Archives for August 2006
Imagine your shock after battling your way through the collective works of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, only to discover you’ve heard a lot of it before. Then, it clicks.
“Hey,” you suddenly exclaim. “This Aristotle guy is ripping off all my favorite business gurus!”
But then, after checking the dates, you’re forced to sheepishly admit it’s the other way around.
People have been remixing the wisdom of Aristotle for more than 2,000 years, and we’re all the better for it. Taking timeless truths, communicating them in the language of the present day, and applying them to new ways of doing things will always be a winning approach that provides true value.
So, I’ll go ahead and take a crack at it.
So, without further ado, here’s some old school blogging advice from way back in the day.
1. Begin With the End in Mind
Knowing where you’re trying to go before you start is crucial to leading an effective life (and handy for road trips too). Aristotle called this teleology, which is the study of matters with their end or purpose in mind. Fans of Stephen Covey will recognize the concept from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The same principle applies to any persuasive writing, and with a blog it’s applicable to both your big story as well as to individual posts. The overall story that a business blog is trying to tell is tied into your unique selling proposition, and you need to have a clearly-defined big picture perspective of how you’re going to tell that story over time.
You do that by telling smaller stories (otherwise known as blog posts), and, without unnecessarily taking the fun out of blogging, those smaller stories should each have a clear individual point and reason for being. Even if it’s just to make your readers smile on a Monday.
Each post in some way should be also telling a part of the bigger story that demonstrates to your readers that they will benefit from doing business with you. There’s a million different ways to do that, and developing your own unique style is as important as any other advice you might get.
Just always remain focused on where you’re trying to end up. Even when the path disappears, you’ve got to remember where you’re trying to go.
2. It’s Not About You
Aristotle nailed the key to persuasion way back in Rhetoric, his detailed attempt to demonstrate that persuasion was a true art, contrary to the assertions of his mentor, Plato. Aristotle said that persuasion involved being able to identify the most compelling naturally-occurring element of any subject.
Once identified, Aristotle argued that the most compelling way to communicate that natural element is via pathos, the ability to connect with the emotions, desires, fears, and passions of the audience. And you certainly don’t accomplish that by focusing on yourself.
Quick summary: Identify a true and compelling benefit, connect with the reader on an emotional level, then back it all up with features and logic. You’ve heard that from me before.
You’ll likewise spot Aristotle’s wisdom in just about any book ever written on marketing and advertising. Your ability to communicate what’s in it for them in a meaningful way has never been more critical than it is now.
3. Tell Persuasive Stories
When it’s time to bang out a winning story post that captivates your audience and prompts them to take action, Aristotle’s got you covered. Here is his four step structure to persuasive writing:
Exordium – This is your opening. You’ve caught their interest with your headline, but the opening is where you’ve really got to grab hold for dear life. It might be a shocking statement, an interesting factoid, a famous quote, or a vivid anecdote.
Narratio – Next you’ve got to show the reader you understand their problems. They need to identify with you, and you with them. In this section you demonstrate that you feel their pain.
Confirmatio – The solution appears. Use vivid imagery to illustrate that the technique or service you offer is the answer, and give examples featuring people similar to the reader.
Peroratio – Don’t’ forget to expressly state the need to act upon the solution offered now. This is the call to action, and it’s crucial, yet so many people simply stop at the confirmatio. As Aristotle might say, you’ve got to close the deal.
OK, maybe Aristotle wouldn’t say that. But this is my remix.
The Right Story at the Right Time
The point I hope you take away from this post is that you’ll see certain timeless truths again and again in the world of marketing. How those truths eventually resonate with you depends on who tells you the right story at the right time.
The same applies to you and your business. Someone in your field is going to connect with that motivated prospect and convert them into a customer or client.
If you’re telling compelling stories, and your competitors can’t be bothered to, who’s that someone more likely to be?
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So, I got a head’s up from the proprietor of SEO Black Hat today, letting me know about a “story post” that had been written in accordance with my advice. Of course I dutifully headed on over.
The story is about Breana, an enterprising blogger on her way up. She seemed to be heading for web success, but she made one crucial mistake that proved fatal to her dreams.
