What Are You Thinking About While You Read My White Paper?

This post was written by John White on Wed, 16 Jun 2010 12:57:07 +0000
Posted Under: content marketing,ideal reader,value in content

Don’t you wish you could be inside your reader’s head as he reads your content? What text could you throw away? What text could you monetize?

Active listening is difficult. In fact, it’s exhausting, especially if you’re new to it.

Do you know people who practice active listening? You’d know if you did. They begin their sentences with clauses like:

  • “If I understand what you’re saying, you want me to…”
  • “What you’re telling me is…”
  • “You’re saying that you…”

Relationship counselors recommend active listening techniques because the most important question in interpersonal communications is:

Do you understand this the way I intend for you to understand it?

But What Are You Thinking About?

There is a similar question, which skeptical people like me wonder about, and which shy people like me rarely pose:

What are you thinking about while I’m talking to you?

Probably not about what I’m saying.

Now think about that dynamic and your content. Don’t you want to ask your prospects:

What are you thinking about while you’re reading my white paper/case study/Web page/collateral?

Maybe your marketing communications writer did a perfect job creating valuable content, and your ideal reader understands your message and your products exactly the way you’d intended. But that still doesn’t guarantee that the reader’s mind isn’t wandering as he reads your paper, does it?

Magical Window in Your Content

What if you could embed some kind of magical, interactive window on page 6 of your document that would connect you to the reader in real time? Your reader turns from page 5 to page 6, and your head pops out of a small frame in the middle of the page.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” you say, “but would you mind telling me what you’re thinking about right now?”

If your marketing writer has really done her job, of course, the reader will look quizzically back at you, surprised you would even pose the question. If it’s a white paper on solar power technology he’d say, “Why, I’m thinking about the solar panels installed on the roof of my company’s parking structure.” If it were the letter to the shareholders in your annual report, he might say, “I’m trying to figure out why your sales were off last year when you spent so much on upgrading your CRM system.”

Most of the time, however, that is not the answer that would come back. Instead, you’d likely hear, “I’m thinking about my daughter’s broken finger,” or “I’m thinking that I forgot to take out the steaks to thaw for dinner tonight.”

You Lose Money When the Reader’s Mind Wanders

Face it: Can you get through one of your own white papers without your mind wandering? What do you think about when you read your company’s Web copy?

This is your new test for readability in your content: Can you get every paragraph to contribute to revenue generation? Are you willing to throw away the paragraphs that don’t contribute?

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. He also publishes a newsletter with more tips on working with your writers.

photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

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