The Problem with the Presumption of Interest

John Cavender
Jun 20, 2019 · 5 min read
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We all want to hear stories that are tailored to us. For instance, let’s say a friend has just come back from a vacation to Italy and is meeting up with you and your friends: one person might love to hear about the food, another would be curious about the museums, yet another would be interested in the beautiful beaches that they, too, would like to visit.

We all know that we need to cater our stories to our audiences, otherwise they’ll lose interest, smile and nod. Brands need to remember this too.

The benefit of journalists

Traditionally, brands’ stories have been shaped by the media. But in recent years, the landscape has shifted. Readership has moved to social media. In 2018, almost half of Americans got their news often or occasionally from social media. The shift in the way we find news has given brands the opportunity to publish their own content, share it directly with their audience, and attract new people to engage with.

The reality of the new media landscape means that brands cannot afford to bore the people they want to engage with. This is where journalists can be very helpful. They can turn a press release that may interest a very select group of people into a story of wider interest. They interview additional sources, provide context about how this relates to what is happening in the rest of the world, and answer the reader’s most pressing question: Why should I care?

Traditionally, reporters connected the dots for readers, but in this new landscape where brands can speak directly to their audiences, shouldn’t they be doing this, too? Brands still need the role of a storyteller to help them shape their narratives. After all, when the press is cut out of the equation, many brands forget they need an editor, a producer, or a designer to package their story, make it relevant, and make it interesting.

A common mistake in storytelling is the presumption of interest. Writers think that an audience will stick with their story until the last page. But with a consistent flood of content immediately available, many readers don’t go further than the first line. In fact, content websites typically have a 40% to 60% bounce rate.

What the audience wants and needs

The trick to successfully utilizing brand content is to approach it the way media professionals would. Some even argue that the next important role for brands to fill is that of the editor in chief.

It’s about shifting your perspective. Think not only about how your content will benefit your company but also how it will drive interest from your audience.

So, what does your audience need? They need content that is relatable, frames a problem in a compelling way, and delivers value to them. To accomplish this, each piece of content should do one or more of these things:

  • Entertain
  • Educate
  • Connect
  • Inspire
  • Spark conversation
  • Hit an emotional cord
  • Create excitement

By being aware of what your audience needs to gain from the content you produce, and by delivering value to your readers, you will be able to grow your audience and reach the people you want to connect with.

The culture around your business

One of the best things about brands engaging with their audiences today is that it has never been easier to understand what people like or don’t like. We are not stuck in a Seinfeld episode where George can’t tell if his new girlfriend was bored with his story about traveling to Italy. (“She sighed, Jerry! She gave me The Big Sigh! What am I, boring?!”)

Instead, brands can track success via the analytics offerings from Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other sites or services. But in order to develop the content that is creating positive engagement, you need to understand the types of topics your audience wants to engage with, and how they like to engage with it.

The groups of people you are trying to reach are parts of various communities with different needs and interests. For example, there is a whole ecosystem of personal finance blogs online that are geared toward millennials. Across the board, these sites are informal and personal, written by individuals who drastically altered their lifestyle to come out from under debt or retire early. A fintech startup or financial institution aiming to target the financially-conscious millennial demographic could learn a lot about the tone, style, and type of content that does well for this group.

In every case, when a brand is launching a targeted content program, it should complete an analysis of the culture around its business. By seeing what else is out there, what is succeeding, and where there may be knowledge gaps, you can make major strides in driving engagement with your target audience.

Get started

So just how much time are consumers engaging with media? Last year, Nielsen found that American adults spend over 11 hours a day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media. This means that there is a vast number of opportunities to engage with your audience. But there is a lot of content to compete with. Consequently, brands need to deliver short, easy to digest materials, with visuals and videos to drive interest.

The common aspect of each brand’s successful direct-to-audience effort is that the brand was responsive to what its audiences wanted to see. Brands carried out a “two-sided” conversation with their audience, tailoring their stories to fit their audience’s needs.

So when thinking about what form of content you want to publish, you need to understand what would resonate with your target audience. It could be an expanded social media presence, a new publishing platform for freelancers to contribute industry news, an engaging podcast, a helpful online community or something completely different and new. At the end of the day, there is no one size fits all approach to direct-to-audience brand content platforms.

Creating strong brand content is an evolution. As we’ve seen, the media landscape has changed, giving brands an opportunity to reach audiences directly. When working to expand your audience, you must start by never presuming interest. Focus on delivering value with content and on knowing exactly what your specific audience wants. Spend time developing quality materials and researching the culture of the audience you are trying to reach. When you do this, not only are you listening to your audience, but your audience will be listening to you as well.

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