You see, Breana used the most popular blogging software, WordPress. Since she had passed SEO 101, she had enabled the “Search Engine Friendly URLs” feature that rewrites the URLs to include the title of the post. Every week she did a roundup of posts she liked and titled it:
“This Week’s Best Posts.”
She linked to all the top posts and WordPress pinged the other posts for a trackback.
Unfortunately for her, WordPress rewrote her URLs as:
You see, %e2%80%99 is how wordpress encodes the apostrophe. The bigger problem than that being an ugly URL is that other WordPress blogs strip out some special characters (like %) on trackback.
The other very powerful and influential bloggers who received that trackback saw the link as:
When they clicked the link to see who was linking to them, all they got was a 404 Error Page.
Man! Were these bloggers pissed …
To make a long story short, Breana crashes and burns as a blogger, and ends up a homeless crackhead hooker. It’s all very sad.
Of course, “Breana” is a very thinly disguised reference to me.
Check out the URL of my last post. Doh!
I’ve had bloggers try to link bait me in the past by being contentious or even rude.
That’s simply not going to work with me.
But if you make me laugh…
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In my last post, I used a story to illustrate that storytelling (which is the most powerful copywriting technique) is also perfectly suited for highly effective blogging.
The story wasn’t straightforward. It instead provided clues to the answer in the links, the ending, and by using the technique itself to provide the clues.
Some people loved it.
Some people didn’t get it.
Want to become a more effective, engaging blogger?
But we also want to come across in an authentic, conversational way, and many may be scratching their heads wondering how a copywriting skill can possibly have anything to do with that. Is copywriting really applicable to blogging at all?
We’ve seen that copywriting skills are essential to creating compelling headlines, so there’s certainly an application when it comes to post titles.
And we know that good copywriting is crucial when we take people “off-blog” to a report, whitepaper, email mini-course, or other tutorial that sells through educational persuasion rather than hype.
But what about just day-to-day blogging?
Let me tell you a quick story that just might demonstrate that the most powerful copywriting technique is also the most engaging blogging technique.
How Shane Discovered the Truth About Great Marketing
Shane is like a lot of people these days — sick of the corporate world, and looking to start up a micro-business that is not only financially rewarding, but also allows him to actually watch his kids grow up. He’s got a great idea for a software service, and is trying to figure out a smart online marketing plan to reach his target audience.
He’s been paying a lot of attention to the latest trends, and he definitely knows he needs to start blogging. Shane has also been hearing a lot about a new strategy that people like Seth Godin are trying to teach to big companies, many of which are floundering in a new environment where traditional mass media is being turned upside down.
Shane is intrigued. While he’s no big-time company, this particular method seems like something he could use as well. But he wants to be sure, so he digs a bit deeper.
Surprisingly, Shane discovers that this marketing method may not be so new after all. By reading up a bit on copywriting, he learns that guys like David Garfinkel, Joe Vitale, John Carlton, and Gary Halbert have used this technique successfully for years. They even credit an earlier copywriter named Eugene Schwartz with teaching them the strategy at a deep level.
Going even further back, Shane discovers John Caples, a copywriter who used the technique to write one of the most famous advertisements in history back in the 1920s. Shane figures that Caples likely inspired Martin Conroy to make billions for the Wall Street Journal using the very same technique.
Picking up on clues left by the copywriters, Shane then ventures into the world of Joseph Campbell, explores the writings of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and finally ends up waist deep in the complete works of Aristotle. Who knew these people had anything to do with marketing?
Shane now definitely knows that there is nothing new about the latest marketing craze, but it does seem to be the most compelling way to get a message across to the people who want and need to hear it. Could he really have found the answer he so desperately needs to bring success to his new business?
That evening, Shane walks into his young daughter’s room to tuck her in. He notices that she’s pouting a bit, and she finally shares that she is upset because Daddy has been reading so much lately and hasn’t spent enough time with her.
Shane feels terrible.
“What if Daddy tells you the best bedtime story ever to make up for it,” Shane offers, and holds his breath hoping she’ll give him a shot.
Seeing the way her eyes light up, he knows he has his answer — in more ways than one.
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The longer I publish online, the more I dislike the word “content.”
While marginal material has always been published, the web has really worked to change the definition of “content” from the subject matter of a written work (or the meaning or significance of that work) into something that simply fills empty space in a receptacle.
You know, like that empty space between ads on a web page.