Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You sit down to write a piece of content. You’re the expert in this topic, you know enough to be dangerous about this topic, or you’ve verbally shaken down all of the available experts and resources in advance so you now have the information you need to write as an expert on this topic.
With your fingertips hovering above your keyboard, you’re ready to “get after it,” “get shit done,” or whatever other bumper sticker and/or coffee mug-ready phrase that denotes your willingness and confidence to complete a task.
And then, tragedy strikes. ☹️
Any enthusiasm, momentum, or loosely stitched together “Fine, let’s get this done” attitude for creating your piece of content almost immediately evaporates. Even though you were ready to charge forward, something in your brain just… stops.
Seriously, your brain is just completely blank and nothing of use comes out…
…oh, except crippling self doubt, inadequacy, and/or general feelings of:
“Maybe I should run away and join the circus before my (boss/client/audience) figures out what an unmitigated train wreck I am.”You, likely sometime within the past month, week, day… or hour?
How do I know this?
Oh, I may be a content nerd for a living, but I’ve been visited by this crap-talking “you suck at creating content” gremlin many, many times before. (That includes the hour-long existential crisis I went through in writing my first article, because irony.)
Good news, those gremlins are totally wrong
I know it doesn’t feel that way in the moment or even in retrospect — but trust me, those gremlins are about as trustworthy as real estate agents who are ready to sell you *chef’s kiss* perfect oceanfront property in Idaho.
So, stop questioning your life choices and pondering the inevitable heat death of the universe, because we are going to make it all better. You see, the reason why your brain is screeching to a halt is because we all need to gather ’round my virtual content campfire and realign on what an introduction is supposed to accomplish.
“Liz, it’s literally in the title. Isn’t an introduction supposed to, you know, introduce a topic?”You, oozing suspicion with an arched brow
You’re not wrong, but riddle me this — what do you need to do in order to adequately introduce a content topic, whether you’re talking about a blog article, a video, or some complex set of smoke signals and clapping sounds?
What is that little checklist of things you need to run through before you’re ready to take your audience on a grand tour of how smart you are, how many things you know, and all of the genius little tidbits you possess that they need to solve the problem or answer the question right in front of them?
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Today, we’re going to learn what that little checklist is — three specific (stupidly simple) questions you need to answer, as the title gives away — because knowing that information is what stands between you and easy breezy, content introduction-based world domination.
We’re also going to walk through what you shouldn’t be doing in an introduction, because we all have a few bad habits we need to unlearn from school.
In fact, that’s where our conversation today begins.
Writing intros like you did in school is a no-no
OK, hear me out. In an academic context, simply leading off an essay with a clinical table-setting that includes an expression of a thesis statement, followed by a quick and explicit preview of the arguments you’re going to make in support of that thesis, makes sense.
In fact, that’s kind of what you need to do with a content introduction… but with more of a specific structure. You see, when you wrote essays for your teachers back in the day, the context and audience for your piece were already implied. You were writing for your teacher — they knew that, you knew that.
When it comes to your content that you’re writing/filming/creating now for your audience, your audience won’t know your content is for them in that very specific moment unless you explicitly tell them in some way.
This is the key to understanding how effective content introductions come together for your marketing. If you take a page out of your academic pages of yore with your introductions, going straight into your argument, you’ll never create that magical, engaging, sticky introductory moment that makes your audience go:
“Wow, this is exactly what I need right now, in this moment.”The audience we all want in our lives.
Moreover, if you go the “just like your teacher told you” route, your content will lack the soul and humanity your audience craves.
That’s because the strengths of your arguments, research, and precision were what would carry you to the high grade you were looking for. Not personality, not originality, and certainly not that story about how you took your mother’s advice that olives were an acquired taste very literally when you were young. So, you tried them once every six months from the age of 13 years old — to check to see if the taste had been acquired yet — to the age of 35, when you finally liked them.
(Was that just me? Oh.)
If you want to reach your audience, you’ve got to put aside your sterilized approach to content. You have to have a voice. You have to show a little personality. You have to be willing to sound like an honest-to-goodness human. I know this may bring up fear for some of y’all — a fear I’ll address more directly in a later article. But for right now, I need you to trust me a little bit.
Be a human — a human your audience can trust and a human who has empathy for the people they’re trying to reach.
Now, let’s break down what your content introduction needs to include.
The 3 questions your intro needs to answer
Whenever someone lands on a piece of content — fingers crossed, YOUR content!🤞 — they have one big question on their mind:
“Is this piece of content going to help me (answer/solve) my specific (question/problem)?“
Think about the last time you clicked on an article or other piece of content from a search result. Did you go into reading immediately, feeling deep in your core based on the title alone that it was exactly you needed in that moment?
Of course not. The first thing most of us do when we land on something the ye old Google machine coughed up is we scan that bad boy to make sure we’re not wasting our time. That includes checking out the subheadings, giving the whole thing a 10-second once over, and (duh) we check out the introduction to see if it’s actually what we need in that moment.
So, to make sure your audience gives your content a big ol’ green light on that initial skim, your introduction must answer the following three questions:
- “Is this for me specifically?”
You can address the same topic in very different ways, depending on the audience you’re targeting. For example, the conversation I’d have with a C-level executive about “how to create a content strategy” is much different from the one I’d have about the exact same topic with a tactical content marketing specialist. So, someone will want to see immediately that the topic is for them, based on their current situation, job role, or whatever other audience qualifiers may apply.
