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The Four Essential Elements of Addictive Content Marketing

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Everybody judges, all the time. Now, you got a problem with that, you're living wrong.

– Rust, True Detective

If you're like me, you were enthralled by the first season of HBO's True Detective. And because of the way the show is structured, there was a definitive end to the story for the characters portrayed by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

Online content marketing is more like this kind of finite serial drama than you might think. You need prospects with problems and desires to keep coming back until the conclusion, which is doing business with you.

Here's the good news - it's a lot easier (and a whole lot cheaper) to execute on an effective content marketing plan than it is to produce award-winning television. But that doesn't mean you don't need to consciously incorporate certain addictive elements to keep them coming back.

Here are four essential elements that make that happen. Take a careful look to discover what your content may be missing.

1. Unpredictable

Beyond mere curiosity, addictive content delivers an unpredictable and unexpected element that makes it irresistible. Nothing kills engagement faster than if the audience thinks they already know where you're going.

People tune things out due to a lack of novelty, which makes even previously desirable subject matter mundane. So taking an approach that differs from the crowd can help you stand out, and that's why unpredictability is crucial for a strong premise.

Just remember as a final point, things always change. What was once unpredictable can become not only predictable, but trite (the recent pushback against UpWorthy is a good example). This is why being able to come up with fresh angles is an ongoing process for anyone who creates online content.

2. Simple

By simple, I don't mean simplistic. Regardless of the complexity of the subject matter, you've got to make it simple and clear so that it travels directly into the mind of your prospect and engages the imagination in order to inspire action.

So, you've got a grand foundational idea that's unpredictable and destined to shake up your market. Reduce it to a paragraph.

Now, pare it down more. Get to two sentences. Then make it even shorter.

Just do it.

At this point, you may find yourself with a great tagline (like Nike's). At minimum, you've now got the substance for the bold promise that your headline makes and content must fulfill.

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3. Tangible

What makes content real to the right people? You need to be able to express ideas in a tangible way. This is the aspect of your content that is express, meaning that you tell the story in a way that concretely injects certain information into the prospects mind in a specific way.

The book Made to Stick gives us an example with the case of Art Silverman, a guy with a vendetta against popcorn. Silverman wanted to educate the public about the fact that a typical bag of movie popcorn has 37 grams of saturated fat, while the USDA recommends you have no more than 20 grams in an entire day.

Instead of simply citing that surprising, if dry, statistic, Silverman made the message more tangible. He said:

A medium-sized 'butter' popcorn contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings - combined!

You'll note that this example also contains the two prior elements of unpredictability and simplicity. Add to that the relevant and tangible expression of the main idea, and you create instant understanding.

4. Credible

Human beings are driven by emotion. But our logical minds do eventually step in (usually in a way that makes us think we're actually driven by logic in the first place). If your content is not credible (as in it's too good to be true) you fail.

But belief is critical in any market, with any promotion. And that's why credibility is the final key to a winning premise - people must believe you just as your premise must match their beliefs.

Remember, the more innovative your idea or exceptional your offer, the more you're going to have to prove it. This leaves us with an unexpected, simple, and tangible expression of benefit in a way that's credible.

Credible Content Walks the Talk

The current backlash against "clickbait" headlines is simple to understand. In a misguided fixation on clicks instead of audience, some online writers have forgotten that a headline is a promise that must be fulfilled by the content, or you fail.

Think about the cool movie trailer that the film never lives up to, so the box office tanks once word gets out. Creating lackluster content hyped by a headline is not going to meet your business objectives - in fact, in may hurt you more than if you were simply ignored.

Now contrast that with the experience people got from True Detective. This is your true model.

The word-of-mouth buzz built up the show beyond any hype from the producers, because the show resonated with the audience. This is exactly how content spreads organically via social media and builds buzz about your brand as well, and translates into sales acceleration.

Create content that makes your prospective audience want to do business with you, not "marketing" that makes them want to run. It may not always be easy, but it's as simple as that.

Brian Clark is CEO of Copyblogger Media and the host of New Rainmaker .

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