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Part three of our series: How to polish and promote an epic blog post or other piece of remarkable content.

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You’ve got your first draft of a solid, dare we say “epic” piece of content. Now it’s time to polish it to perfection, and promote it for the widest possible audience.

That’s what I cover in this 25-minute episode. I talk about:

  • Why this is one time it’s wise to be a bit of a perfectionist
  • Specific elements to check and polish
  • Tips on working with grammar checkers and human editors
  • Suggestions for effective guest posting and content syndication
  • SEO recommendations
  • Advice on how to grow your professional network without being “that guy”

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Part two of our series: How to write an epic blog post or other piece of remarkable content.

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OK, you’ve assembled a pile of research and done some careful thinking, and now it’s time to write.

Now what?

You may have heard the advice to “tell them what you’re going to say, then say it, then tell them what you said.”

Let’s face it, that’s not much help. (And probably a recipe for a post that’s less than exciting.)

In this 27-minute episode, I get a lot more specific about what goes into a really good blog post or other piece of content. I talk about:

  • Why it’s so important to narrow your topic to one big idea — and what, specifically, that entails
  • Strategies for creating a powerful first impression that draws a reader in
  • The one technique you should never use to grab audience attention
  • How to organize the “meaty middle” and make it epic
  • Wrapping your post up with a stirring conclusion that moves your audience to action

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New series! Part one: How to prepare to write an epic blog post or other piece of remarkable content.

Rainmaker.FM is Brought to You By

Discover why more than 80,000 companies in 135 countries choose WP Engine for managed WordPress hosting.

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What’s the best antidote to the glut of content?

Better content. Much better content.

This episode is the start of a three-part series on how to write a genuinely remarkable piece of content.

In this 18-minute episode, I talk about:

  • Digging to uncover the transformation (for yourself and for the world) that you want to create with this piece of content
  • Taking research (way) beyond the basics
  • How to refine and re-refine your idea
  • When to “go shopping in your own closet” for a post
  • Getting unique quotes from experts in your topic

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Has the “influencer bubble” really burst? Maybe, but … probably not

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This week I’m talking about some real-life lessons any business owner or marketer can learn from a very public marketing fail.

Instagram personality Arii shows 2.6 million followers … but couldn’t sell 36 t-shirts. Is this the beginning of the end for influencer marketing … or just a lack of a solid business model?

In this 18-minute episode, I talk about:

  • Why more engagement wouldn’t have helped Arii move a significant number of t-shirts
  • Why building a brand wasn’t the answer, either
  • The essential business ingredient that was missing in Arii’s offer
  • Why “know, like, and trust” isn’t enough for any business
  • Why there’s no such thing as a copywriting formula that just consists of the letter A

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Having a hard time coming up with headline ideas? Here are 13 tweaks, prompts, and hacks to keep you moving.

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We’re working on headlines this month for our Copyblogger content challenge — but sometimes it’s really hard to come up with ideas!

Fortunately, there are lots of structures out there you can use to spark your creativity. I brought 13 of them together for you here, with apologies to Wallace Stevens and his nice poem.

13 ways to look at your headlines:

  1. Start with a number — or tweak an existing headline by adding a number
  2. The “Cosmo” technique, taking the structure of a magazine headline and adapting it for your topic
  3. Play with the promise. Amp the promise up with strong words … then try a quieter version that sets a more realistic-seeming expectation
  4. Try a warning — the “What Not to Wear” headline
  5. Answer the “protest march” questions: What do they want? When do they want it?
  6. The “monster” post — “101 ways to …”, “The Ultimate Guide to …”
  7. The “brief guide” — identifying the small set of key steps to getting started
  8. “The X Questions to Ask Before You …” (this is often nicely paired with a checklist, cheat sheet, or worksheet)
  9. The question without an obvious answer. “Do Lower Prices Lead to More Sales?” Remember: the audience needs to understand the relevance!
  10. Useful: What will the audience get out of reading, listening to, or watching this piece of content?
  11. Urgent: Increase the sense of urgency with time pressure or warnings
  12. Unique: Can you use an unusual word? Can you challenge conventional wisdom? Remember: Don’t let “unique” turn into “confusing”
  13. Ultra-Specific: Precision is interesting. Replace vague, waffly words and round numbers with specifics

Listen to Copyblogger FM: Content Marketing, Copywriting, Freelance Writing, and Social Media Marketing below ...

The Show Notes
The Transcript 13 Ways of Looking at a Headline

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.

Sonia Simone:

Hey there, good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the Chief Content Officer for Rainmaker Digital and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always get extra links, extra resources, as well as the complete show archive by pointing to Copyblogger.FM in your browser.

