Get My Attention in 20 Seconds. The Motown Way.

Marketing content that hooks your reader in the first few seconds

Your marketing content should tell your readers what they want to know, and do it fast. Here’s how Motown did it.

Now, if you were hungry and had only one dollar, would you buy this record or a hot dog?

In the early days of Motown Records, Berry Gordy Jr. would pose this question to his employees in their Friday morning product evaluation meetings. With dozens of songs per week competing for promotion, the hot dog test was one of Gordy’s pet criteria.

Suppose you did that for your marketing content. What would it sound like?

  • “If you were in a hurry and your inbox was full, would you read this email or skip to something else?”
  • “You have 15 minutes for research. Would you read this white paper or a competitor’s?”
  • “If you had to make a buying decision before the end of the day, which would you trust: a blog post, an eBook or a customer success story?”

The 20-Second Hook

“Dancing in the Street” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas was one of Gordy’s personal favorites. Why?

My goal to hook people in the first 20 seconds was never accomplished better.

Think about the songs (or movies or books or poems or blog posts – in short, the kinds of content) that grab you from the very start. Nowadays, 20 seconds is an eternity, but hooking your audience is still what sells.

Here’s how that translates into your content marketing effort:

  • “How long will it take a reader to get into this article?”
  • “Start this paper off with a compelling question or statistic or quotation – something that will grab me.”
  • “Make sure the image appears above the fold in our blog posts.”

Refining your marketing content

Motown didn’t abandon songs that failed the Friday morning tests. Their champions – the artists, writers, promoters or producers – would take them back into the studio for more work.

The Supremes were eager to release “Baby Love,” but Gordy didn’t think it started strong enough, so the group went back to the studio, increased the tempo and added the “Ooo-ooo-ooo” to the beginning. Within two months of its release, the song became the first number-one Motown hit in both the U.S. and Britain.

Here’s how to convey that to your content marketing writers:

  • “I get lost in the middle of this paper. Make it easier for me to see the structure.”
  • “This case study is too much about us and not enough about the reader. Would you want to read that? Fix it.”
  • “You’re burying the lede. Get to the point in your first paragraph.”

Why not pretend you’re in a product evaluation meeting at Motown for a few weeks and whip your content into shape? I can recommend that all you marketing managers read Motown: Money, Music, Sex and Power by Gerald Posner as you’re getting your Berry Gordy on.


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”