- “Will this piece of content answer my specific question or solve my specific problem?”
Even if they’re not coming to you from a place of outright panic or stress, someone is still looking to see that your content is going to solve their specific problem or answer their specific question. Not something that’s close to their problem or question, or something that touches upon their problem or question, you feel me?
- “OK, if this is for me and is about the exact thing I’m looking for, will this actually help me?”
So, this is accomplished in two ways. First, you need to show exactly how you’ll help. Second, when possible/appropriate, you need to demonstrate that you are in a unique position to be the one doing the helping. Your introduction should subconsciously (or maybe even consciously, I don’t know), make someone feel relieved like, “OK, this person actually has the inside scoop I need.” (You don’t always need to do the second thing of establishing your expertise if your topic is super direct and basic, but I strongly recommend it. It’s what takes introductions from “this gets the job done” to “Oh my gosh, yes!” So, if your goal is to become a memorable thought leader, keep that second part in mind.)
“Sounds great, but this is all very abstract, Liz. What does this all look like in practice?”
I’m so glad you asked. I’m the exact same way. I like to see things in practice, so I know how to implement universal principles.
Intro examples that answer those 3 questions
Introductions come in all different shapes and sizes. Story-based, leading off with a cutting statistic, a meandering narrative with subheadings, short and punchy, and so on.
Still, no matter what you’re talking about, your content format (written blog, marketing video, etc.) or your introduction strategy (e.g. telling a personal story vs. zippy statistic), the best introductions knock those three questions out of the park.
Yes, yes, I’m starting with a video I filmed, but only because I want you to see what I’m teaching you works for videos, as well, not just written content.
This is a video I filmed for IMPACT explaining the concept of a revenue team. A video like this has two introductions, really — the 10-second teaser and the full introduction. In my introduction, I made it clear I was talking to business leaders by speaking to over-arching business goals (traffic, leads, sales) and problems (breaking down silos between two large departments).
I then walked through a specific list of every question I would be answering — what is a revenue team, who should be on the revenue team, why you need one, how a revenue team should be run, and so on.
I was also able to establish myself as the authority through the clear understanding of my audience’s problems; I also do so later throughout the video because I’m teaching a concept I am currently living as a member of our own revenue team.
Next up is this copywriting tips gem from HubSpot VP of Marketing Meghan Keaney Anderson. This short and funny introduction gets the job done in an engaging way.
You can tell right away based on the title and the substance of the introduction that this article is for digital marketers and business leaders looking for a leg-up on how to write great copy. (Identifying her audience clearly, check!) Meghan then knocks out both questions two and three with this statement:
“…there are actually several characteristics that really separate outstanding writing from the rest of the pack.”
Which she then immediately says she’s going to share below. Woohoo!
Laura Belgray of Talking Shrimp has LONG been a content and copy crush of mine. (Hi, Laura!) So, it should come as no surprise that a piece of content from Laura is on this list. In this blog, she completely slays that introduction question checklist in a way that is chock-full of personality.
She clearly gives her audience the “this is for you!” cue with by using something I like to call the “creepy mind-reader introduction formula,” — I’ll share more of my formulas in a future article — by literally saying out loud in quote format what someone thinks about this topic.
What makes it better is that it’s a quote from a real reader! So, it not only adds definition to the audience, it also establishes her as the person who should be answering the question. Here, she’s communicating with this strategy, “I can help you because I do this myself, and it’s clear that others look to me as someone who can empower others to do the same.”
Then, the way she ends the introduction is fascinating. She doesn’t give you a big laundry list of what she’s about to cover. Instead, she ends with the enticing statement of:
“Wherever you are, you’re surrounded by stories. Even if you don’t leave the house.”
The unsaid follow-up we all know is there as the reader is, “And I’m going to show you where they are.”
Here’s another example from, well, yours truly. I wrote this article about how to write a blog post, and the introduction showcases a very explicit technique for audience identification I like to flex every now and then — especially if it’s a topic that cuts across multiple audience groups wherein I would give the same answer to everyone.
I then quickly and efficiently articulate their shared problem and outline exactly how I’m going to help them. Sometimes I like to get right to the point, especially with a blog article I know is going to be very long with lots of process and steps to cover.
Of course, I do like to get personal every now and then:
…like this one about using Trello to run a content strategy for your business.
…and in this article, which is about a topic that is very personal for me.
In both of these final examples, I organically introduce the idea that I’m the expert in these topics because of my role, my experience, and my own frustrations. In short, I’m communicating to the audience, “I can help you because I’ve been you, and now I have the answers.”
Remember, your audience has a checklist
Whether you’re writing a blog about the financial missteps someone needs to avoid before they open up a combination yoga goat and alpaca farm, or a video about the questions someone needs to ask before hiring a wedding photographer or an IT firm for their company, your audience has needs.
They want to know if your piece of content is for them.
They want to know if your piece of content will actually help them.
They want to know how you’re going to help them.
Your introduction is a big piece of that puzzle, so don’t phone it in with the stale academic habits of yore. Instead, excite them by showing you know exactly who they are and precisely what they need. Then, deliver on that promise (and prompt a big sigh of relief) by showcasing exactly how you’re going to help.
Honestly, that’s all your audience really wants.
To be seen. To be understood. To be helped.
Now, go get ’em, killer!
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