Late last year, when I interviewed Brian Clark about his approach to productive blogging, he said something that really struck me as a writer.
Brian’s big on vision — he told me that he believed his vision for his online business was pretty much the key to his success as both a blogger and business owner.
As he said, “It feels really great when you do what you know needs to be done, because you’re getting one step closer to seeing your vision, in one form or another, coming true.”
Having a clear, compelling vision will instantly make you more productive — you’ll “know what needs to be done.”
Once your vision is clear, the daily tasks become clearer as well. And when it’s compelling enough, the right vision feels like it pulls you toward your goals, making everything you do feel easier.
But for many of us, finding that vision isn’t so simple.
I’d like to share a quick technique to become crystal-clear on your vision — the vision that will drive your productivity and make you more successful in every aspect of your blog or business.
Since this is a content marketing blog, let’s start by talking about how you approach writing content.
What are you writing today?
An email newsletter? A sales page? A content-based product?
Whatever it is, it’s your job to make sure that every word you include in that piece or writing supports your long-term vision.
How can you make sure your sales page, blog post, or press release is doing that?
There’s no single answer to that question — issues such as content strategy, marketing strategy, positioning, and audience targeting combine to take us closer to (or further from) our goals.
But the question, “how can I uncover my compelling vision for what I’m writing, on a word-by-word basis?” does have an answer.
The technique for writing your vision
If you’ve ever worked in traditional media or marketing, this technique may already be familiar to you. Yet few online writers seems to consider it consciously, or specifically.
That technique is this:
Before you begin to write that sales page (or email autoresponder, or Facebook update), ask yourself how you want the readers to feel after they read it.
How do you want them to feel? Write that down in the language of their mental dialogue.
Is it …
Woah, this training series looks crazy-amazing! I’m gonna tweet this right after I sign up.
This resource is exactly what management has been looking for. Better email this link to Bob’s PA. Might bookmark it, too.
Oh my God, this is a totally cool tip! It’ll only take five minutes to make that change. I’ll do it right now, before the kids get home.
If you don’t know — or can’t imagine — how your audience members’ mental dialogue sounds, go back and reacquaint yourself with your audience definition. If you haven’t already, develop some personas so that you have real people in mind when you’re preparing to write.
How this strategic approach to content works
When you know how you want to make your audience feel (along with the words they would use to describe that feeling), you start to pull those big-picture, strategic threads into a single focus.
Those threads include:
- the audience, their needs, hopes, and dreams, and what resonates with them as individuals on an emotional level
- what you’re trying to communicate
- your business, marketing, and sales goals
- what your blog, business, or brand stands for
- the features and benefits of what you’re writing about
- a call to action
This technique gives you a concrete tool for using your intuition to develop a creative approach that works best for this audience, this execution, and this communication or business goal.
And it allows you to write in a way that naturally engages and resonates with readers. Since engagement is the pathway to action and loyalty, that matters.
Considering audience sentiment can also have a massive impact on your level of creativity, and the quality of the writing you produce.
Start the writing process by thinking about how you want readers to feel, and you’re unlikely to wrestle for long with writers’ block, or find that all your content sounds the same.
Finally, this technique also gives you another avenue to test and tweak in the process of improving conversions — and the quantifiable efficacy of your writing.
Putting audience sentiment into practice
As you can probably guess, I consider audience sentiment before I write any client copy; it’s an essential element of every brief I take.
In a recent project to write an FAQ page for a mass-targeted online retailer, I decided that the resulting audience sentiment should be something like this:
Phew, that’s a relief. I thought getting help was going to be an ordeal, but I’m done — it’s all fine. How great that it was so easy, though!
The communication goal of the content was, of course, to provide practical assistance and reduce the potential for dissatisfaction without (business goal) adding to the support load for this bubbly, proactive, super-reliable brand.
Within that context, I made a few decisions in working to achieve the desired audience sentiment:
- I used contractions, and other natural language that made the Help pages sound personable, and the brand sound relatable; for example, “What if I’m not around when the delivery is made?”
- I aimed for a positive, upbeat, understanding tone that allowed us to acknowledge the dissatisfaction that arises when things go wrong with online orders without necessarily remarking on it explicitly; for example, “We’ll take care of returning and replacing the damaged item for you.”
The client also had some great suggestions to achieve the desired audience sentiment, which included restructuring the grouping of question types. On the other hand, having thought about the audience sentiment made it easy for me to dissuade them from removing contractions from the drafted FAQs.
I also use this technique to pitch the tone and content of blog posts at the right level.
(For example, my desired audience sentiment for this post is something like, “You know, that’s pretty interesting. Maybe I’ll give this a try. Man, Copyblogger.com just keeps getting better!”)
So thinking about audience sentiment is helpful with any given piece of writing. But when it comes to products — like the ebook that prompted me to interview Brian — audience sentiment really comes into its own.
How to create resonant products
Brian was one of nine people I interviewed for Blog Wise, ProBlogger’s latest ebook … a book that takes you inside the heads of nine successful bloggers to learn their best productivity strategies and techniques.
How do you begin turning nine forty-minute interviews into an ebook?
You think about the desired audience sentiment.
Our imperative with that ebook was to have the audience come away open-mouthed, thinking,
My God. That was incredibly helpful.
But, as our interviews revealed, everyone’s approach to productivity is different. The reason there’s such a proliferation of productivity approaches and techniques is because no single one of them works perfectly for any one person.
So how could we make an apparently nebulous approach to productivity incredibly helpful?
The answers to that question helped us to:
- shape the product’s components (ebook, downloadable practical additions, sound files, etc.)
- develop three formats for presenting the interviews themselves (audio, text transcript, and editorial-style) and, for the last format, develop conceptual executions like sidebars, pullouts, and micro-summaries, that allowed readers to easily digest the information in bite-sized chunks, and easily compare the techniques different bloggers use
- develop a final chapter that brought the advice into stark practical focus
- make decisions such as leaving the interviewer out of the interviews (I felt that having a first-person other than the interviewee would be an unnecessary distraction from the already detailed, rich proliferation of ideas within the interviews themselves).
As you can see, reaching for a particular audience sentiment — one that supported the objectives of the ever-practical ProBlogger brand and business — drove us to create the product in a certain way. It encouraged us to innovate with formats and really dig deep into the information we’d gathered in creative ways that were actually relevant to, and resonated with, the audience.
Of course, every creative execution is an experiment in some way, and there will always be things we could have done better — and will do differently next time.
But by looking at audience sentiment — how you want to make them feel — you really can identify, as Brian said, “what you know needs to be done,” and “get … one step closer to seeing your vision, in one form or another, coming true.”
Do you use this technique — or something like it — in your writing? How could it work for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.