Engage your readers. Hook them from the start. Keep them coming back for more.
You’ve probably heard this advice a thousand times when it comes to creating content. But how can you do that, when all you can think to write about is yet another piece on why your business is better than the one down the street?
Create captivating content isn’t always about standing out from the crowd. It’s about provoking emotions, creating “hooks” that will keep your post or article in readers’ minds long after they finish reading. And the best way to create an emotional response is by telling a story.
Forget the Brain — Target the Heart
Try to remember a television commercial, any commercial. Okay, now what are you thinking of? If it’s an ad for a car, are you thinking about the manufacturer’s lease offer, or the startling images of a family walking away unscathed from a horrific accident? If it’s an ad for coffee, can you identify the origin of the beans, or do you just remember the emotional images of a soldier returning home from war?
There’s a reason advertisers try to tap into our emotions by telling stories: According to leading neuroscientists, more than 90 percent of all thoughts, emotions and learning originate from the subconscious, and storytelling targets that exact part of the brain. Since only ten percent of the human brain is directed toward rational thought, a message that targets only that portion of the brain is bound to be less effective than one that targets both the head and the heart.
Author Roger Dooley, in his book, “Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Customers,” also recommends using stories as a major element of your Web content as a means to get into your customers’ hearts and heads. Tell stories about your company and products, share customer testimonials and reviews, and look beyond the boring brochures and datasheets to give customers a reason to care about your company. Real stories, from actual people, carry far more weight than anything else you might say. After all, why else would online reviews be so important and influence more than 90 percent of all purchase decisions?
Trust, Credibility and Loyalty
Telling stories not only makes your content more compelling, it also helps establish your business’s credibility. In short, what are you more likely to believe: The marketing brochure that touts all of the wonderful features of a product, or an actual user who has experience with the product? When impartial sources share stories that support your claims, it gives your business credibility.
And when you have credibility, you’re more likely to gain the trust of your readers, customers and potential customers. If your followers trust you, they will keep coming back to you and will tell others about their experiences. And if things go wrong, when you already have the trust of your followers, you have a better chance of earning their forgiveness.
Break the Curse of Knowledge
Have you ever tried to put together some furniture from a discount store? As you sit on the floor surrounded by particle board pieces, nuts and bolts, attempting to decipher instructions that appear to have been written in ancient Latin, you wonder if saving a few dollars was really worth it. Meanwhile, your friend the engineer can assemble the piece perfectly in just a few minutes — and doesn’t even have three mysterious bolts left over at the end.
When you are writing your blogs, how are you picturing your readers? Are they the inexperienced furniture assemblers, just trying to make sense of which end is A and which is B? Or do you assume they are the engineers, who can easily decipher the instructions and even make their own modifications? If you are gearing your content to the latter, there’s a good chance you’re losing your readers before they even get past the first paragraph.
Academics and brothers Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the best-selling book “Made to Stick,” coined the term “the curse of knowledge” to refer to the phenomenon of assuming that everyone else knows as much about a subject as you do and talking over others’ heads. You are an expert in your field. You know the ins and outs, the terminology and the issues, and you want to share that knowledge with others. But never assume that your readers also know as much as you. If you do, you run the risk of creating the incomprehensible bookshelf instructions, which will only bore and frustrate your readers.
Instead, find a story to tell that will illustrate your points. Keep it simple, add an element of surprise, a few emotional details that will keep readers going until the end and stick with them even after they click on the to the next story. People remember stories of underdogs and comebacks. Use those elements to explain the potential impact of the latest algorithm change instead of adding yet another complex and yes, boring, theoretical piece to the endless stream of identical pieces.
Finding a Story to Tell
The best place to find stories is with your customers. Contact everyone who has bought from you and ask for feedback, positive or negative. Ask them to share how you affected their lives. Choose the best stories to highlight in blog posts, and use excerpts as testimonials (with permission, of course) on your site.
In the meantime, tell your own story. Ask your employees to tell theirs. Establish a brand narrative, one that taps into your customers’ hearts and minds. Your content, and your business, will be more memorable, and people will keep coming back for more.
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