The 3 Secrets of the Content People Respect
You’ve got a great product. You’ve worked hard on a blog. You’ve got decent pageviews. But your audience just isn’t engaging.
And you know there are millions of gigabytes of content created every day. Can you cut through all that noise and build a loyal content following? Or does content loyalty fall to good luck and gimmicks?
Fortunately no, it does not. Content loyalty is the product of hard work and commitment to the right mindset.
The hard work is up to you, but I can give you the mindset that blogs like Buffer are using to drive content loyalty.
The first step in cutting through the noise is to define the problem you’re going to solve. If you have a product or a service, you have a problem to solve.
The next step is to build trust with your audience, and to do that, you must prove to your audience that you respect them.
We’ve Got a Problem with Respect
In our daily lives I think we’ve come to expect a certain amount of disrespect, which only makes respect more powerful. Sadly, marketers are often the worst offenders.
The Internet is overfilled with clickbait, in-your-face advertising, and gimmicky marketing content.
In order to stand out as a company worthy of a customer’s respect, you must start seeing your customers as people, not unique pageviews or leads.
“You must start seeing your customers as people, not unique pageviews or leads.”
You can do this in three key ways:
Respect their needs. Respect their intelligence. Respect their time.
Learn this, and both you and your readers will reap the rewards. Respect breeds respect.
The first, and perhaps most important, element to respectful writing is respecting your reader’s needs.
Respect Your Reader’s Needs
The first element of respect goes hand-in-hand with becoming a problem solver. In an earlier article, I discuss why you must target the need, not the person. This mindset will set you up for success in the respect category.
Why? Because your reader comes to you with an unmet need.
Your reader is coming to your content for a very specific purpose, most likely need-driven.
You need to learn to anticipate these needs, and fulfill these needs with your content.
Are Some Brands Psychic?
The power of respecting your reader’s needs is evident in the high traffic of blogs like Buffer.
To illustrate this, I dug up the original post that made me a lifelong fan of Buffer. It was summer 2014, I was new to my first corporate job, and my boss told me he wanted us to experiment with Twitter.
I was slightly terrified. I knew Twitter, and I knew that your posts can quickly get lost in the ether. So I turned to Google: “the best times to Tweet.”
Result #2 (which was #1 at the time) is the post “A Scientific Guide to Posting Tweets, Facebook Posts, Emails, and Blog Posts at the Best Time.”
I was hooked right from the headline.
I learned a ton about social media from this post. And reading it again, I learn even more — this time about the secrets of great content.
Ace the Headline
The first thing your reader will see is your headline. Headlines are high-pressure, and everyone has a different opinion on what makes a good one.
I’m not here with the official word on headlines, but I can tell you one thing:
Excellent headlines laser-target the problem your post solves.
Look at these Buffer headlines, all from the simple site search: “the best time.” If you’ve ever read Buffer’s blog and wonder “are they mind-readers?” you’re not far off.
While I doubt Kevan Lee is psychic, he and his whole team have hit upon one of the simplest, yet most powerful truths of need-focused writing:
Needs usually come in the form of questions.
All Buffer has done to rock these Google-topping headlines is to understand the question the reader is asking — and then simply repeat it.
The result is me and you, wondering if their entire blog is made from psychic paper.
A click and my full attention is a given, at this point. But that’s not enough, if the goal is to engage and educate.
Use Your Introduction to Connect
An excellent way to open your need-focused content is to reiterate the question or problem to build sympathy or empathy.
Both show respect for your reader by telling them you took the time to understand their problem.
In the Buffer post that hooked me, the author says in her second paragraph:
The tricky thing I’ve come across is that since the web is still so new, a lot of the research available to us is conflicting. We really need more time and more studies to get definitive answers about what works best, and the fact that our audience members are constantly changing their own activity patterns makes it even harder to work out for sure. Looking at the latest social media stats seems to only confirm that.
I loved this, as a reader. I connected with the author, with the post. I knew she understood my problem. And I trusted her to solve it.
Deliver on Your Promise
The headline promised me two main things:
- Scientific material — I was expecting stats, graphs, and studies that I could trust.
- “Ultimate Guide” content — after all, it did explicitly cover Facebook posts, Tweets, emails, and blog posts!
If this post had had one or two old stats and a lot of opinion, I would have been disappointed, and would have distrusted content from Buffer as a rule.
Same would have happened if it had a ton of great, statistically valid content, but had tried to make a “one size fits all” approach to those four different mediums.
But instead, I scrolled past the introduction and was met with a glorious barrage of stats, graphs, and explanations — for a total of 1800 words and fourteen 8.5x11 pages of content!
Your readers could be weeping tears of joy when they see your headline. They could fall in love when they read your introduction.
But if you don’t go the whole nine yards and solve their problem as thoroughly as possible in your body content, they’ll leave pissed and may not come back.
And this leads right into the second pillar of respectful writing…
Respect Your Reader’s Intelligence
In Fredric Laloux’s groundbreaking book, Reinventing Organizations, he says something especially insightful on the karmic nature of respect and trust, and it’s stuck with me for a long time:
When trust is extended, it breeds responsibility in return.
He goes on to give many surprising examples of this. In his context, he’s talking about the rewards reaped by companies who extend inordinate amounts of trust to their employees. In our context, it highlights an unaddressed problem for many marketers:
We need to trust the intelligence of our readers.
