3 Reasons to Tell Readers Why

image of question mark

You know you’re right, right?

Everyone should fall in line and accept what you know in your heart to be true.

Sorry, that’s not how people work.

So much of persuasive writing comes down to proof. And so many people fail at persuasion because they offer assertions without giving people reasons.

So persuasive writers know to give reasons for everything. Here are the three most important reasons to tell readers why.

1. A Reason to Read

This begins with your headline, and that’s why headlines are so important. You can be cutesy or clever to satisfy your ego, or you can get you ideas absorbed and acted upon. Busy people need a reason to invest attention. Do you have one?

2. A Reason You’re Different

Why you and not the other options? If your product or service is better, say specifically why. Your winning difference in the minds of the people you’re aiming at has to be distinct, clear, and believably better. Are you leading, or following?

3. A Reason to Believe

Most of all, demonstrate, don’t pontificate.

What reasons work for you? What other reasons are you giving that work?

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Andrew Billmann :

    Great list, Brian. I believe, brotha! I be-leeve!

    Here’s the one I’d add: Empathy.

    Empathy is extremely powerful, especially when it’s genuine. When your writing conveys a sense of “I/we know what it’s like to be in your shoes,” trust and rapport quickly follow.

  2. Demonstrate, don’t pontificate! Ha ha!

    I know Brian knows this, but for those of you who haven’t read Influence by Robert Cialdini, you should know that telling people why is powerful, especially when you use the word “because.”

    In a study, an experimenter asked to cut the line of a copy machine. A few people complied. However, when the experimenter asked to cut the line and said “because I need to make some copies,” more people agreed.

    Sure, it was a bogus reason why, but it worked. It seems people that people are wired to comply when others use the word “because.” Pretty cool, right?

  3. Thought-provoking post. So much depends on style, too, for me. If I can disagree with someone or bring up a point they haven’t thought of, or that goes against what they’re saying — but I can do so in a light or entertaining way, they’re likely to be more open to my point than if I hit them across the head with it.

    And even if they disagree, hopefully they’ve enjoyed the interaction.

  4. Great post. I’ve seen most success when
    1) I’ve gotten their attention
    2) Provided some strong social proof
    3)Build a relationship with my readers so they “know, like and trust” me.

    Andrew, I like your suggestion of Empathy as well.

  5. The understated point you make about giving people a *reason to invest attention* is often overlooked. Everyone’s time is valuable, but if you can turn their reading of anything into an investment in themselves, you’ve got a pretty strong hook.

    Great list!

  6. Hey Brian,

    I love it! Short & Sweet…

    This is what I call a one two punch. Now let me go recover from it… :)

    Have a great weekend…
    Josh

  7. It’s interesting what you can put in a short post.

    Before I read this post I was writing a list of things to do next week to improve my posting.

    This is what I wrote ” read a pile of Copyblogger articles and make a list of key things I need to keep in mind … while also … speaking with my own voice.”

    The list of articles in your post is a good start.

    Thanks Brian.

  8. Awesome and concise post – thanks for all the links from older posts having to do with this too.

    It’s good to remind people that the reason they blog for business is not to satisfy their own egos and lusts, but it really is all about the customer, and as an entrepreneur you have to target what it is makes your customer LIKE being your customer.

    Why waste their time with you? Because you can prove that you are worth. We all have the capability to do this, none of us is so special.

    Makes me think of my audience? Who am I writing for and what do they have an insatiable thirst for reading about?

  9. Good points. When the reader finds a connection to the story they will invest their time. Even more so if they can find facts and helpful tips.

  10. Hi Brian
    It’s really good to read this post and your points in the post are awesome.I love it and thanks for sharing this article with us. :)

    Goutham

  11. It takes humility to be comfortable with the lack of trust from your market, and not assume they should pay attention to you.

    I have to say Brian, when marketers lay too much “why” on me, it turns back on my distrust radar. Any idea on how to use why, without getting into to overselling?

    • Brian is obviously going to have a better and a much lucid answer to this but the way I see this, Hashim, is to tell stories that make the “why” self evident.

      Cajole them, nudge them, tell them what-could-happen-if-you don’t-buy-my-stuff scenarios. Of course one bit of bull and you will stink like a skunk.

      I will also go with connecting as a person and not selling behind a logo as other ways to counter the oversell-y feel.

      I admit however that to incorporate these elements into your marketing is not easy. You need just the right mix or the whole dish will taste bad.

      Successful cooking…err selling

  12. Time to reread John E Kennedy’s “Reason Why Advertising.”

  13. Brian,

    Clever headline is a great hook but I have realized, many of us readers are fickle, they want entertainment and feel good factor from reading your content, the better it is for your blog and business.

  14. I like to show authority through the value I share. I also show a lot of proof of what I’ve done that my readers can learn from.

    This translate into authenticity and likability which gives me a lot of flexibility when it comes to actually presenting an offer..

    great post
    Hector

  15. I’m new to blogging and I’ve found seveal very good ideas from your post. Thank you for the advice and know that you are making blogging easier and more enjoyable for at least one person.

  16. Thank you once again for reminding me. I like it when you add all those links to other articles of this site. I am now tempted to read them again.

  17. Great post.

    Being able to be convincing and make your readers read your copy or blog, comes from making them believe that they must stop and listen (read). You can effectively do this by knowing your readers/audience: what are their needs, what information are they looking for, what problems do they need to be solved, what desires do they want to be fulfilled, what goals do they want to achieve? Etc.

    Using these, you can formulate a Headline and content which are persuasive enough to get the readers to read and take action.

