Like the infamous seductress, content is sometimes smarter and more challenging than physically beautiful. With powerful phraseology and an elegant typography, the messages contained in prose can make the text more alluring than the sexiest infographic.
If you want to learn the language of writerly love for the text, it doesn’t just take talent and aptitude—it takes psychologically-driven messaging. Here are the first five of the 40 secrets to create powerful prose, which are applied by content gurus, vixens, politicians, and salesmen, alike. Over the next seven weeks, I’ll be giving away the remaining 35 secrets to improve your content creation game.
Films about the apocalypse never fail to show the crowds crushing into under-stocked grocery stores, stomping on neighbors to get the last can of peaches. From these films we learn intuitively that scarcity—or even the threat of it—creates desire (also, that food storage might be a good investment).
Fill your audience with a sense of urgency; to buy, to sell, to something. Giving the impression that whatever is being sold is going fast is a time-old tradition for a reason—people respond. QVC doesn’t have a timer on porcelain dolls because there’s a shortage, after all.
Create a positive panic:
- Let your audience know that the offered content has information that is only actionable for a limited time
- Offer a value add on for the first group of users, like a widget
- Like Groupon, remove items after ‘a limited time’ (which could be a week for some blog content, and a year for others)
If someone you know is tweeting it, there’s an instantaneous urge to keep up by reading then retweeting the same information. The herd effect compels people, on both conscious and subconscious levels, to keep up with the Joneses; or at least to jones to keep up.
The fear of being left behind is apparent throughout social sites, from the self-musing teens to the generation that predated household computing. Subtly imply that sense of angst, which tells people they are behind the curve.
Create neighborly suspicion and RT feuds:
- Implying that ‘everybody is doing it’ isn’t enough: if the reader senses that his peers are doing it, he will act, readily
- To really get attention, let the audience know that everybody has already done it
- Remember the power of showing rather than telling: give concrete examples of the numbers of people retweeting, joining a site, or donating to a cause, and others in the social group will act
THE SUBCULTURAL NORM
Whenever possible, use a positive angle whilst approaching a topic you hope to affect positively. People have been proven to respond to happy/welcoming feelings more frequently than negative/intimidating ones. Furthermore, if you tangentially mention how few people are doing something, then you set the group’s norm as not doing that something.
As the herd mentality teaches us, people do what their friends are doing. Understanding subcultural norms, a writer must always make the acceptable, normal action the one that is desired for branding, sales, or reputation management.
An example of this is the year advertisers informed the public that 22 million women did not vote during the previous election: in response, fewer women voted in response to the proclamation that the acceptable social action was not to vote. Ever notice pages showing a list of your Facebook friends who ‘like’ a page? How quickly did you click the ‘like’ to join them?
Create a positive niche norm:
- Inform users of the positive effects, number of responses, or outcome from previous experience
- Avoid statistics or qualifiers that suggest the average person responds negatively
- Maintain a positive tone in order to keep thoughts positive for those who are consciously thinking about the product or brand being marketed—Pavlov’s dog wasn’t late to supper (towit, intrinsic associations are instantaneous and powerful for readers, so they should be positive)
What was once a slanderous curse for loved ones, is now a positive approach to marketing: making content as thought-inducing-less as possible keeps focus on the flow and end goal, rather than frustrating them, which causes pause, reflection, and a choice.
Thoughtlessness can be implemented by creating skimmable text, by ensuring an infographic is designed for the lowest common denominator (as my favorite vegan would say), and with precise statements. As Reginald F. Johnston told the last Emperor of China, “If you never say what you mean, you’ll never mean what you say.”
Create content for Herp & Derp:
- A panoply of options befuddles readers, clients, kids, and even adults—no one wants to choose between 18 sizes of soda at the theater—people are drawn to simplicity
- Removing extraneous information or clutter makes the clear choice an obvious one
- This is a good key for the writer, herself: brainstorming twice the necessary ideas is plenty. If too many ideas are developed, little excitement is left for the actual creation and fleshing-out of content
Relating back to the power of a positive panic—to get something before it’s old hat—empowerment is showing the reader how to get it. Never make assumptions about an audience you don’t know on a personal level. Something common sense to you, like finding an answer on Google, might not occur to someone else.
Whenever you call for action, follow it up with suggested actions. Like the campaigners who attempted to shame female voters into participation, you may accidentally suggest an action you do not support, simply by making it seem normal.
Therefore, when you use a call to action, follow it up with examples of how the user can respond, and methods to respond. If a piece of linkbait is about a desk that’s a whiteboard, and you urge him to buy it but don’t provide a link, what conversion to sales can you hope for, really? Similarly, all calls to action should be followed-up with solutions and suggestions as clear and thoughtless as clicking a link. For more information on conversion optimization, check out this Search Engine Land post, Conversion Optimization is the New SEO.
Create thoughtlessness in resposivity:
- Provide a link to the next step, whether it’s a literal hyperlink or not
- By providing examples of how it’s done, you also make it seem like something others are doing, which cues the herd response
Psychologically-driven messages not only increase sales, or CTRs; they also help the audience to better grasp what they should do, next. Remember to employ these five content creation tips with subtly, and with due respect for your audience: though one solitary reader is in fact the lowest common denominator, everyone else is quick to your game.
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