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Three Questions Every Content Marketer Should Answer Before Writing The First Word

Cori Linder

VP of Marketing at Retail Realm, overseeing all global brand marketing activities and communication strategies for the software tech company

As today’s consumers blissfully feast on digital media, it can be challenging for companies to not only get their content marketing articles noticed but also engage readers in ways that drive profitable customer action -- or any action at all.

Organizations generally know who they want to target and what they want to say, but some struggle to find strategies to convert readers into customers without blatantly begging for it. In fact, only 30% of B2B marketers believe their companies are effective at content marketing.

The signs of ineffective content marketing are clear: few subscribers, few click-throughs, no sales -- not even a shoutout in the comments. And although it might be hailed as a masterpiece by the in-house marketing team, if a person reads it and then moves on with their day, the article dies. The opportunity is lost.

In corporate/consulting roles, I’ve edited all types of projects and found that no matter the communications medium, the why is always the same: to purposely impact someone in order to influence a behavior. Brands don’t want to simply inform or entertain through content; they want to drive action.

This specific action needs to be determined before the first word is written and necessitates a clear path forward. Otherwise, readers will likely meander through globs of extraneous content before landing at the end. And with today's average eight-second human attention span, you can’t afford to distract them off the yellow brick road to the key call to action.

To target consumers in the buying stage, your content needs to quickly move them from research to purchase. This means giving them enough insight, know-how and motivation to click that “contact us” or “buy now” button dangling at the end. It means having a sound content strategy that prompts writers to plan out ahead of time exactly how they want to educate, equip and motivate today’s readers without losing them.

A Head-Heart-Hand Approach To Writing

I used to edit dissertations and books authored by psychotherapists, and I’ve since applied some psychology principles to my own profession as a brand marketer and content strategist. An effective one I’ve used is the head, heart and hand (cognitive, affective and behavioral). It guides my marketing team in clearly mapping what readers should know, feel and do post-read.

I’ve found that answering these three questions before crafting consumer-facing content ensures it is written purposely and effectively. It shifts the conclusion from an empty period to a desired response.

What do I want readers to know? 

Before I review a writer’s content, I always ask: What’s the one thing you want me to know (remember) after I read it? Some are shocked or even offended. “There’s a lot of things I want you to remember,” they answer. “Yes,” I say, “But what’s the most important?” They usually have to think on that or talk it out.

But what eventually follows is the lightbulb moment when they realize that their answer is a valuable metric of success. If my key takeaway was, for example, that the company produced this interesting widget, but the writer’s goal was to show this widget was better than all other widgets, then the article wasn’t successful.

To get me to know that one thing, it might necessitate a buildup of facts, stats and/or quotes. It might mean removing information that, although interesting, distracts from the main knowledge goal. It could mean shifting from short-form content to long-form content in order to prove a point. Identifying the exact knowledge destination ahead of time helps writers map the most effective content route.

How do I want readers to feel? 

While focusing on informing readers, it’s easy for companies to forget the power of consumers’ feelings and emotions when it comes to influencing behaviors. However, since triggering emotional responses is vital to successful marketing campaigns, content strategies should always answer the question: How do I want readers to feel?

Truly connecting with readers through content involves identifying and then targeting their high-impact emotional motivators shown to drive consumer behavior. Pinpoint the desired emotion the content should inspire. If your targeted readers value self-expression and originality, show how your brand/product will help them create a unique personal identity. If they’re distrustful, reassure them. If they adore social causes, inspire them. If they value the pursuit of success, incentivize them. If they desire interpersonal connections, make them laugh. The point: Write to their mind, but talk to their heart.

What do I want readers to do? 

How often do you do something simply because a sentence asked you to? It’s why spending time on the head and the heart is so important, as consumers want to know, believe and trust before they share or buy. Ideally, you’ve told them enough, made them care enough and inspired them to want to do something. Tell them exactly what to do -- and how it will benefit them. Don’t make them read your mind or second guess it.

If you don’t know the CTA, then don’t write the content. And when you do know it, be sure to communicate it. Make your CTA loud and clear (and ideally bold in every way), and tease the value of doing so. If they subscribe, what will they receive? If they register for a webinar, what will they learn? If they click “buy” right now, how much money do they save?

Measurements Of Success

The head and heart really go hand in hand in that readers might know what they’re supposed to do, but if they’re not emotionally driven to do it, they won’t. Or they might be inspired to do something, but if they don’t know what they’re supposed to do, they won’t. So, ask marketing teams to define upfront what readers should know, feel and do.

Think of content writing like a scavenger hunt. For any adventurous endeavor, one needs a map, a destination and the knowledge that a valuable reward is waiting at the end. The head-heart-hand approach will be the GPS.


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