Lessons in content marketing: Why your ‘why’ should come before your ‘what’

Why are you reading this? Your purpose, we’re guessing, is to find out more about content marketing and because that catchy headline piqued your interest.

But do you know why your clients and their audience would read anything you create? 

Tim Williams, CEO of Onalytica, says people aren’t interested in ‘what’, they want ‘why’. 

Speaking at a session on influencer marketing at B2B Ignite at the Business Design Centre in London, he said that as marketers we should be asking ourselves ‘why will people want to read this?’ ‘Which pain points am I addressing?’ 

If you can’t think of any, how can you be sure there are any? Maybe it’s a sign to re-evaluate what your audience needs from you.

Whys matter

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this why question.

Simon Sinek, author and TED Talk(er) extraordinaire, developed the ‘Golden Circle’ concept to explain how businesses can differentiate themselves and build their value proposition.

His theory goes that if a business strategy starts with the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’, your message will carry much more meaning. He says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The Golden Circle

smartinsights.com

Sinek uses tech-giants Apple as a perfect example of a brand whose philosophy begins with ‘why’ – challenging the status quo, thinking differently. The ‘what’ – making computers – is almost irrelevant.

The same principle can be applied to content marketing. 

People first and foremost, want to know why your content will help them achieve their goals, not what it is.

Take a step back to think about what the ‘why’ of your content is and then lead your copy with it. People will take much more notice of it when you address the issue straight away. Why should they read on? The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ then follows.

You’ll quickly see that if you can communicate the core purposes of your content before anything else, the trust between you and your audience will grow and solidify. People buy from people, and if you can embody the same fundamental beliefs as your market, you’ll see that trust blossom.

How to communicate purpose

Forbes identified three effective methods for communicating purpose. They are: 

  1. Challenge vs Overwhelm
  2. Clear but unfinished
  3. Repercussions and rewards

Starting with Challenge vs Overwhelm, content needs to excite people and challenge them to stretch themselves to be a greater version of themselves. However, we mustn’t overwhelm them with unachievable goals, unmanageable expectations or statistics that scare the reader. Inspire hope, don’t instil fear.  

The goal with the second point here is a little harder to define. It’s important to outline a clear direction for your reader in which to propel themselves, but with flexibility on the route to get there. Forbes describes it as the ‘fine line between governance and guidance’. 

Ultimately our content should be sparking an image of a company where processes are streamlined, productivity is increased and ROI is greater. However, every client is different and has their own USPs, so it’s vital to offer variation in how to achieve their vision.

The third and final method speaks to what energizes people. In a survey of workers, 98% believed meaningful work was ‘important’ or ‘very important’. So it follows that content that carries greater meaning delivers greater rewards and is more likely to be followed. 

In short, people are tired of products. What they’re interested in now is context. A piece of content is nothing without purpose. 

To demonstrate why our content is going to help somebody, we must communicate with honesty and direction. Illuminate all the reasons why this information is key to their success and do it before you try to explain anything else.

Begin with the ‘why’ in everything you do. It’s an unbreakable foundation for success.

Seb Budd - Social Media Executive, Formative Content
Author:Seb Budd - Social Media Executive, Formative Content