No content writer wants to put out pieces that are never read. It’s not a matter of business pride, but a matter of personal pride. We want our work to have meaning to us and the audience.
The trouble with meaning is that there are a lot of opinions on what makes something meaningful. Some think that humor makes a piece more meaningful. Some say authenticity. Some say that the information alone is enough.
The fact is that all of them are right because we all have different things we find meaningful. However, there are emotional triggers in most of us that can make us respond to things. Clever content marketers take a few pieces out of the copywriter’s tool kit to make their content pieces feel more meaningful even if the information is the same. What we want to do in this article is to share some of those tools for creating meaning so you can spice up your content.
Why do we find things meaningful in the first place? What is meaning, exactly? Here’s a theory.
Meaning starts with an experience of some kind. It could be a piece of content, a product, or something simple like a sunset. When someone has contact with that experience, there’s a chance it can fit in with a need inside the viewer.
That sense of “fitting in” is what we mean by meaning. It’s that fitting of the missing puzzle piece in the mind of the reader. We should avoid creating content that doesn’t generate feelings of meaning. However, information delivery isn’t the only way you can deliver meaning to your audience. Actually, just shoving information into the faces of your audience isn’t the best way to get them to swallow it.
Tapping Into Emotions
There’s the old saying about how you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Despite this, we all too often believe that if we just throw information at the wall some of it will stick. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 88% of successful content marketers put audience information needs above all else. Yet you can present the exact information someone needs but they refuse to find it meaningful and act on it. Why is this?
People run on emotions first and then reason. The skill of a copywriter is the ability to tap into emotions to persuade people to do something. A touch of the copywriter’s art can be useful to make your content marketing more meaningful to your audience.
A former copywriter by the name of Blair Warren came up with an excellent summary of persuasion in the 2000s:
“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”
When you connect your facts to these emotions, you create validation in the mind of the reader. You create that connection that brings up a feeling of meaning. How can these be applied to content pieces?
This is probably the most common technique used for content marketing because it’s easy to do. Most content pieces are written to help the reader overcome a problem. The “dream” is that they can solve their problem by reading the article.
If you just lay the information out there, only some of the people will be able to pick it up and run with it. But if you encourage the reader that what they’re about to read will solve the issue, then show them how to do it, then explain at the end that they have everything they need to solve the problem, that’s an example of encouraging dreams through content.
This pattern is also common in adult education. The “dream” is to learn something from the class. Good teachers then proceed in three stages. They explain what the lecture is about and what the student will learn. Then they explain the lesson. Finally, they review what the listener just learned. This triple explanation helps to cement understanding in the mind.
No one likes to feel they were wrong about something. It’s a deep pain point in our minds. If you’ve ever had someone explain why something went wrong and how it wasn’t your fault, you know how good it feels to have that negative feeling lifted off your shoulders.
Maybe there’s a problem in your industry that your audience has a hard time solving. Let’s take one from ours, content ideation. Many content marketers struggle so hard to understand what the current buzz is in their field. Trying to do it by searching the web feels like an impossible and frustrating chore.
It’s easy to justify the failure. There’s just too much content to process from too many channels and too many demands on content marketers from upper management to make headway. The numbers just don’t add up and management doesn’t understand that you need better technology to make their demands possible.
Allay Their Fears
Do you consider fears when creating your marketing personas? Everyone is scared of something. The content writer fears writing content that bombs and gets their budget cut. The manager fears seeing no results from investing in content marketing. Upper management fears a drop in revenue.
Sometimes these fears are justified. Many times they are not. But if you can be seen as the one who can ally those fears through your content by telling them information that soothes their scared minds, that puts you in a powerful and trustworthy position.
Confirm Their Suspicions
This one goes hand-in-hand with justifying failures. Think about every time Google or Facebook has changed their algorithm significantly. You’ll see scores of articles about how the drop in KPIs is all the fault of those changes.
To be fair, we content marketers have a lot to be suspicious about with those companies because we rely on them so much for content visibility. They’re an easy target for blame. But sometimes it is justified. Every time Moz detects a change in the algorithm, content producers are quick to go “Aha! That’s why I’m not performing like I thought.”
It’s a matter of feeling powerful and successful. People who feel like they aren’t getting the results they want can be suspicious of those who are. If you confirm those suspicions and then offer solutions that encourage them to go after what they want, that’s powerful leverage.
Help Them Throw Rocks At Their Enemies
This one is more in the copywriter’s wheelhouse than the content writer. Throwing shade at the competition is a common marketing tactic. But what about your personas? Who or what are their enemies? Maybe it’s a particular business practice. Maybe it’s a failure in their workflow. Maybe it’s that one competitor always beating them in the SERP rankings. Or maybe they’re tired of their boss’s boss always demanding proof of ROI for this content marketing stuff.
You don’t have to be rude, but you can give them the ammo necessary for them to mount their own attack on their problem.
These techniques aren’t independent. If you look at ads you can see a mix of these persuasion levers, especially in long-form sales letters. These five emotional triggers are a secret you can use to make your content pop more with your audience.
The same techniques can also be used internally in your business. CMI founder Joe Pulizzi says, “Content marketing programs do not get killed because they don’t produce results. They get killed because the person who controls the purse strings doesn’t get it.”
So how do you get them to get it? You create meaning in their minds. First, you give them information in terms they resonate with. You may love the fact that something went viral, but all they care about is how many conversions your content got that month. So you have to give them some informational food they like.
Then you can spice it with the techniques above. Figure out why they want that particular KPI so badly. Do they dream of hitting a particular revenue goal? Do they want to prove that they’re better than the competition? Do they suspect that your team isn’t pulling their weight and you have to prove them wrong?
Try wrapping your content marketing pitches in these and see what happens.
Meaning Changes Over Time
Another problem with generating meaning is that meaning shifts over time. As people change and the industry changes, approaches and information that used to work will stop working. 10 years ago, we would be writing articles about achieving high keyword saturation for better SERP placements. If we wrote an article like that now it would be dangerously incorrect.
Furthermore, people’s needs change as they move through the marketing funnel. Content has to be tailored for each persona and for each stage of the funnel to persuade the reader to continue down that path and forge a stronger connection with your brand.
Striking the right emotional tone at the right time is key to creating this connection. The next time something gets a spike of attention, don’t just ask what the information was. Look at what feelings it generates and consider the type of person who resonates with those feelings. Is it one of your personas, or could they use a little tweaking?
We know that not every piece of content you write will have a huge impact. There are very few content creators who can consistently knock it out of the park. Those that do often don’t last too long before the audience shifts to the next thing they find meaningful. We hope that these thoughts about meaning will give you a different perspective on how to approach your future pieces.