If you are joining us this month for our content challenge, or even if you aren’t, the group, the audience over at Copyblogger.com is doing a challenge to come up with better headlines. We start by coming up with more headlines. The challenge for the month is to come up with, let’s say, 20 or 30 headlines, brainstorm a whole big stack of them, and then keep adding to that every day by brainstorming a couple of additions.

One of the things we’ve heard back, and this is not surprising really, is that coming up with that many headlines is just hard, it’s just kind of a brain teaser. Today I thought I would revisit an exercise that I did way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I went to college. I had a poetry class, and we did a riff on Wallace Stevens’ poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. I don’t remember what the exercise was, but it was a poem to use that same idea, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Banana, I think it was.

So today, I am giving you Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Headline. This is intended as a way for you to kind of shake up your creative mind, shake out some additional ideas for headlines that you can try. Now, you might not use all of these ideas, you might only use one or two, but it’s a way for you to generate more ideas, so you can pick the ones that really jump out at you, the ones that you say, “Okay, that’s actually … seems like something I might want to read.”

If you’re doing the content challenge, and that’s awesome, I would love it if you were. This will help you get that done. If you’re not officially doing it, you can certainly sit down and brainstorm a big stack of headlines. It is so useful, no matter what you do to create content, to just have a bunch of headlines that you can start from and start writing something, or recording a podcast, or whatever it is that you do. Let’s get it started.

1. Start With a Number Or Tweak an Existing Headline by Adding a Number

The number one tweak you can make to an existing headline or jumping off point for a new headline is to work with numbers. You might have seen there are lots of numbers-oriented posts and content all over the web. The reason is that just numbers and headlines just seem to work really well together. Now, my favorite way to handle a numbered list post, or, 13 different ways to do X, Y, or Z, is to write the piece first and then pull the number out of that.

I’ll write a comprehensive how-to post about something and then I’ll just go back and count, “Okay, I’ve got 17 ways here, so this is going to be 17 ways to do a better job of X.” Starting from the content and then working back to the numbers, for me personally, is a best practice, but it doesn’t always work this way. For example, this podcast, I knew that I wanted to just have a little play on the Wallace Stevens poem, Thirteen Ways of a Looking at a Blackbird, so I knew that I wanted to come up with 13 ways to tweak a headline and come up with a new idea.

You can go either direction. Just realize that most of the time you should be willing to tweak the number to fit the content, rather than the content to fit the number. If you can only come up with 87 really good ideas and you had originally thought about a 101 list post, I would go ahead and go with the 87. Keep it strong, really make sure that the content is keeping the promise that the headline is writing the check for.

2. The Cosmo Technique, Taking the Structure of a Magazine Headline and Adapting it for Your Topic

Second tweak, this one is one of my favorites. I mention it nearly any time I talk about headlines, because I find it just handy and it’s something you can do right away, you can do it immediately. That is to head over either to a physical magazine stand or you can head to a virtual magazine stand, like Magazines.com, and look at very popular magazines. Look at their headlines and then just tweak those for your topic.

This is sometimes called the Cosmo headline technique, partly because Cosmopolitan magazine is really, really good at giving you headlines you can tweak for any topic at all: fitness, parenting, relationships, finance, business-to-business marketing. Their headlines structures are so tight and so solid, and so it’s a great place to go and you just take the shell, the skeleton, the structure, and then you just change the words around until it makes sense in your topic. It’s a really good way to knock out a bunch of ideas very quickly.

3. Play With the Promise. Amp the Promise Up with Strong Words Then Try a Quieter Version that Sets a More Realistic-Seeming Expectation

Technique number three is to play around with the promises you make in the headline. Sometimes some words imply a big promise, like breakthrough, or sure fire, or instant. Those are just words that imply a big promise, they imply that the content is going to deliver on something big. Play around with using some big promise words and then generate a couple of more alternatives, dialing down the promise, making it less hype-y, for lack of a better word.

To take a big promise and, what would that big promise look like if you managed expectations on it a tiny bit and dialed down that promise? Play with the promises, go big, go a little softer, and see which one feels more compelling to you. It’s not always the big promise headline. Sometimes a more realistic headline is the one that will actually get more attention, but you have to play around with it and experiment and just try different possibilities.

4. Try a Warning the What Not to Wear Headline

Technique number four is the What Not to Wear headline. In other words, the negative headline. This is a headline that implies some kind of a warning that strongly suggests that people avoid some terrible fate, a headline that tells people what not to do, or what to avoid. These are always compelling, they are always interesting.