    Andrew Billmann, in the post above, brings a very strong point: Empathy. Tell your personal experiences with as much candor and emotion as you can master. Alternatively, if you don’t have direct experience, find out about your potential readers’ “psychological hot spot”.

    Specify your “unique selling point” – show or explain that your information is more valuable than the competition, that your product is better than the competition

  18. So true!

    I’ve been learning this lesson more and more lately.

    At some point I had that pivotal ah’ha moment.

    Things have improved drastically, and it’s all a work in progress.

    Thanks!

  19. Are you leading or following? I think this is a good starting point of reviewing your goals and measuring your progress. I think following on the get go is a good thing. Once you establish readership and solid authority on your niche, then you have to switch from being a follower to a leader.

  20. Great post, I think the most important point is the headline. It is the first thing readers see, it can make or break an article.

  21. G’Day Brian,
    “Demonstrate don’t pontificate.” Luvitt! Thanks too for a brilliant example of the value–and virtue– of brevity: little post,big message.

    Thanks

    Leon

    • Leon, I agree!

      This is a incredible lesson about value. As bloggers it’s tempting to go on and on and on. We should just speak clearly, to the point, and be done.

  22. Yes, empathy is key.

    Tho’ I think sometimes there is room for a creative headline. Objective and clinical formula can be effective but it can also get a little, well, um, objective and clinical. (Read: Boring and not attention getting either).

    An occasional moment of intrigue isn’t a bad thing. It worked for Austin Powers, no?

  23. I was reading a new political blog I found the other day and the writer said “I plead the fourth” when they meant the fifth. I’ve found that bloggers can give their opinions all they want, but if they don’t appear to know their stuff, no one will listen to them. I always try to give knowledge first to show I know what I’m talking about, and then my opinion is much more believable. Thanks for the post!

  24. I strongly agree with this post because It’s something that I have just recently experienced on my blog. I did an article about how one of the businesses I run dealt with intense competition, in the post i gave the readers a lot of reason why they should invest their time in the article. In the end, I had more reaction on this post than any other one written since I launched the site!

  25. I don’t want to sound like (too much of) a naysayer, but this strikes me as a masterful statement of the obvious. It’s Communications 101, repackaged for the social media age.

    I make my living as a writer (and occasional trainer). During my career, I routinely killed cute, clever headlines as a creative director at an ad agency; have been teaching the basic idea that “specificity is the key to credibility” (i.e., proof) for years; and have seen untold volumes of research that show testimonials, case studies, anecdotes, and support facts make for compelling, persuasive arguments.

    When you talk about explaining “a reason you’re different,” isn’t that the rough equivalent of identifying a “unique selling proposition” — a marketing concept that’s been around since the early 1940s?

    And “demonstrate, don’t pontificate”? That’s a way-too-complex translation of the far simpler, age-old saw, “show, don’t tell.” (Though the poetry isn’t lost on me.)

    That’s not to say this doesn’t have value. It does. I just wish at some point in the digital dialogue the experts would bring something new to the table rather than recycling proven conventional wisdom and making it sound revolutionary.

    • Doug, it is Communications 101. We’ve never said there’s anything about social media that changes human nature and what we respond to. We’re quite clear in our position that notwithstanding technology, persuasion hasn’t changed all that much since the days of Aristotle.

      The only thing that’s changed is context, and the fact that social media has democratized content creation beyond those with your background. That’s what’s revolutionary, not the lesson itself. People need to learn this stuff, and I’m glad you’ve already got this particular lesson down.

      That being said, I see so many with a MarCom background that are so dreadfully clueless in online marketing and social media compared with many “amateurs.” To me, that’s way more interesting. Why aren’t more people with your background kicking more ass?

      • Brian —

        No arguments here, though I do think the demands of persuasive communication have changed somewhat given the collective ADD that now grips the audience.

        I would add three other things:

        Like you, I’ve seen a ton of MarCom people who are clueless regarding online marketing and social media. At the same time, I’ve seen just as many who are clueless about communication in general. Writing is largely devalued in the business world, and colleges are doing a horrible job teaching it. (We once hired someone with a degree in “written communications” who couldn’t string together two coherent sentences on a bet. Go figure.)

        I’m not sure I would give amateurs as much credit as you do, either. The postings, comments, and blogs I read do not provide a lot of evidence of the wisdom of neophytes.

        As to ass-kicking, my foot is calloused from repeated thrusts, and grows more so by the day. I do so love to joust with convention. It’s a gift.

        Thanks for the reply. If you’re ever looking for other perspectives on writing, you know where to find me.

        • No arguments here, though I do think the demands of persuasive communication have changed somewhat given the collective ADD that now grips the audience.

          Yep. The fundamentals applied in a radically different context. We agree.

          Checking out your blog now. Thanks for the comments.

  26. Great post and a really enjoyable read with the links back to previous posts. I agree that you have to give a significant reason as to why your audience would want the particular product you are writing about. Entering into the consumers mind and world and also acting as if you are looking to buy the product when writing about it helps to do this.

  27. See, now this is just fantastic! I was just posting a comment over at Chris Brogan’s blog that built off of (really before) this and then this appears next in my feed reader! Thanks for this! A great reminder as we work to build our credibility with blogs, social media, etc.

    I mentioned over at Chris’s blog that something else we could think about is to answer the question, “Why?”

    Why would someone read this post? Why should they listen to it? What makes us an expert to pay attention to?

    The key is don’t stop at the first answer. Keep asking until you can’t answer anymore. That’s the true answer. Now build from that using the points you made here! Fantastic!

  28. I like #3 with the list of reasons to believe. I am going to try to use it as a mental check list when educating clients. I am confident in my knowledge but often times I think I could sound more convincing if I keep these points in mind.