“I Can’t See Myself in Your White Paper” – 2 Quick Fixes

This post was written by John White on Wed, 08 Feb 2012 13:50:40 +0000
Posted Under: content marketing,ideal reader,process of writing,value in content,white papers

Your readers need to see themselves in the marketing content you publish. Otherwise, you’re a marketing manager just writing to hear yourself shout.

reading marketing content eyes glazed overYou know those year-end letters you receive around the holidays from your friends and family members? The ones filled with all the valuable content and important details that pop into your Uncle Willy’s head as he’s leafing through the calendar, looking for things to write about?

“…Felix fell off the stepladder while pruning the snail vines and twisted his ankle, so there went his bowling season…”

“…Kristin’s front tooth was loose for what seemed like ages until it finally fell out, and the Tooth Fairy brought her 5 dollars…”

“…and then Noodles, our Pekingese, got the mumps. I told the vet I’d never heard of a dog getting the mumps, and he said…”

“…our second trip to Branson with Alice and Bernie, but we never did find the other waffle…”

and on and on and on.

You know what? Like it or not, those year-end letters are content. Think about them the next time you publish a white paper, case study, newsletter, blog post or technical article.

“My white paper isn’t that dull.”

What makes you so sure of that?

Think about those year-end letters: what makes them so banal? Why do their recipients complain about them so consistently? Why would you rather drink battery acid than read Aunt Rose’s letter?

Because those people are writing right past you.

Your eyes glaze over as you move from one paragraph to the next. You’re hoping against hope that Cousin Bess will remember that live people of her own flesh and blood receive these things and actually form an audience. You want Grandma Perkins to wake up and realize that she has your attention for a few precious minutes and that she should take advantage of them to tell you something meaningful to you.

But alas, Maudie plods along from Florida vacation to lower back pain to school play, blissfully ignorant of the fact that readers are dying to see themselves in the letter.

Are you doing that to your readers in your marketing content? Are you writing right past them in your zeal to beat your messaging drum?

Put your readers into your white paper

Stop asking the question, “What do I want to write about?” It’s more important to ask, “What do my readers want to read about?”

When your readers can see themselves in your content, you score with them. They notice that you’re out to do more than just talk about yourself and they begin to trust you to give them valuable content.

James Chartrand posted on Copyblogger recently about “giving yourself a real person to write for.” The people who send you ghastly year-end letters are doing that, except that they themselves are that real person. Your marketing content needs to be for a real person in your audience.

Before you publish that white paper, case study, newsletter, blog post or technical article this week, run these two litmus tests on it:

  1. Can your readers see themselves in the title? What did you call your paper: “An Exploration of Cloud-based Policy Management for the Public Sector” or “Five Things Government IT Managers Need to Know about Policies in the Cloud?” In which title are your target readers more likely to see themselves?
  2. Can your readers immediately see whether the content is relevant to them? Are you going to make them read half the document before they can figure out what’s in it for them? Why don’t you summarize the main messages of the piece in a few bullets and put them in a box near the top? Help readers decide quickly whether it’s worth their time or not.

Even if you still need work on pulling your readers in, these quick fixes will give them a break.

And if you’re in doubt about your marketing content, just keep Cousin Ralph’s year-end letter near your keyboard. Every marketing manager needs an occasional reminder of what not to do.

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. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

photo credit: legends2k

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