I know you can think of a time when something you watched or read insulted your intelligence. Maybe it was a media spin, a contrived plot twist in fiction, or a marketing message.
Conjure that memory and hold it in your mind for the rest of this section, because there are two important assumptions you need to make to avoid doing this to your own readers.
Assume Competence; Avoid Condescension
It’s easy to treat your readers like babies. I mean, chances are if you’re writing about a topic, you’re something of an expert in it and your reader has something to learn from you.
And so, in the name of helping their readers, many well-meaning writers fall into the trap of condescension. This happens when your base assumption is that your reader is incompetent and needs you to talk slowly (metaphorically speaking).
But as Reinventing Organizations proves in its numerous examples, people rise to the trust they are given.
What does this look like practically?
Give; don’t spoon-feed. Provide screenshots, graphs, examples, links to further details. Become an excellent resource, then trust them to educate themselves, instead of trying to spoon-feed them everything.
Listen; don’t lecture. Mine your comments and Google Analytics data for indicators like Social Shares, Time on Page, or Pageviews. Pay careful attention to these cues from your audience on what they want — then do something about it! Your audience will feel respected, and will respect you in return.
Assume Genuine Interest; Avoid Gimmicks
In their article, Marketing to Millennials: Are We Still Just Selling Snake Oil?, Marketing Sherpa discusses the problem of a culture that is increasingly skeptical and sensitive to being “sold.”
In the end, as difficult as it can be to overcome the current natural skepticism of our customers, I am thankful for it. […] I am thankful for the higher standard it demands of us in the presentation of our own offers and services.
This perfectly presents the second aspect of respecting your reader’s intelligence.
Too many marketers and writers let their product/service become the endgoal or focus of their content. In the process, they often resort to gimmicky writing that leaves a sour taste in their reader’s mouth.
Take, as a perfect example, the direct sales letters that were hugely popular to the advertising moguls of yesteryear — and unfortunately, are still doing brisk business in our modern age:
This kind of writing may still succeed in selling some audiences, but it’s not the kind of writing that will earn your reader’s respect.
Respect your reader’s intelligence — don’t attempt to manipulate them with gimmicky writing. Write in a way that meets their informational needs, that builds rapport — and when the time comes for you to mention your product/service, assume genuine interest.
“But Emily,” you might be asking, “isn’t it kind of presumptive to assume they’re genuinely interested in my offering?”
Not at all.
Genuine interest follows need-focused writing.
If you have defined the problem your product solves, planned your content around problem solving, and proven your commitment to meeting your reader’s needs, you can safely assume that the people who are genuinely interested in your content will also be genuinely interested in your product/service.
When you start from the assumption that your reader is genuinely interested in your offer, you will present your product/service very differently than when you assume your reader is hostile or indifferent.
Buffer handles this expertly — take this example from their post I mentioned earlier.
Buffer succeeds here in 3 key ways:
- The offer is small and in-line. It’s not loud, manipulative, or gimmicky.
- It ties into the content you’re already consuming, already enjoying — it feels natural to the content.
- It’s positioned as an additional resource — an extra step that will help you solve your problem.
There’s a lot that could be said for the mechanics of approaching a product offering in your content — and most of it is outside the scope of this post. For now, get started by practicing these principles of genuine interest:
Think of your product/service as a resource. Brainstorm: how can your product/service contribute to solving your reader’s problems and fulfilling their needs? Think of the blogs and brands you love — how do they do this, or fail to do this? (Tell me in the comments!)
Be honest. Transparency may be a buzzword, but honesty is a rare commodity. If you are upfront about your product/service — within the context of being a resource — it will go a long way towards making your reader feel that you respect their intelligence.
Respect Your Reader’s Time
And lastly… remember that other people are just as busy as you are.
A good way to know if you’re respecting your reader is by asking yourself one simple question, and its natural followup:
“What is the goal of my content, in this article, in this subsection, in this paragraph?”
and, “Is every sentence geared towards making that goal clearer, pithier, more engaging?”
Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying we should reduce our blog posts to a handful of bullet points. Craft and voice are very important. Stories and examples are important. And a lot of data indicates that longer blog posts perform better in search results.
But we should remember the lesson that’s drilled into good fiction writers: if you’re not driving the story with every sentence of description, dialogue, and narration — you’ve got fluff to cut.
Show your readers that you respect their time by taking these measures with your own content:
#1. Make Your Posts Skimmable. You have something important to offer your readers. You have great examples to strengthen your case — but they might not have the time to read it all. Honor their time by highlighting the most important parts. Use headings, subheadings, and formatting to achieve this.
#2. Write for Yourself, Edit for Your Reader. This post will be hundreds of words shorter when you read it than it was when I wrote it. Get all your ideas out, then review your goals and trim your copy. You want your content to be aerodynamic by the time it gets to your reader.
#3. Be a Resource. Size really doesn’t matter — as long as your value per word is high. Make your content heavy with links, images, explanations. Take your time in becoming a great resource on your subject matter. Your reader will love you for this, because it will save them a lot of time.
We all love reading blogs that solve our problems and make us feel respected as readers. Hopefully, you’re now better equipped to pay that feeling forward to your own readers.
Commit to the mindset, and commit to practicing these principles, and you’ll be well on your way towards writing truly great content and building rapport with your readers.