Enroll in any university’s Creative Writing 101 and you’ll learn a few basics about crafting compelling prose: Show, don’t tell. Keep your sentences simple. Grab your readers’ attention as quickly as possible. Tell the truth. Be specific.
It turns out those same tried and true principles apply to content copy, too. The Four U’s of headline writing, according to American Writers and Artists, Inc. are: Useful, unique, urgent, and ultra-specific. And lest we think that “ultra” is just for cohesion’s sake, AWAI really means it. Even when it comes to the most technical of content, specificity spins droll content into something vibrant and authentic – both musts in a market saturated with well-targeted words.
Offering your brand’s community valuable content can build loyalty and trust, increasing conversions and repeat customers, but not if that content gets lost in a sea of similar blog posts, how-to’s, tips, and guides. To stand out, content needs to be unique and compelling. It needs to engender curiosity and deliver tangible results. It needs to hook readers immediately, but it shouldn’t betray their trust by being inauthentic.
Alas, “be specific” is not in and of itself a particularly specific directive. When it comes to writing content, there are few major ways to leverage specificity to your advantage: Specificity in topic, specificity in story, and specificity in data.
Specificity in Topic
Most experts say that headline copy is the most important when it comes to engagement, and for good reason. If you don’t build a good one, your readers will not come. To avoid writing a generic headline, you need to avoid choosing a generic topic. The why is simple: Generic topics have already been covered, and they generally don’t offer the reader much information they couldn’t already cobble together on their own.
Brands frequently choose broad topics because of FOMO, or the fear of missing out on potential customers. It’s the “cast a wider net” philosophy: The more people the content applies to, the more people could potentially purchase. It doesn’t really work that way, though. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. The more niche the topic or target market, the more the readers you attract will want to engage with your brand. Reaching a wider audience doesn’t mean much if that audience has no incentive to purchase or doesn’t feel like your brand offers value to their unique lives.
To test out your topic for specificity, there a few big questions to ask yourself: Can I fully cover the topic in one engaging, informative post? You could feasibly write a post called “How to Raise Your Credit Score” with a handful of precursory tips, for example, but it would remain fairly superficial. In truth, there are entire books written on the topic.
To get a little narrower (and a little more specific), you could ask yourself about the kinds of people who want to raise their credit score. Why are they trying to raise it? What are their pain points? What might get in the way? Topics you might glean from this exercise are abundant: “About to Buy a House? Here’s How to Lock in a Low Mortgage Rate,” “Zero to Hero: The First Steps to Repairing Your Credit Score After a Bankruptcy,” or “You’ve Finally Snagged an 800 Credit Score – Now What?”
You could also break down your initial, broad topic ideas into smaller chunks. If one step of raising your credit score is to pay off your debt, you could dedicate an entire post to the topic. In fact, you could break debt payoff into even smaller chunks. This makes for more specificity, drawing in more readers who genuinely need your valuable content, but it also means you’re more likely to rank in Google for searches related to your topic. This makes you more accessible to more people who are already primed to resonate with your brand.
Specificity in Story
Specifics are important when it comes to topics, but they’re also important when it comes to choosing language. Anecdotes, customer testimonials, and product descriptions populate the content we write, meaning that major tenets of storytelling come into play when we put together our content.
To make a story more engaging, compelling, and readable, creative writers focus on painting a picture with their words. Creating a clear mental picture in your readers’ mind means using the most specific nouns, adjectives, and verbs as possible. The reason? Imagery.
Take the sentence “Susan was a mother who had accumulated a mound of debt after putting herself through graduate school.” To really engage readers and provide them with an image to ground themselves in, you might change the sentence to, “Susan, a part-time pediatric nurse and full-time mom, had fallen behind on her six-figure student loan payments and maxed out her credit cards.” Now we have a clearer picture of who Susan is, what happened in her life to derail her financially, and we have more meaningful context when learn about the success story that follows.
Specificity in story also lends important credibility. Details seem more concrete and trustworthy because they seem less likely to be fabricated. The imagery evoked is tangible in a way that generic storytelling just isn’t. This is particularly crucial when building a community of readers and consumers around your brand, because it can jumpstart readers’ willingness to share their stories and successes with one another.
Specificity in Data
Speaking of credibility, few things inspire consumer trust quite like access to the numbers. The hard, cold data can be measured in investment return percentages, dollar amounts, points, and more, and it all makes readers feel as though your brand is lending them a little transparency. It’s an opportunity for brands to tell the truth and earn some trust. Particularly in the financial services industry, generic promises can sound a little like snake oil. What do your customers specifically stand to gain and lose by buying your product or service? Where’s the data to support that?
Extremely specific numbers also have a way of piquing our curiosity. “Learn How Susan Paid Off $89,762 in Debt in One Year” seems much more compelling than “Learn Susan Paid Off Thousands in Student Loans.” We immediately understand exactly how much debt Susan paid off, and we want to know more about her story.
The caveat? Numbers should be detailed when discussing the past, not (necessarily) the future. It’s one thing to cite investment returns that have already happened, for example, and quite another to make promises that may or may not pan out when it comes to forecasted returns in 2021.
When alluding to the future, general numbers and ranges are your friend. You might say that Susan raised her credit score 87 points in the last four months, but that she can raise it 50-100 points in the next year. Both Susan’s past score increase and future score increase seem legitimate.
Perhaps the most important thing about using specificity in your brand marketing is the way it grounds the reader in a storytelling experience. Humans are wired to respond to stories – it’s how we’ve communicated the wisdom and knowledge of millennia from generation to generation. Storytelling says something about the dreams we all have and the lives we want to lead. It’s from this position that you’ll draw your community of customers and inspire them to purchase.
Interested to learn how to use specificity to your advantage through inbound marketing? Contact Gate 39 Media and let’s talk.
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