How to Stand Out in a Noisy Niche: Use a Hook
Josh Bernoff writes the blog Without Bullshit. Fundamentally, he writes about writing. But despite thousands of competitor sites and a handful of friends telling Josh to write about something else, he’s succeeding.
What causes one blog to stand out among the noise in a crowded niche? What causes any one piece or project to break from the average to achieve the exceptional?
Well, lots of stuff. (Did you think there was one silver bullet here? Cmon.)
But there is one simple thing you can do that Josh did to start separating from others: Use a hook.
Josh’s hook, “Without Bullshit,” allows him to attract attention in one moment in time and retain attention over time. If he talks about writing without bullshit, you know every piece he publishes will be a look at someone’s writing and how to rethink it with more clarity. If he switches to speaking without bullshit or leading without bullshit or (nearly anything) without bullshit, well, there’s the hook in action over time.
Just by identifying his blog to others as something specific, he stands out. He avoided being a carbon copy of all the rest.
So, against the odds, he resonates with others in a crowded space.
“I had a choice, which was to try and move everybody 12 inches in my direction, or to leave 10 percent of them behind and move the rest of them really into my corner,” Josh said on a recent episode of Unthinkable. “And I think what happens with Without Bullshit is that you get a lot of people who are enthusiastic and a few people who are pissed off. And that’s fine. I’m quite happy to leave some behind in order to have the enthusiastic backing of the rest of them.”
Instantly, others understand how Josh is different and why they should care. He empowers others to be deeply engaged with what you have to offer, instead of passively interested with something generic that fades from memory over time. As a reader, you quickly understand that an article about a recent Donald Trump speech, written on Without Bullshit, will have a specific and differentiated style to it. But just as quickly, you can envision the journey over time as you subscribe or come back to read more. This hook can be reused, remixed, and evolved.
Other hooks include the podcast “Science Vs” — Gimlet Media show about how commonly accepted things stack up with actual science — and the TV show “Parts Unknown,” which is about traveling to unknown spots in the world (even in known locations) to explore the intersection of people and food, hosted by Anthony Bourdain.
With my podcast, I’m trying to use a hook as well. Unthinkable is a collective journey to answer one question: What does it take to trust your intuition and succeed? If that’s interesting to you compared to Yet Another Marketing Show with All The Same Damn Guests, great! But over time, you start to see the journey unfold. Each Monday, I share a new hypothesis to answer that question, packaged as a story. In each story, I present the hypothesis, then identify what we’re likely to already assume about it. To re-think that assumption, we next go outside our echo chamber with a short story, which prepares us to be open enough to accept the case study back in our world, which ends the episode.
Josh’s story on Unthinkable is slightly different. I call it a Slingshot episode — short story profiling a side project, which so often “slingshots” you forward. We run those every other week.
Regardless of the medium or the name, a hook helps you stand out. It helps you create something memorable in a world where everything is increasingly similar.
In Josh’s case, he writes about writing. Plenty of people do that. But what causes him to trust his intuition and pursue that craft regardless? He has a hook.
He has a hook that keeps people interested. A hook that keeps them coming back. And a hook that helps him stand out in an era when it’s never been harder to do so.
So if a hook can do all that, ask yourself: What’s yours?