read. But…
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
Now, that’s a good deal more interesting, isn’t it? And why is that?
Well, for one, it’s concrete. It relates back to human experience instead of just making an abstract point. The language is something firm, accessible (if a little outdated by virtue of the source), and overall – it’s clear and concise. It’s not overly florid in its diction, and offers something you can sink your teeth into.
In contrast, the first example is a little…clinical, isn’t it? It’s as if nothing in there has anything to do with the real world. There’s no story. No human element whatsoever. And that means it’s not anything you can connect to. It could be making the best point in the world, but who on earth would ever care?
3) Be surprising
This goes hand in hand with “don’t waste their time.” If you deliver the same old same old, why would your content ever be worth reading to begin with?
This isn’t to say that every single thing you create has to be a groundbreaking new message or idea. But it does mean that you need to find a way to get them through the door and to keep them invested, and a great way to do that is to find something that hasn’t been said in the way you’re saying it.
So. Hard example.
You run a pest control agency. You could post “Home remedies to get rid of cockroaches.” Or you could post “Unexpected ways to get rid of cockroaches – using stuff you already own.” The first answers a question – but the second feels like it’s letting you in on a secret. It’s interesting, unique, and even a little scandalous. And it still answers the core point of the first by saying all it will take is stuff you’ve already got at your disposal. Because, the thing is, you aren’t going to be the only source for this information, so your differentiator can’t just be in what you say, but how you say it.
If you really do have a unique position, by all means put it out there. That’s where thought leadership comes from – the ability to be the clearest, strongest, most insightful voice out there. But if you’re just good at what you do, you can ensure you’re able to find and keep an audience by finding new ways to communicate strong, evergreen ideas.
- Can I place my message somewhere unexpected?
- Is there a common truth that’s not widely known?
- Are my customers largely uneducated regarding my service or how it works?
- Is there a way I can experiment with this message?
- Can I make something impersonal into something personal?
- Is there a way I can Shyamalan this thing up with a great twist at the end?
If you can find a way to do something new with something old, turn something technical into something human, and keep your content worth their time, you’re going to get more engagement and better returns.