… And other strategies from US writing expert Jonathan Kranz to ‘taste and tease’ a web audience.
Jonathan Kranz called it his “dusty kangaroo” moment. It was the instant the American communications consultant believes he started to unlock the secret to successfully writing promotional content for the web.
At the time, Kranz was working in a direct mail order business. He was asked by his boss to write a promo for a documentary about Australia – some strange place a long way from home. The goal was to get as many people as possible to order the video on the strength of its content. As the story goes, he did what many writers do – he described what he saw.
Even now, many years later, Kranz remembers learning two really interesting things from the documentary: that koalas don’t need to drink water because they get all the moisture they need through eucalyptus leaves, and kangaroos roll in the red dirt to protect themselves from the harsh outback sun. So he wrote a promo piece that explained what an amazing country Australia is and how resourceful its marsupials are, as well as other fascinating insights revealed in the video.
When Kranz’s boss saw his copy, he was appalled. “You’ve told everybody what’s in the video,” he said. “Why would anyone bother buying it?”
Kranz says the “dusty kangaroo” episode taught him the importance of “taste and tease” when writing material that promotes content. It also helped him unlock the best way to write headlines and the subheadings within the copy. “To promote your content, you want to give prospects a taste,” Kranz says, “but you never want to give the entire game away. Instead, you need to tease, tantalising you potential readers with unfulfilled promises that cannot be satisfied until they take action.”
“The Kranz approach is about provoking rather than revealing.”
Boston-based Kranz led a workshop session called “Writing for the Web 201” at Content Marketing World 2016 in Cleveland in September. He offered a three-step approach to help communicators produce content that will lead customers where they want them to go (possibly with a credit card in their hands).
He offered some possible “taste and tease” article strategies that web writers should have in their toolkit, such as quantification (“11 mistakes you need to avoid when …”), real-life evidence (“How Brand X rebuilt its reputation by …”), insider secrets (“The one secret to immediate success”) and contrarian controversies (“How email is your greatest enemy”).
Kranz’s second step on the road to successful promotional content writing is choosing the right topics to cover. He calls this “building sustainable streams”, where writers find the intersection between what a business “knows” (its expertise and experience) and what its ideal customers’ “hot buttons” might be (what they need). The idea is to find the top three or four concepts that match. “Every connection represents potential content gold for you to mine, shape and distribute,” he says.
The third step is to write headlines and subheadings that Kranz says “sell your content and communicate value”. He suggests concepts such as a promising a key benefit (“Slash costs in half”), supporting a promise (“Brand X gets a sale in just one step”), distinguishing from competitors (“It’s the only service with a four-year guarantee”) and advancing the story (“This epoxy bonds underwater”).
The Kranz approach is about provoking rather than revealing. It highlights the importance of getting people who come to a website to be attracted to a message and take the next step. The focus is for the web writer to lead them on a journey – potentially to an offer that keeps them interested or to a sales opportunity – rather than giving the game away immediately.
This kind of approach isn’t for every website. Neither will it suit every business. Many companies say they have conservative external communications policies and need to be “up front” with their messaging, while others may believe this approach is slightly deceptive or devious.
Kranz doesn’t mind if this is how they think. “I’m often asked if this is just like Buzzfeed,” he says. “Well, the answer is yes – because it works.”
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