“Will people read our content?”

It’s the question that prevents so many brands, particularly B2B, from investing in a content marketing program. They assume that they have nothing fun or creative to say, so they stick to the status quo with standard sell sheets, product webpages and feature lists. While these tools may be useful toward the end of the sales cycle, they won’t help you engage new audiences.

The truth is that many people do care about what you have to say. But how you say it matters even more to them.

Put some personality into it

If you want to position yourself as an industry leader, your content needs to shine like a bright star in the overly lackluster online universe. When the average Internet user’s attention span is only 8 seconds, you need to make that special connection right away.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to put more spark into every communication. Take note of these 10 ways to keep your readers engaged – and coming back for more.

1. Upgrade your voice

Arguably one of the most important aspects of your brand, your voice sets the tone for all of your communications. It shapes the audience experience and sets you apart from competitors, especially those with similar price points and advantages.

Now that consumers interact with brands on social media, they expect a more conversational, one-on-one communication style compared to a super buttoned-up, formal tone – even from B2B companies. Take marketing automation platform Hubspot, for example. While they offer slick and sophisticated software, the company’s voice is friendly and supportive. Their free guides, blogs and down-to-earth language make me feel like they want to help me do my job better. And I’m more likely to work with them given the opportunity.

Keep in mind that brand voice isn’t always mastered by amateur writers. Consider bringing in a brand advisor for a professional spin.

2. Bridge the gap

Boring content often stems from a lack of strategic planning. When you know your audience – their needs, challenges and motivations – it’s easier to pull together an editorial calendar filled with topics that pique their interest.

Get your content brainstorm started by investigating what your competitors are doing with their content – and then do the exact opposite. Answer questions they refuse to address on their website. Share interesting facts or stories that your audience has never heard. When you bridge the information gap, you earn trust.

3. Provoke a feeling

I can’t watch the ASPCA commercial (you know the one with the Sarah McLaughlan song, “In the Arms of an Angel” playing in the background) without shedding a tear. It pulls at my heartstrings every time I hear the soft, mellow music and see images of lonely dogs and cats. It also nudges me do exactly what they want – donate to the organization and adopt versus shop.

Stories that elicit a reaction, whether it be sadness, happiness, frustration or fear, lead to better results than those that don’t make you feel anything at all. When you make an emotional connection, your audience opens up to your ideas. And it’s easier to steer them toward a desired outcome.

This doesn’t mean you should bash political candidates, take a stand on a hotly contested issue or make your customers cry. Instead, strike the emotional chords that align with your brand strategy and audience profile. Showcase videos or real images of people who express the desired emotion, like my ASPCA example, instead of stock photography. Leverage music and proper lighting to set the proper mood. The Nike “Dream Crazier” video mixes all of these elements together to make me feel new affinity for the brand, plus ready to rock my next workout.

4. Tear down the wall-of-text

Your formatting makes or breaks the success of your article. In many cases, people don’t have the time or patience to digest paragraph after paragraph. Make your copy jump off the page with a few of these quick tips:

  • Create a table of contents that summarizes key points
  • Incorporate bullets or numbered lists
  • Keep your paragraphs to a 2-3 sentence maximum
  • Add a new subhead when you transition from one idea to the next
  • Use bold or italicized type to emphasize key words or phrases
  • Try symbols like the em dash and parentheses to convey additional information

5. Use anecdotes to make a point

People are drawn to good stories, especially those that make difficult concepts more relatable. Instead of telling kids, “Don’t lie..” or “Don’t take candy from strangers,” we share the tales of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf and Hansel and Gretel. They usually work, too.

If you know your buyer personas well, integrate them into your narrative. Identify real customers, or develop fictional characters, and create stories that reflect how they’ve overcome pain points with your solutions.

“Jane had X problem. So, she did X and X to solve it.”

Take a page out of the Salesforce book with their Customer Success series. Or get inspiration from HP’s video, “The Wolf,” which makes a seemingly dull topic – printer security – so much more fascinating.

6. Feed the inner geek

Give your readers facts or stats that blow their minds. Not only do they help you prove your point or build a compelling case, but they give your audience the answers they need to make decisions. With the right numbers, you can motivate your customers to do something different and take specific action steps to be more successful.

Heck, I wrote this article because I saw Forrester Research stats that said the majority of B2B buyers find vendor content useless and lacking in substance.

As you approach your next piece, put on your investigator cap and research all sides and angles of your topic to find special nuggets of insight. Sprinkle them throughout your content and make them visible with bold, larger type or house them in call-out boxes.

7. Befriend your thesaurus

Yes, we told you not to be too formal, but there’s always room to polish your vocabulary. Strong phrases and words, particularly verbs, add an unexpected dash of action to your story. They make reading more enjoyable. Plus, who doesn’t love to come across a great word? (Maybe that’s just me.)

Some of my favorite tools include Theasarus, WordReference.com and Phrase Finder. They’re all bookmarked on my toolbar for easy access any time I need some inspiration.

8. Make it visual

Brands that embrace visual content – video, photography, infographics, etc. – experience huge returns in engagement and revenue.

You’ve probably heard the stat that our brains process imagery 60,000 times faster than any text. This means that a one- or two-minute video is more effective at conveying information than paragraphs of copy. In fact, if a video is available, 60 percent of visitors opt to watch it before reading text. Remember, you only have eight seconds to land a good first impression.

At Muse, we bring together both copy and video for our case studies, like this one for Entrepreneurs’ Organization. We’ve done the same thing for our other clients. People gravitate toward the visual elements but can read the sidebars for more context.

9. Write like people talk

Although we don’t recommend throwing every grammar rule in the garbage, it’s okay to take a more casual approach with your content. People don’t always speak in perfect English, and you don’t want to alienate them with complex terminology or jargon.

A good action step is to read your article out loud from top to bottom. Is it conversational? Did you say anything that made you cringe? Revise statements that don’t sound like something you’d say at a family barbeque – if your style is casual – or in a business presentation – if the style is more formal.

This idea applies to your keywords and SEO, too. Think about the language your audience uses when they scour search engines and apply them to your strategy.

10. Don’t settle on the first draft

While it’s tempting to hit “Publish” as soon as you’re done, great content lies in a solid editing process. Use these tried and true tips:

  • Ensure your verb tense remains consistent
  • Eliminate passive voice wherever possible (i.e. “She writes awesome blogs,” reads better than “She is writing awesome blogs.”)
  • Reach for the thesaurus to power up your verbs and adjectives
  • Ask someone else to review your draft

What are you waiting for?

Depending on how you write it, your content can be the barrier or bridge to a beneficial relationship with your audience. I hope these tips give you some inspiration to make storytelling a bigger part of your marketing strategy. Remember, you have stories to tell. But how you tell them makes all the difference.

Are you ready to kick your content up a notch but need some support? Drop us a line and we’ll share our two cents on some new opportunities to consider.

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