Do you know who’s reading your content? If you want to build your brand, you should. Until you know who is reading what you publish on your blog, static website or social media channels, you can’t effectively address their wants and needs. Everyone who reads your blog or newsfeed is tacitly saying “Talk to Me;” when your content misses the mark, they assume you must be talking to someone else and tune out your message.
Audiences respond best when they feel that what they’re reading or hearing addresses them specifically. That doesn’t just mean using a subscriber’s name in a newsletter; it means speaking the language that your customers want to hear. Conventional SEO is great at getting search engines to notice you, but if you want human readers to pay attention, discover who they are and address your business content to them directly.
For a great lesson in what not to do, take a look at Sony’s failed viral marketing campaign from a few Christmases ago. Sony has a history of making all the right marketing moves, but when they failed to speak to their audience effectively, they made a rare misstep. To market their then-new hand-held gaming device, the company created an “All I Want for Christmas is a PSP” website. The site was designed to look like a blogged conversation between two teens whose sole aim in life was to convince their parents to get them matching PSPs for the holidays. Later, the site also featured a companion video from “Cousin Pete” touting the virtues of the device in rap form.
The campaign was instantly eviscerated by actual teens and gamers who could clearly spot a fake when they saw it. The self-consciously ungrammatical blog posts, misuse of “hip” text-speak and Cousin Pete’s atrocious rap – not to mention the fact that he looked about 32 – quickly tipped off the target audience that the site wasn’t a real fan-made vehicle but a disingenuous attempt at viral marketing. Sony later admitted its embarrassing attempt to speak its audience’s language and has long since regained its audience’s respect, but the incident is a clear lesson to content creators: Speak your audience’s language well, or don’t speak it at all.
If you’re addressing a native English-speaking audience, hire a content team that also speaks English as a primary language. Outsourcing business content to ESL speakers can be a money-saver, but the results often seem unnatural to native speakers. Nothing is a surer indication of keyword-stuffed filler than incorrect idiomatic language. When your visitors read that they should “venture a gamble about” a new concept instead of taking a chance on it, for example, they know the content is meant to appeal to keyword-counting search engine algorithms, not human readers. They rightly tune out a message not aimed at them.
Another common way in which content can fail to talk to its intended audience is by assuming either too much or too little expertise on the reader’s part. If you’re selling consumer electronics and publish a blog post about how to save text files, you’re underestimating your readers; write an abstruse document about wireless gateway architecture, and you might be giving them more than they care to know. Buy content that’s in their comfort zone and make them feel at home when they visit your site or Facebook page.
A frequent mistake is going for a hard sell in every piece of published content. Your customer has already sought you out and doesn’t need to be sold on you with every line of text. Occasional calls to action or spotlighting of important features is appropriate, but not everything on your site needs to shout. Visitors who see your content as nothing but ads figure you’re too busy making a big pitch to someone else and look elsewhere to find a site that speaks to them.
Content that doesn’t appear to be speaking to anyone in particular also fails to talk to your intended audience. The dry and toneless language of generic blog posts holds little appeal to visitors. Engaging content that addresses their specific needs, wants and habits has a vastly better chance of reaching your customers. Steer clear of colorless writing or bland business jargon, or your customers will steer clear of it for you.
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