5. Answer the Protest March Questions: What do They Want? When do They Want It?

Technique number five is to answer what I call, the protest march questions, and those are, What do they want? and, When do they want it? So, How to teach your first grader to tie his shoes in less than an hour, okay. What do you want to do? I’d like my first grader to be able to tie his shoes. When do I want to be able to get that done? I’d like to be able to get it done in under an hour. What do they want, and when do they want it? Answer those questions. Those are just always very solid headlines.

6. The Monster Post 101 Ways to , The Ultimate Guide to

The sixth technique is the monster post headline. So, 101 ways to do X, Y, Z, keeping in mind what I said earlier that if you actually only come up with 87 or even 64, just go with the smaller number, it’s still impressive. The ultimate guide to, is another very time tested post formula. It can work very well, it’s used a lot, but it still has good promise. Think about what monster, massive, gigantic piece of content could you create and write a headline for that. Kind of an additional pro-tip on those, sometimes those can be turned into really interesting larger pieces of content also, like eBooks, tutorial series, autoresponder series, something like that.

7. The Brief Guide Identifying the Small Set of Key Steps to Getting Started

Countering that, the seventh possibility for a headline is the brief guide headline. This is a headline that promises the most important steps to getting started with a particular topic or a particular thing that the audience wants to do. Really think about selecting, winnowing down from all the possible advice they could get, what’s the most important, most salient how-to you can provide, and then create your own brief guide to getting more whatever it is that they might want.

8. The X Questions to Ask Before You (This is Often Nicely Paired with a Checklist, Cheat Sheet, or Worksheet)

Closely related to that is number eight, and this is the X simple questions to ask before you … The eight simple questions to ask before you publish your blog posts, the six simple questions to ask before you do your workout today, whatever it might be. This is very related to the earlier one, which is it’s very step-by-step, it’s very concrete. You’re telling your audience what they should do and in what order. This is a great kind of content type to pair with a checklist or possibly a worksheet, so that you can actually give them a cheat sheet to remember the eight simple questions to ask before they move forward with their project.

9. The Question Without an Obvious Answer. Do Lower Prices Lead to More Sales? Remember: The Audience Needs to Understand the Relevance!

All right, technique number nine is more difficult to pull off, but they work really well when they work. That is the question that doesn’t have an obvious answer. I’ll give you an example from Copyblogger, Do Lower Prices Lead to More Sales? That one was written for us by Sean D’Souza and I like that because your first thought is normally, “Well yeah, law of supply and demand tends to suggest that when you lower price, you increase demand.” Then there’s a question mark and I think, “Well, maybe not. Maybe that’s not true.” There’s not an obvious answer there and I’m going to want to click through and find out why.

In one of his books, Bob Bly found this great one from Psychology Today, Do You Close the Bathroom Door Even When You’re the Only One Home? Now, I have no idea what that piece of content is about, that article in Psychology Today, but I think I would probably read it, because I’m just really intrigued. Now, these are tricky headlines, because curiosity is an important factor, but the pure curiosity headline, where the person really has no idea what they’re going to get on the other side of that, that, it tends not to get good results.

If I’m reading Psychology Today and I get that headline, I’m going to read it because I read Psychology Today to find out what makes people tick, right? I read to find out more about human psychology. That’s going to share an interesting fact about human psychology with me. That headline is very relevant for Psychology Today. It is not relevant for Copyblogger, and I think if we got clicks on that, it would be to ask us if we had been hacked.

However, Sean D’Souza’s headline, Do Lower Prices Lead to More Sales? is very relevant to Copyblogger and any reader of ours is going to know, “Oh, well that’s interesting, that’s going to be an article about the relationship between pricing and sales. That’s a topic that I think about and I’m going to click through and I’m going to see what Sean has to say about it.” If you have the question without an obvious answer headline, it has to be clear to the audience how it relates to what they come to you for. Otherwise, it just gets confusing and confusing is not helpful.

All right, so I’m going to wrap up the last four suggestions for you with the four U’s of copywriting, or the four U’s of headlines, which are useful, urgency, unique, and ultra specific, and I’ll walk you through how each of these might be something that you could use as a prompt to come up with some headline ideas.

10. Useful: What Will the Audience Get Out of Reading, Listening to, or Watching this Piece of Content?

The first U, letter U, stands for useful. This is a really major tried and true thing to keep coming back to for your headlines. Which is, to ask that question, What does the audience get out of reading this piece, or listening to this podcast, or watching this YouTube video? These are the how-to’s, the tutorials, the guides. These are also the warnings and the pitfalls.

If your headline makes it really clear what the person’s going to gain from checking out your content, you’re going to have a good headline. Even if, maybe your other skills are not incredibly fantastic, that’s probably the most important one to master. Some people apply the so what test, so you keep asking yourself, “Well, so what? Well, so what?” You should have a good answer for that. It should be an answer that makes sense to your audience.

