A Quick Guide to Creating Compelling Content for Any Audience
By Dana Sitar
Some of the most talented creators I know totally miss the mark with most of their content.
That’s because most of us never learn what goes into creating compelling content an audience actually likes. We hone our craft and learn things like color theory or grammar rules — but no one bothers to teach us this basic truth: Good content makes sense to the people who consume it.
Based on the fundamentals of composition (which we all should have learned in school but probably didn’t), I use a simple framework for creating content that makes sense to my audience.
Applying this framework will make you a superstar to your clients. It’ll help you take your work to the next level, from simply creating things that are pleasant to look at to creating things that make an impact and achieve goals.
You don’t have to earn a new degree to figure it out — just learn four simple questions.
4 Questions to Create Content Any Audience (and Client) Will Love
The pitfall for many content creators is that we never think past our first idea for what we want to make. We’re smart, talented, creative people who’ve honed and mastered our craft. But it takes more than our pure talent to create compelling content.
We have to see beyond the content itself and understand the process and the elements that go into turning an idea into a compelling creation.
As you work on your next project, ask and answer these four questions to create something your audience will love.
1. Who is your audience?
Probably the most important element in any piece of content has nothing to do with you or what you’re making — it’s about who will consume what you create.
Understanding your audience is vital because what you create can’t have an impact until someone takes it in.
For your content to have the intended impact — whether it’s for marketing, education, entertainment or something else — you have to create it with the audience in mind. Who are they, how do they think, what do they know and how do they feel about the topic or niche you’re covering?
These basic characteristics of your audience make a huge difference in how they’ll respond to your content.
For example, if you reference trends popular with millennials to an audience of Gen Xers, your joke won’t land. If you use photography jargon and acronyms to an audience of accountants, you won’t convey the intended information.
Get to know the expected audience for everything you create — and review your content from their perspective before sharing it.
This step is particularly key when you’re working with clients.
Even though they’re evaluating and paying for your work, your clients are not your audience.
You create content for their audience. Do the work to dig past the client’s ideas about what a piece of content should be, learn who their audience is and make your case for the best way to reach that audience.
2. Who does your audience think you are?
You know who you are and how you want your audience to perceive you. But step back from that and investigate: What does your audience actually think and know about you?
Their perception of you will color how they see your content too.
Think about how differently you approach something you’re reading or viewing depending on whether you see the creator as an expert or a novice, an ally or an enemy, liberal or conservative; a parent, coach, sales rep or boss.
When you make content for clients, consider how their audience perceives them.
When you make content under your own name but for someone else’s platform — like a guest blog post or as a podcast guest — consider both what the audience knows (and doesn’t) about you and how they perceive the host. They’ll see both of you as sources of the content, so their relationship with you both will affect their response to the content.
3. What do you want to achieve?
This is often the first thing creators consider when shaping content: What do you want this thing to achieve?
Until you name the purpose of what you’re creating, how do you know you’re creating the right thing?
Knowing the purpose helps you make choices about your content to make sure it’ll achieve what you intend it to.
Be careful, though. Don’t get too caught up in focusing on what you (or your client) want to get out of it. Focusing on your goals won’t help you create great content.
Instead, focus on the purpose it serves for your audience.
What will your audience get out of this content? What questions will be answered, problems solved or needs met? Working with that purpose in mind is what it takes to create compelling content the audience will love.
That’s true even for the most seemingly creator-centric piece of content, like sales copy.
You have a strong goal there: You want the copy to convince the reader to buy something. But take a step deeper, and consider how the content can serve the audience. Why are they reading it? Your content should address the reader’s needs and desires, like:
– To be informed about the product or service you’re selling.
– To learn how it compares with competitors, so they can put their money to the best use.
– To get answers to specific questions, like how much it costs and how long it takes to ship.
4. How will you share this?
Too often creators ignore this element of a piece of content: In what form will your audience receive it?
For example, think about all the ways you could share a graphic with your audience: an image on social, embedded into a blog post or a sales page, printed in an informational pamphlet, displayed on a poster.
The form and context affects how well your content will achieve its purpose.
Imagine the context of a social media post versus a sales page, for example. On social, your graphic competes with news articles, videos, memes, and updates from family and friends. On a sales page, a visitor is focused on your brand and product, possibly with intent to buy.
Even a graphic that simply displays and describes your product should look vastly different to capture attention and achieve its purpose on each of those platforms.
Creating Compelling Content
The audience doesn’t experience your content in a vacuum, so don’t create it in a vacuum.
Think wholistically about all the elements that go into a piece of a content — audience, creator, purpose, form and context — and make choices to deliver the greatest impact based on how those elements play together.
You can learn more about the science behind this wholistic approach to content creation, and get a cheat sheet to help you plan your content, in my free ebook, “How to Write Anything (Well)”.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing for online audiences since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media. She teaches creators how to write well and shares tips to be a happy and healthy freelancer through Notes Newsletter.
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