In the current blogging landscape of lowest-common-denominator marketing and recycled “top 10″ lists, there’s something incredibly simple you can do to dominate your topic and stand above your competitors as a leader.
Appeal to your readers’ intellect. Challenge them to think.
Consider yourself smarter than average? Don’t be shy and try to water-down your content so you can attract everyone. There are plenty of smart people out there who would welcome a deeper insight and intellectual challenge from you.
This works on one of the core principles of marketing: if you try to appeal to everyone you’ll appeal to no one.
I’m talking about the difference here between USA Today and The New York Times, or between CBS and HBO. Yes, the former examples both have bigger overall audiences, but the latter have die-hard fans, engaging content and critical acclaim.
If you aren’t trying to build the next mass-market TV network or newspaper (or blog), why would you write articles for everyone?
Here’s how this seemingly paradoxical aspect of marketing works. When you focus on a smaller group of potential readers or customers (your target market), you can grow your audience much faster. That’s because you’ll resonate strongly with some, and those people will gladly become part of your tribe. Because you’re so inspiring to those people, they’ll tell other like-minded people (their friends and colleagues) about you and the cycle will continue.
When you focus on a broadly defined target market, you won’t have that “OMG I can’t believe I found this site, it seems like he’s talking directly to me” effect on people. People will just think “eh, I think I’ve read this kind of stuff elsewhere before” and move on.
Writing smartly is a powerful and underused way to differentiate your site and appeal to a certain (perhaps more profitable and more committed) audience.
If you’re up to the challenge, consider raising the IQ level you write for. Smart people who are searching for information on your topic will instantly recognize you’re striving for deeper insights instead of the typical surface-level commentary.
They’ll feel an affinity for you that you can base a deeper connection on.
How to Pull Off Writing Smartly
There’s a balance here between being smart and being too smart for your own good. This isn’t a license to alienate everyone with a blowhard attitude and obscure references.
I’m just suggesting you should take your intellectual appeal up a notch or two, not to write sleep-inducing Ph.D. level recitations.
Your primary goal is still to help your readers with clear, useful and inspiring content. All of the same rules about marketing, delivering benefits, creating compelling headlines and introductions, etc. still apply. By writing smartly, you’re changing the depth of the conversation and who you appeal to, but you still have to keep the overall value intact.
You want to help your readers think, not make them work.
And just like with writing epic shit, writing smartly doesn’t necessarily mean writing longer content. Brevity can be a virtue and a demonstration of intelligence.
You also have to keep in mind the limits of the paradoxical principle of marketing we discussed above. By focusing on a smaller target market you can grow your audience faster, but only to the extent of that market size.
For example, you could select a target market of people who want to learn how to craft dog collars out of dried banana peels and find out there are only 10 people in the world who care. You’ll probably reach those 10 people quickly but won’t be able to grow beyond them unless you educate other people about your uniquely crafty collars.
In the same way, you can raise the intellect of your writing to a certain extent and still have a massive potential audience. If you go too far though, you’ll start to limit how many people can understand what you’re talking about or how many people are willing to spend the mental effort necessary to get the benefit from your articles.
A little wit and intelligence can go a long way. If it’s a natural fit for you, try writing for the smarter crowd within your topic. You don’t have to be (nor want to be) the smartest voice on your topic around, just make it smart enough to stand above 97% of your competition. That shouldn’t be too difficult, given the sad intellectual state of most blogs out there.
A Handful of “Smart” Sites and Blogs Doing it Right
In the comments, I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing for smart people. I’d also love to hear what your favorite “smart blogs” and websites are.
I’ll start things off with a list of some of my favorites. Here are a handful of my favorite “smart blogs” or websites which show how intellect can be used to build an engaged audience:
- TED — TED is a small nonprofit dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and perhaps the mother of all “smart” websites out there. A smart watch: Rory Sutherland: Life lessons from an ad man
- The 99 Percent by Behance — the content from this “research arm and think tank” reminds me a little of the Harvard Business Review, but more accessible. A smart read: Welcome to the Era of Creative Meritocracy
- Essays by Paul Graham — long before Paul Graham founded Y Combinator, he was a huge influence on me and thousands of other would-be entrepreneurs. A smart read: What Startups Are Really Like
- Derek Sivers — an entrepreneur, speaker and minimalist, Derek Sivers is great at making you think with short but powerful thoughts at his blog. A smart read: Ideas are just a multiplier of execution
And a couple of my favorite smart up-and-comers:
- Everyday Bright by Jennifer Gresham — Jen is both a PhD Biochemist and award-winning poet. She has a fantastic way of writing smartly about living with optimism and courage. She keeps things high-brow and engaging at the same time. A smart read: Are You Winning?
- Evolvify by Andrew Badenoch — How could you write about evolutionary psychology and it’s relationship to the popular paleo diet without raising the intellectual bar a little? The writing here is actually a little academic for my taste, but I thought I’d include it here as a different kind of example and to get your feedback. A smart read: Did Men Evolve to Hate Vegetables and Women to Be Vegetarian?
Who are your favorite bloggers who raise the intellectual bar? How has writing smartly impacted your blog? If you haven’t tried flexing your intellectual muscle in your content, what is holding you back?
photo by Mait Jüriado
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