11. Urgent: Increase the Sense of Urgency with Time Pressure or Warnings

The second letter U stands for the word, urgency. This is about getting people to check out your content today, rather than never. Urgency language can include things like, introducing, or announcing, that suggests, “Okay, there’s something new here, I want to look at it.” It appeals to that sense of novelty. Another good urgency phrase is why you must, and this is often paired with the word, immediately. So, you know, Why you must secure your WordPress based website immediately. That’s an important post, because there are actually super bad things that could happen to you if you don’t do it.

12. Unique: Can You Use an Unusual Word? Can You Challenge Conventional Wisdom? Remember: Don t Let Unique Turn into Confusing

The third letter U stands for unique. This is about catching attention and catching attention with things like, something unique, something that people haven’t seen before. You can get this done with possibly an unusual language choice, including one of my favorites which is, use words like weird. Now, we’ve all seen that terrible stupid ad on social media, this one weird trick to doing whatever.

Don’t use this one weird trick, because it’s horribly overused and associated with something that looks not very high quality. There are lots of other ways you could use the word weird, that would cause people to just pause for a second and say, “Huh. Weird. Well, I wonder what that’s about?” Think about playing with that. Any unusual language choice is going to make people just take that moment and stop and look at it.

Another very tried and true way to work the unique angle is to challenge conventional wisdom. To take something that everybody believes is true, and turn it on its head. You have to be able to do this legitimately. Don’t just be a contrarian to be contrary. This actually has to support a real and useful position. Otherwise, you’re getting attention, but you won’t keep attention, because you’re not perceived as being reliable.

Again, I just want to caution you that when we want you to try and put a unique element in your headline, that’s not the same thing as confusing people with your headline. A lot of people go for unique, and what they end up with is unique and confusing. Again, it just won’t help. If people are confused, they tend to get a little bit nervous and when people are a little bit nervous, they don’t act. Anybody who’s a little bit nervous about what they’re going to find on the web will just tend to not click. It just feels safer to not click, rather than going to that weird thing that I’m not sure what that is. Be unusual, be different, be unique, but don’t be so different that you’re confusing and scary.

13. Ultra-Specific: Precision is Interesting. Replace Vague, Waffly Words and Round Numbers with Specifics

Our thirteenth tip is to be ultra specific, that’s the fourth U, ultra specific. This kind of brings us full circle, because one of the best ways to get ultra specific is to use a specific number. Let’s talk about numbers for a moment. We have a tendency to want to round numbers, so we want to write posts with, Ten things you should know about this, or, 100 things you should know about this.

It is often more compelling and more interesting if you go with kind of a knobbly number. If you go with a non-obvious number. 17 is a much more interesting number than 20, and 17.2 is more interesting than 17. Getting incredibly specific with numbers, with the facts, getting really, really pointed about what you have to say … very, very useful, very compelling. It just makes it feel like this is somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about.

Of course, you always want to back that up by, in fact, knowing what you’re talking about. If you see vague words in your headline, then take advantage of that and create a second iteration of your headline that makes that word much more specific, that really speaks to a specific individual. Use specific, crisp, clear, especially verbs and nouns, rather than vague, waffly, fluffy ones.

Those are 13 prompts or tweaks that you can use to look at your stack of headlines and grow it by quite a bit, double it, triple it, perhaps. I will go ahead and post all of these in text. If you go over to Copyblogger.FM, you can get the complete list in text just for your general reference. I would love to hear from you. If you guys have some headlines that you have tried one of these out on, let me know, drop them in the comments, always interested to see what you’re working on. And keep an eye on the Copyblogger.com blog for the next content challenge, which will be coming up in early February. Thanks so much guys, take care, and talk with you soon.

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It turns out those successful people you admire aren’t always so perfect.

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We love to give advice about all of the good habits you should be cultivating as a marketer and businessperson. But in the real world, a lot of actual successful people have plenty of “bad” habits.

I don’t advocate adopting any of these, but if you already have one or two, you may want to explore the upsides.

In this 18-minute episode, I talk about some benefits to these 7 “bad” traits or habits:

  1. Thin skin
  2. Flakiness
  3. Selfishness
  4. Greed
  5. Distractibility
  6. Self doubt
  7. Arrogance

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Are you writing for a paycheck … or to create revenue for your organization?

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Professional writers make a living.

Conversion writers generate revenue.

A lot of otherwise capable writers are a little fuzzy about how the words they write actually generate money that an organization can spend.

