According to Microsoft, today’s average human being has an attention span of eight seconds. What a time to be a writer.
When I attended grad school for my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I composed an 83,280-word novel as my thesis; it was 97,870 in its original form. Needless to say, I’m a fan of long-form writing. I love how you can build whole worlds out of paragraphs. To paraphrase from my favorite Broadway play, Hamilton, I was writing like I was running out of time.
Then I graduated and I had an overwhelming urge to not teach and instead use writing in a practical way in the real world. My first experience in marketing and communications was being the sole writer for a social media agency. Suddenly, I went from writing 83,280 words to 280 characters. As you could imagine, it took some getting used to. But I quickly fell in love with social media and the potential it had as both a creative and a strategist. You have seconds to grab a reader’s attention. Better make it count.
As I grew in the world of marketing and communications, I saw the logic behind such an incomprehensible word limit. In the same breath, however, I also saw that there is a place in the world for larger, more comprehensive pieces such as blogs, press releases, articles and white papers.
The Age of Distraction
So how is it possible for countless writing mediums to still have an impact on the market in this age? An age where not only is reading on the decline, but there is literally an endless sea of content trying to pull your reader over to their end of the pool.
Look at it from a top-level perspective. Just from a social media standpoint, 91% of businesses are online plugging their message to their ideal customers (the same customers you are trying to reach). Meanwhile, on the long-form front, there are over 600 million active blogs. Many of them are talking about products and services similar to yours.
On top of all of this, our phones are buzzing with the next awful headline, the next storm, the next political scandal, the next disaster. Everyday the tides shift and there is an emergency to deal with. Who has time to read a blog? (Millions of people, apparently.) It should be interesting to see how short our attention spans are after the total chaos that is the year of 2020.
And yet, somehow, content marketing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to attract new leads. Brands can still engage a reader and give them the knowledge they seek, especially if your audience actually enjoys what they’re reading — no matter the platform or piece.
How is this even possible?
It’s time to take your copy and messaging seriously and approach it from a strategic standpoint. There are seven fundamental elements that will allow you to empower your copy. Let’s explore them.
“Clarity creates simplicity.”Danielle LaPorte
The length of a piece isn’t the sole reason why a reader loses attention. It’s a lack of clarity. If you muddy the waters of your message, you are going to have three major backlashes.
1- You will confuse and repel your audience.
2 – You will put your brand in a bad light.
3 – You will lose track of your own key performance indicators internally.
When you start writing, define, right from the beginning. Define what you want to say and keep that in the back of your mind with every word. Outlines will be your savior when striving for clarity.
“Don’t settle for style. Succeed in substance.”Wynton Marsalis
There is a difference between incorporating emotion and romance copy and peddling fluff. If someone wants to read fluff, they will buy a greeting card for themselves. If they want rewarding, digestible content, they should be reading your content, your brand’s messaging. Facts from reputable sources reinforce your credibility. Memorable factoids and clear next steps allow people to respect your brand.
“If your presence doesn’t add value, your absence won’t make a difference.”Zero Dean
Whether your brand’s message is in the form of a brochure, a blog, a radio spot or a billboard, there needs to be a good takeaway, something about your brand that they won’t forget. The takeaway could be either informative or disruptive, maybe having the reader think…
“I didn’t realize they could do that.”
“I didn’t realize I needed that.”
“Good writing is clear thinking made visible.”Bill Wheeler
Creating a good flow is where my love for fiction writing helps me create compelling copy for clients. Organizing your message and flowing it in a way that you don’t repeat yourself is absolutely essential for capturing (and keeping) your audience’s attention. Whether your product is a medical device, a beautiful home in a master-planned community or a tasty sandwich, you’re telling a story, and you need to treat writing with that in mind.
“Consistent action creates consistent results.”Christine Kane
Conversely, this is where my love for fiction writing can be a challenge. Where in fiction, you want each piece to be a totally unique snowflake that’s a product of the moment, in marketing writing, creating a cohesive, repeatable and thought-through message is more important than variety. The power of consistency is never to be undermined. It adds credibility to your brand, its message and your offerings. This is done through both brand rules such as how you name or say certain things, but also by the message you present. By doing this, your writing will be all-the-more compelling. As Able&Co.’s copywriter, I have found that this is a truly effective and efficient way to approach writing.
“People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”Zig Zigler
There’s no doubt about it, emotion can be a trigger word. Some people want a ton of emotion in every piece of writing. Some people want as little emotion as possible. It all depends on the brand, its industry and its offerings. Yet here’s the thing…you might think emotion is immediately something obvious like joy, anger or sadness. In the world of marketing, it’s deeper than that. Much deeper. For example, if you’re a financial advisor, you’re not trying to make people abundantly smile. Instead, you want to give a sense of security and trust. In that way, you’ll inspire joy. If you’re a medical doctor, you want to give a sense of care, expertise and humanity. If you’re an automotive parts manufacturer, you want to give a sense of dependability, quality and assuredness. The list goes on and on. The point is, emotion is powerful and possible in countless ways.
“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”Seth Godin
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to have empowered, attention-grabbing writing, each piece must have a purpose.
Most of the time the purpose will be known before you hit the keyboard. But if not, these kinds of questions will help you find your purpose:
Is this piece of collateral only supposed to initiate general awareness?
Is its purpose to generate new web visits? Calls? Emails? Feet in the door?
Where in the sales funnel would a lead see this piece?
We all know people are easily distracted. We all know people would rather watch a quick and flashy video than reading copy. We all know less is more, especially nowadays. But not only does the copy still matter, but it can also be a game-changer. As long as you write right.
Which of these seven elements does your writing have? Which of them does it lack? Shoot me an email. I would love to provide an assessment of your brand’s messaging.