Creating Content That Resonates

February 17, 2016 | Dan Trefethen


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“YES! I know exactly what you mean!”

“Oh man, been there.”

“This is my jam!”

These are all reactions you might have when something you’re reading, watching, or experiencing just clicks. It makes a connection to something in your memory; it answers exactly the right question; it references your favorite movie.

This is content that’s resonating for you. Resonance is a physical phenomenon, defined as “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.”

In other words, vibration in one place causes vibration in another, purely based on an overlap in their resonant frequencies. It’s no wonder that a secondary definition of “resonance” is “the ability to evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions.”

This is exactly how resonance in marketing works. Something you write, say, comment or tweet vibrates a little string in the heart or mind of your listener, sparking a reaction.

Resonance is another word for empathy, and derives from having a deep, authentic commitment to serving your audience. Empathy is about feeling what the other person feels, putting yourself in their shoes – and you can’t fake it.

Why should you care about resonance? Because the content crush is making it a requirement for success in our industry. There is simply too much content out there to make anything that doesn’t trigger a reaction from our audience – whether it makes them think, laugh, or change their mind.

Dumb Ways to Die

What is the one thing a teenager fears more than death?

Embarrassment.

That’s what McCann Melbourne discovered when working on a campaign for Metro Trains promoting rail safety.

The video, which features more than a dozen “dumb ways to die” – from sticking a fork in the toaster to disturbing a hive of wasps – concludes with three of the most life-threatening behaviors around trains. Simply saying “keep back from the edge of the platform” doesn’t communicate the message as strongly as piling it alongside other dumb ways to get yourself killed.

Not only does the viewer now realize how dangerous it can be to behave badly around trains, but they also see that recklessness is as dumb as sticking a fork in the toaster. Who wants to die because they were dumb?

This realization about what teenagers really care about is one example of what Doug Kessler calls a “crystal of insight.

“All the best work comes from a kernel of truth: a clear, distilled insight into the psychology of the target audience.” – Doug Kessler

That crystal of insight is the beginning of resonance.

As a consumer of content, encountering a kernel of truth is like the marketer walking up to you and saying, “Hi there! I made this just for you.” We feel understood, validated, and inspired by what we’re experiencing.

What are the kernels of truth you could bring to your content? What do you know about your audience that you can use to inform what you’re writing or how you write it?

Rallying around what you think your audience will care about is a key step toward resonance.

Ways to Resonate

How do you find that crystal of insight? It takes a deep knowledge of who your audience is and what they care about. Then, once you know who they are, you have to offer them remarkable content experiences that are memorable and valuable.

Talk to your customers.

The worst way to learn more about your audience is to guess. Too many marketers sit around a table and brainstorm ideas they think will resonate with their customers. Your assignment on the road to resonance is to actually get out there and talk to the people you want to sell to.

Set up a phone call, Skype meeting, or coffee date with a customer. Ask her about her day. Keep asking why until you can pinpoint her top challenges, favorite and least favorite things about her work, and possibly her favorite movie. What words does she use? Is her overall outlook positive or more pessimistic?

Filling in these gaps will give you a much clearer sense of what might make this buyer laugh, think, share, or comment. In other words, what might make them engage with your content.

If you’re not sure where to start in learning about your target buyer, take a look at this blog post from Cintell. It offers 9 things you should know about your buyer and how to gather that information.

Tug those heartstrings.

Emotional content makes a connection. If you can get your reader to feel something, whether surprise, anger, excitement, or nostalgia, your chances of resonating skyrocket.

A key outcome of content that makes a connection is that it incites your reader to take action. For most content marketers, a high-value action is for that reader to share our content. According to Jonah Berger, author ofContagious and an expert in viral marketing, the emotions that move readers to share are “high arousal” feelings – anger, anxiety, joy, and awe.

One of my favorite examples of content marketing that incites emotion is Crap.


Crap. The Content Marketing Deluge. from Velocity Partners

This SlideShare from Velocity Partners Creative Director Doug Kessler hits content marketers where it hurts: what we’re doing today isn’t going to work tomorrow (and might not even be working right now), and we must take action in order to survive. This resonates with me – does it resonate with you?

Use examples.

People like to see concepts in action. If your content is all tell and no show, your readers will have little to grab onto.

I love this piece I stumbled upon from Copyhackers. I read it all the way to the end – I know – because I found the voice and tone so engaging, and the writer used a raft of relevant examples that helped deepen my understanding of the content.

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Be helpful.

When you interview your customers, you’ll learn a few of the questions they have and challenges they’re struggling with. Answer them! Help them!

Michael Brenner of NewsCred said in an interview, “You have to be the best answer on the Internet quite consistently. I think what that entails is both answering your customers’ questions and trying to be the best answer to those questions.”

Moz is a consistent powerhouse in answering their audience’s burning questions. They are the foremost resource for learning about SEO, and their search rankings reflect that authority.

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Neil Patel is another brilliant marketer making an impact by being helpful. His blog posts on QuickSprout regularly attract hundreds of grateful commenters, who appreciate not only the helpful content of the blog itself but Neil’s overall approach to being helpful in any way he can.

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Make a Connection With Your Audience

Creating great content is no longer enough. If you’re not seeing the results you want from your content program, it’s probably because no one cares about what you’re producing.

It might sound harsh, but it’s true. Your contents has to resonate to rise above the rest.

What does that kind of content look like? It might be a story. It probably makes great use of visuals (or it might be entirely visual). As mentioned above, it makes you feel something. There’s a gut-punch moment that makes the reader say “Yeah! I know exactly what you mean!”

You can do this with your content. Get to know your audience and give them your absolute best. Writing in AdAge,Sarah Hofstetter advised, “Create really breakthrough moments by surprising and intriguing consumers.” Take a risk with your content and make something unexpected, staggeringly valuable, or interactive.

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