Getting Your Readers to 'Lend Their Ears' Takes a Customer-first Focus

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I once saw the great actor Sir Ian McKellen decipher the famous "Tomorrow" speech from Macbeth in a one-man show. "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow," he began, sitting on the front edge of the stage looking at the audience. "Is everyone with me so far?"

Shakespeare knew how to get your attention. Try turning away when an actor begins, "To be or not to be, that is the question," or "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." 

In today's attention-jumping landscape, we don't get much time to engage a reader, so we need to start clearly and purposefully. "Unless you gain the prospect's attention, he or she won't read any of your copy," writes Bob Bly, one of the leading trade copywriters in the country. "And if the prospect doesn't read your copy, he or she won't receive the persuasive message you've so carefully crafted."

Here are eight ways to grab audience attention early:

1. "Start with the prospect, not with the product," says Bly. "Your prospects are interested primarily in themselves—their goals, problems, needs, hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations. Your product or service is of secondary importance, the degree of concern being determined by the potential for the product or service to address one of the prospect's wants or needs, or solve one of their problems."

2. Create a little intrigue, writes Cari Bennette on Social Fish. Use emotions, curiosity and active words to sway and persuade your readers to join in and interact. Countdowns, posts revealing 'secret' or 'key' information and giveaways can all be used to pique your readers' interest. Use them to create a "content journey" for them to actively participate in.

3. Put the focus on the value over the medium, writes Ken Molay of The Webinar Blog. He grimaces when he sees "big text trumpeting 'FREE WEBINAR!'" It's not the value of free so much that he objects to but that "it puts the focus on the mechanical transmission medium rather than on the content. "You are likely to have better promotional success by putting the focus back on the value for attendees. Instead of 'UPCOMING WEBCAST,' try something like 'ONLINE EDUCATION' or 'LIVE TRAINING' or 'EXCLUSIVE INFORMATION.'"

4. Break a pattern; present the unexpected, advises researcher brothers Chip and Dan Heath. "You need to understand and play with two essential emotions—surprise and interest. Surprise gets our attention and interest keeps our attention. Got a conventional product? Get a new one."

5. Play off of famous sayings. I recall this effective opening for a headline on Ragan Communications: "Out of sight, but not out of mind: How to effectively manage a remote workforce." Huffington Post used "Go East Young Man and Woman" for a political blog post. 

6. Get personal, writes Kathy Klotz-Guest in a story Monday on "The 'corporate veil' is coming down in favor of a human frame. Many brand stories fail to capture the public's imagination today in large part because they still portray companies as protagonists. People don't care about companies; they care about people... Great, emotional brand storytelling must be told through the lens of a person: a specific customer, a passionate employee or a dedicated partner."

7. Address pain points. "We're a sales-driven company—everything we do is about generating a conversation between a customer and a sales rep," said Don Johnston, senior editorial director of Thomson Reuters BioWorld. "Engagement to me is telling a story—listening to customers' stories and hearing what their pain points are, and then telling about our global focus."

8. Be specific. Again from Bob Bly: "In copy for technical products, clearly explaining the feature makes the benefit more believable. Don't just say a product has greater capacity; explain what feature of the product allows it to deliver this increased capacity."

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…