Almost all effective, persuasive messaging has one common component: simplicity. But here’s the thing: If you don’t capture your audience quickly, if they can’t grasp your core message within seconds, you’re sure to lose them. And if you don’t capture them at the get-go, you’re not likely to regain their attention.
Most people don’t read; they scan. And they gravitate toward stylistic devices like bullet points that offer simple content and lots of white space. You have to accept that if you want to persuade, you need to structure your content succinctly. You need to craft simple, impactful messages.
First and foremost is making certain your core message is easily accessible to your audience—that you’re using language that isn’t unnecessarily busy. The message you need to convey is rarely simple. But when it comes to persuading others, you must—at least at the outset—keep it simple. Here are some suggestions to help with that.
When I set about crafting a message, ideas begin to bounce around my head. I see all the dimensions, curves, angles, components. I now have to get all that out of my head to make some record of it. Get it all out, all those concepts. Explore how to best do so. We all have different ways of working. Find the way that’s right for you: writing on a whiteboard, explaining ideas to a friend, dictating into your smartphone, etc.
I like to sit with a piece of paper and just go crazy. The objective is to get all the concepts floating around in my head into some physical form. This brings clarity.
What you now have are pieces of a puzzle. Move them around. This fits here; that fits there. That piece over there? You’re not quite sure yet where it fits, but you sense it fits somewhere. Put it aside; save it for later.
Now focus on what’s most immediately relevant. Commence to tinkering. Tweak it, refine it, hone it down to its essence.
There may be multiple methods of getting it all out there that work well for you. Investigate. Explore. Try out a few. I sometimes use a combination. There’s no right way, no one-size-fits-all approach.
No matter what medium you opt for, forget about form, sentence structure, complete sentences, and fully formed thoughts. Don’t even worry yet about it all making good sense.
And please don’t focus on narrowing the messaging. Go broad. Get it all out there, even things that might seem (at present) silly or irrelevant. It popped into your head—maybe there’s a good reason that just hasn’t yet revealed itself.
Once it’s all out, begin crafting that simple, persuasive message. This content will be a living message; it’ll continue to evolve over time. Don’t aim for perfection. Your goal is to refine and improve the messaging as you walk through these steps.
Every human being has three fundamental areas of concern: money, relationships, and health. Despite life’s complexities, most all problems can be tossed into one of these buckets. Offering solutions to issues in one of those categories is a great way to motivate people to take action.
The common practice in marketing a product or service is to stress its selling points. But that might not be exactly the right motivation. If you want people to care, show them how what you’re offering will solve a real problem they face.
Start with the problem/solution model: My audience has a problem, and I can solve it. If nothing immediately stands out, this would be a great time to reread all your content and identify the problems you can potentially solve. People will pay attention if you’re solving a real problem for them.
The monthly razor service I use is an example. It saves me time. It solves a problem.
So what are you bringing to people that they’re willing to pay you for? That’s what you need to focus on, not on all the bells and whistles and all the wonderful things your product or service can deliver—at least not yet. First, you need to articulate what problem you’ve come to solve.
So can you, in one succinct sentence, explain what that is?
Look at these two sentences. What’s different about them?
While the first sentence is true, it isn’t persuasive. The second sentence, on the other hand, assumes that my reader would like to make more money (and that’s probably a fair assumption of most people) and offers the opportunity to do so.
Do you think I have their attention?
I vividly remember the first paper I submitted in graduate school. I put a lot of thought and work into it. I was quite certain it was the best in the class. But my professor didn’t see my work in the same light. My masterpiece was returned to me, bleeding a slow death of red ink, with a note asking me to speak with her.
How could this be? In my quest to appear smart, I’d loaded every paragraph with every concept in the universe. As a result, I’d failed. Miserably.
As you’ve started drafting your thoughts, there’s likely some bloat. As you craft your message, read with a critical eye. You’ll begin to see what needs to be trimmed. Focus on eliminating any and all unnecessary elements.
Let me get this out there: Most likely, your clients won’t care as much as you do. So give them everything that’s necessary and nothing more.
One of the greatest lessons Twitter has taught me is how to reduce content and communicate only what’s most important. Maybe you’ve done this, too: You type out your tweet, and it’s too long. You then begin to remove unnecessary words, even letters, until you hit that magical 280.
This is the same process I’m advocating, just on a larger scale. Take out your red pen. Start striking through non-crucial elements. Ask yourself what details really matter. Everything else must go.
But what I mean by that is that it must go for now. Just for now. There’s probably value in that content, just not quite yet—not here in the core. Don’t discard it, just file it away. There may well be some very important points in there that will come in handy later.
Think in terms of creating an inverted funnel of information, and share that information in stages. For example, if your messaging lives on your website, you can capture email addresses from people who want to receive your newsletter. If they allow you to keep the communication alive via email, you can develop a campaign that feeds them this additional information.
Ask yourself: What does this word add? If it adds nothing, lose it. Take it to the extreme: Can you convey everything you want to say in a single word? If so, do it. It’s more likely that your reader will stick around.
This is all about honing your message then broadening it as your opportunities unfold. There will soon be opportunities to delve deeper. But start off too deep, and you’re going to lose your audience. Save that more penetrating material. You’ll need it later.
Think one word at a time. People are making decisions one word at a time. Too many details, too much embellishment too soon—they’re gone.
We often communicate with insider language that isolates those who aren’t in the know. Anytime there’s an inner circle, there are, by definition, people left outside. There’s a fine line between conveying that you’re the expert and using insider language.
Be careful not to unnecessarily alienate the people you’re trying to persuade. If the internal jargon isn’t necessary, strike it. If you use an acronym, define it.
Here’s an example of what can go wrong when you use an unnecessary acronym:
While writing copy, you use an undefined acronym. Your user Googles it to learn its meaning. Another person, vying for your user’s attention, serves up an interesting ad on that page. Your user clicks that ad, which is an action-packed video. While watching the video, a text message pops up. It’s an invite to dinner. Think your user cares about your message now?
Bottom line: Don’t create barriers with language. When it’s time to introduce denser language, introduce it with some context.
Here’s what we’ve learned: Less is more. Focus only on what is necessary and important. Everything else can be saved for later.
There’s one question everyone wants answered when they’re reading your messages: WIIFM (What’s in it for me?). All you have to do is tell them.
Jeff Tippett is the author of the book “Unleashing Your Superpower: Why Persuasive Communication Is the Only Force You Will Ever Need” (Wisdom House Books Inc.). This article is adapted from it.