A good friend manages the marketing strategy for British Columbia Rowing, an NGO on the West Coast. For the past couple of months he’s been asking me for advice.
I used to sympathize with Web developers whose friends would constantly ask them to “build me a website.” Now I empathize with them.
He called me a couple of weeks ago. He’d been considering delegating the organization’s blog creation to a volunteer. He wanted to know what he should tell the young man.
I told him to tell the kid to write from his own perspective and about the things he cared about. If this guy was passionate about rowing and genuinely interested in furthering the sport in the region, the readers would respond. I also said I’d be happy to copy edit it.
Whenever I talk about putting personality into your content, remember that I’m referring to your brand personality—not necessarily your own.
1. Making content personal for your reader
A fundamental principle of good content marketing is to write for your reader, but there’s a difference between writing for your target audience and writing for the individuals who make up that target audience.
Let me give you an example:
The target market for Wishpond (the Internet startup for which I create content) is small businesses, confused by the sheer volume of marketing they must do to find success online, and looking to find an easier way. Writing for this target audience would be writing top tip and how-to articles about Google AdWords and creating a Facebook Page. That sounds about right, yeah?
Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s absolutely right for good content, but we don’t want good content. What we want is content that stands head and shoulders above the content of our competitors. We want content that people share, content that people comment on and save to their desktops as a PDF.
Writing “head-and-shoulders content” is about writing for the target individual, not the target audience. Here’s how to do that:
- Use examples: Use as many examples as you can fit into the article. A picture says a thousand words. A picture that your target individual can fully relate to says a thousand more and gives them a concept they can see and understand.
- Make sector-focused content: Even if your target audience is small businesses, I recommend that you write for individual sectors from time to time. Sure, you’ll exclude 95 percent of your readership, but you’ll engage 5 percent more fully than you ever have before. If you’re creating “head and shoulders content” on a regular basis, you won’t lose those 95 percent forever.
- Make content reactive: What do your readers care about? What worries them? Frustrates them? What are they excited about (or what should they be excited about?) On Wednesday, Facebook rolled out a huge update to lookalike audience targeting within their Facebook Ad tool. I didn’t know this change was happening until the day itself, but writing for your target individual is about knowing what they want to know and providing it. So, yes, I scrambled a bit.
- Keep the real world in mind: Your readers are influenced by the real world far more than they are by their online marketing efforts. Consider this when creating content. It’s March Madness right now. It’s also tax season. Incorporating things like these—that people actually care about—into your content marketing strategy (through analogies or anecdotes, see below) will boost your readership and get you writing for the individual.
2. Using mascots, personas, and cartoons
I mentioned at the end of my intro that a brand personality is different from your real personality. Instead, it’s the personality that appeals most to your audience or works best with your business model. In a previous post, I asked readers whether there was “something about your business that lends itself to a certain persona (e.g. sporty, nerdy, hip, young, old, data-driven, etc.).
“Something about you as a content creator that you think would work well with an online persona?”
Mascots, personas, or cartoons set your content apart. In landing page or Facebook Ad optimization they would be your USP (your “unique selling point”). It’s that thing that, when a reader tells his friend he was reading one of your articles, the friend will say, “Wait, that’s the blog that’s written by a pirate, right?”
Here are four examples from around the blogging and marketing world:
Here are a few ideas for your own business:
- Data-driven businesses: A friendly brain, anthropomorphized eyeglasses, or smiley stereotypical nerd.
- Fashion-driven businesses: Over-the-top fashion accessories like hats with feathers, high-heels, or exaggerated fashionistas like a woman in a ridiculous dress or a man in a top hat, monocle, and tails.
- Real-estate: Smiling house (door mouth, window eyes, etc.).
- SaaS: Cloud-based companies could use a smiling cloud.
Here’s me in cartoon form (because I enjoy wasting five minutes of our graphic designer’s incredibly valuable time):
Apparently I’ve gotten a little balder since that picture was taken.
3. Using anecdotes and your own voice
My introduction to this article was a snapshot of a recent experience I had with my good friend Eddie. Though this experience was, in some ways, the inspiration for my writing this article, my telling it to you was also slightly self-serving.
That kind of anecdote adds personality and context to a piece of content. It gives you (the reader) an idea of me (the author) as a real person instead of a nameless, faceless entity. There are a million examples of how the whole “making it real” idea functions around the Web:
- Consider the improvement of click-through-rates on landing pages which feature a smiling, real person.
- Consider how influential Google Authorship is on clicks (the image of the author next to their articles within Google Search).
- Consider an influencer like Mari Smith, whose communications are full of exclamation points, “Hiya’s,” and emoticons—this is her branded personality, which readers recognize.
- Jon Loomer (advanced Facebook marketer) hosts his “pubcasts” in which he advises listeners to “pull up a stool” as he advises them on recent changes to Facebook marketing.
All these strategies and tactics effectively set authors apart (and above) the thousands of nameless, faceless content creators out there.
Strategies for how to incorporate your own voice into content:
- Record it: I’ve been experimenting with recording myself reading articles—allowing readers to listen and learn while working on something else-mini podcasts, if you will. It helps if you have a good voice for radio, as I do.
- Tell a story: For an example of incorporating your real world into an article, check out Pam Moore’s article “You Can’t Make the Shots you Don’t Take.”
- Give an anecdote: Whether it’s humorous, entirely made up, or timely, a short anecdote will relax your reader and (as I did in my intro) ensure they know you’re a real person.
- Use analogies: Setting themselves up and away from “top 10 tips to [blank] success,” analogy articles show your readers your creativity, humor, and personality. My favorite analogy is “how social media is like ranch dressing.”
- Show your experience: If you’re writing about how to find success as an author online, show examples of when you’ve done it: Facebook marketing success? Give a snapshot of your impressive Insights page. Fashion tips? Show how that winter infinity scarf looks on you. Blogging for business? Screenshot the growth in your referral traffic over the course of six months.
Hopefully those ideas inspire you to come up with your own, because that’s the truth of adding personality to content: It’s all about you. Your own creativity as a content creator is what sets you apart from your competitors. The tips I’ve given here are just a starting point to get you rolling.