How to talk to your audience like they're real people
July 20, 2015
It’s not much of a secret anymore that customers want brands to talk to them rather than at them. If you need proof, look at the rise of storytelling via the increased interest in longreads, Twitter stories, and Vine. Look at customer complaints that focus on phone trees and the dearth of human operators. Look at the popularity of House of Cards, in which Kevin Spacey breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience.
What is a secret is how easy it is to make the change from content of old to content 2.0. It’s not tough to connect with consumers. In fact, you can do it in three easy steps. Read on for my best tips on how to write content that welcomes your readers.
Imagine you’re writing a letter to your favorite aunt. No, not the mean one who locked you in the attic ala Double Double Toil and Trouble, the other one. You’d write in the second person, like I’m doing now. You’d include inside jokes and funny little asides. You’d show how much you loved and valued her in every single paragraph, and you’d go out of your way to help her if she wrote back requesting advice. Right?
This is how your website could be. It could be personal without being TMI, just like your letters to that dear aunt who was freed from the mirror and—well, never mind.
As you write, you want to keep a member of your audience in mind. If you start thinking about numbers—the millions of readers you hope to have, the dozens who bought your product today—you’ll trip yourself up trying to appeal to all of them at once. You’ll make generalizations that apply to no one. You’ll start using stilted language that high schoolers use in college application essays because they’ve never written to anyone important before. And your customers are important.
The big thing you need to know about people is that at heart, we’re all a little selfish. In fact, it’s one of the few generalizations I’d bet on. We all want to spoken to as though we’re the only ones who matter. We all want to be that one person out of thousands who captures your attention. We all want to be the one you make eye contact with while you’re giving a speech in a packed auditorium.
Why? Because it makes us feel special. And—get ready for generalization No. 2—we all want to feel special.
An acceptably “normal” experience for most children is being told a bedtime story. For many wee ones, it’s the highlight of the day, the part they want to extend by one more page, one more chapter, one more tale. That’s because stories give us the opportunity to escape, to be different. Even if it’s just for ten minutes, we want to consider what is would be like to draw curtains like Amelia Bedelia or ride around with the White Queen like Edmund Pevensie.
That desire doesn’t disappear when we’re old enough to read by ourselves. It doesn’t go away when we pack up our Illustrated Classics and move on to textbooks and white papers. Nope, just like the kids we once were, we want to use our imaginations. And your web copy can fulfill that need.
The key: Tell your own story. Tell an employee’s story. Tell a customer’s story. Tell the story that led to the creation of a best-selling product, or the realization that your old logo needed an update.
There are all sorts of stories that comprise your company’s wheres and whens and whys and hows, and the amazing thing is that your current and potential customers want to know what they are. They will listen. They will share. And they will trust you with their own stories.
You can’t buy trust, but you can encourage it.
One of the best ways to do that is to break down the image of you and your company as being perfect. Nobody and nothing is perfect, and customers know that. So why bother spending time and money and marketing power exuding an image that no one is buying? Hint: You shouldn’t.
Instead, try talking up the problems you encountered starting a business, the issues a certain campaign caused, and the questions that arose when you launched a platform. Talk about your problems—and then, talk about your solutions. That’s the moneymaker. You become an idea infuencer when you start sharing strategies that worked and ones that didn’t.
And best of all, when you humble yourself enough to say that you did this wrong, but you’re doing such-and-such to correct it and have seen this-and-that progress, your audience notices and appreciates your transparency. Your willingness to say that you’re wrong will gain you kudos when you fall…and support when you rise.
The tough part about these three easy steps? Executing them well.
Sure, you could tap-a-tap in your word processor and come out with 500 decent words to throw up on your company blog. It would be updated, it would be of some relevance to your business, and maybe, just maybe, it’d bring some revenue in the door.
But to hook new customers and bring old ones back for more, you need content that is flawless, that shows your readers why they need you (and your business) in their lives right this second. You’re there to make life better, and you can do it with words…and maybe a little help.