As a writer, I’ll admit that certain things bug me, probably more than they do other people. Misplaced commas. Capitalizations that don’t belong. Sentences that start strong, lose the plot halfway through, and then wander off into the weeds. Paragraphs that are little more than small sentence collections. That sort of thing.
More than anything else, though, the dreaded words: “No one reads this stuff anymore.”
I hear it a lot, especially when the “stuff” involved is more than about 200 words long. The general idea is that we’ve collectively reduced our attention spans to the scope of 140-character Twitter posts, and if you’re not tagging the reader within that range, you’ve already lost them. And that’s real trouble if your business can’t be easily explained in emoji form (which is all of us).
The most frustrating part of it, for me, is that the “no one reads” axiom is just flat out wrong.
Imagine that you are a decision maker for an engineering firm that builds custom industrial automation rigs for, say, the food industry. You’re in a competitive field. Your company is only as good as your last project. And you’ve learned long ago that any tech edge – more features, higher reliability, lower cost – directly translates to more great projects. So you’re constantly on the lookout for any innovation that you can adopt for your customers.
A disinterested reader may have no use for a 3,000-word industry whitepaper about next generation PLCs (programmable logic controllers – basically the nervous system of an automation line). But you? If they caught you at the right time, with the right message? Yeah, you’d probably read it.
Same goes for case studies, but even more so. In my experience, case studies completely blow the curve for assumed reader interest: as long as the story is solid and interesting, a 1,500-word case will sell a $500,000 project far more effectively than a piece written at a shorter length. Big projects are big decisions, and case studies sell credibility. The reader will take the time.
The keys to keeping them reading aren’t out of reach. The rules are pretty simple.
Identification. This is the Golden Rule of tech marketing, so break it at your peril. Your reader must be able to quickly take in the headline and first few sentences, and then almost immediately see themselves in that paper. It must be almost visceral: there has to be a spark there, where the reader sits up and says, “Hey, that’s ME – they GET IT”. If that moment happens, they’ll read you through to the end. If it doesn’t, they won’t even start.
The tough part of establishing identification, however, is that no one ever sees themselves as a demographic. We are all unique, all with unique problems, all existing in unique conditions. So it really can be a tight rope act to establish a resonance without stereotyping the reader. However, that’s the job. That’s what you have to do.
Information. Don’t skimp. Really. If they downloaded your paper, they want a payoff – they want to learn something, feel more confident in their decisions, become more aware of risks that may be right around the corner. So tell them the whole story. Go deep on the topic. Demonstrate that you know what you are doing. Be useful. Inform.
The catch, however, is that your information content has to be very well organized. Simply dumping a truckload of engineering jargon into a Word file isn’t going to do it. Again, this is where a communications professional can help. We know the storytelling and transition tricks and techniques necessary to pack lots of information into an efficient space without losing your readers.
Build a stack. The truth, even the best written whitepaper or case study will do nothing on its own. They need context, and they need a stack of other marketing efforts to support them. Case studies, for example, are dynamite supporting materials for in-person sales meetings. Whitepapers tend to excel as inbound marketing support. Twitter, email blasts, and sharp web copy are all critical today for supporting and promoting your collateral and sales efforts.
Each individual piece is like a gear in a great machine. They only work when they’re connected together to form a working whole. Then you’re creating the overall context necessary to make someone really want to read what you have.
If you’re telling yourself that no one reads this stuff anymore, well, you’re staring at a gear sitting on a shelf and wondering why it isn’t doing anything.. when the fact is, you haven’t made it do anything.
People do still read. They read a lot. And they make important, expensive decisions based on what they read.
What have you given them lately, to convince them to read more about your business?