In this 17-minute episode, I talk about:

  • Why the advice “not to sell” in early content is misleading, and what you should be selling with early content
  • Some powerful advantages content-based marketing has in getting prospects to complete a purchase
  • How data privacy laws can actually help your business
  • Using engaging content to improve list segmentation and audience relevance

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Looking to create a much greater impact with your content? Start by understanding how it’s framed.

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It’s a little early for a Book Club episode, but I just read the new edition of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, and I was blown away by the simplicity and power of his ideas.

In this 19-minute episode, I talk about some of the key ideas in Lakoff’s book:

  • What a “frame” is, and how it shapes the information we take in
  • Why facts aren’t, by themselves, persuasive
  • Why you must at all costs avoid using the language of your competitors
  • The two big frames that inform culture and politics in the U.S. (and are active in other places as well)
  • What to do with an audience that has both frames “installed” (a common scenario)

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The Show Notes
The Transcript Choose the Right Frame to Boost the Power of Your Content

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.

Sonia Simone: Hey there, good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the Chief Content Officer for Rainmaker Digital and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always get extra resources and links, as well as the complete show archive, by visiting Copyblogger.FM.

Today is a little bit early for another book club, but I really want to talk to you guys about a book that was recently released by George Lakoff. It’s called, Don’t Think of an Elephant. Just a word of warning, it is political, in that it is a book about political strategy and persuasion strategy. If you totally hate politics, then you probably should not pick it up, because you will probably not like it.

Now, Lakoff is not neutral, he has a point of view politically, and as a matter of fact, he makes a good case that no one’s really neutral, that we all subscribe to what he calls frames, which are sometimes, but not always associated with a political side. Given that both political sides have used his work, have benefited from his work, and in fact, I think you could argue that the side he doesn’t agree with has benefited more from his work, which is interesting. It’s not particularly a book for one side or the other of the political spectrum.

It is a really fascinating book if you are interested in the psychology of persuasion and how that works its way out in the real world. Lakoff is a linguist, I believe his cognitive linguist is his particular specialty over at UC Berkeley, which is my alma mater, so I think that’s cool. The ideas that he talks about are actually quite simple. They’re also quite deep in the sense of being very much underlying so much of what we do, so much of what we think about, and since all of us have situations where it would be useful to persuade other people, I thought that these ideas would be interesting and fun to kind of explore and maybe even play around with.

What a Frame is, and How it Shapes the Information We Take in

The first idea is the idea of a frame and this is what I would call a fairly common sense idea. This is something that every one of us sees every day and we tend to think when we see it, Why is the other side so weird? This is not just about politics, this is about, really any aspect of human life. You see it with nutrition, with parenting, exercise, art, entertainment, work. It doesn’t matter what it is, you see this at work, this idea of frames.

I’ll give you his description, “Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world.” For example, if your frame is low-carb, that eating carbohydrates makes you fat and unhealthy, then sugar is always going to be the devil, full stop. No matter if there was a massive new study that came out tomorrow that said that eating a small amount of sugar every day was critical to health, you wouldn’t believe it, because it wouldn’t work within your frame. If right now, you’re saying well that kind of study wouldn’t come out tomorrow because it’s not possible, and in any event, I’m sure it would be fake science. I’m sure it would be funded by the sugar industry. That’s a sign that that’s your frame. Right? Your frame is that sugar is destructive.

Now we don’t get to opt out of these. These are sometimes called cognitive biases or confirmation bias. It’s what we believe to be true and so then the more we hear of that, the more we accept. But it goes deeper than cognitive bias or confirmation bias. It’s not just what you believe about climate change, it’s why you believe what you believe about climate change. When Lakoff is talking about frames, for the purposes of our conversation today and for the purposes of his book, we’re talking about very deep and broad landscapes for cognition.

Why Facts Aren t, by Themselves, Persuasive

A couple of things that are really interesting about how these frames work. Possibly the most interesting and the one that we are all seeing a lot of right now, is that if you take in a fact and it doesn’t fit your frame, that fact will just bounce off. That is confirmation bias. If you get a mountain of evidence that says that we live on a comparatively tiny blue-green rock that orbits the sun, but your frame is that the earth is flat, then that mountain of science is just going to turn into a conspiracy theory. There is no evidence that’s ever going to convince you that the world is round because your frame needs it to be flat.

Just to be totally clear, because we have seen political spokespeople talking about alternative facts with a straight face, I want to make it clear that I do not believe that this belongs to one side or the other side of the political spectrum. I have seen lots and lots of confirmation bias and every single point on that spectrum and others beside. It’s not a left thing, it’s not a right thing. It’s just how we operate.

If we get a fact and it doesn’t fit the frame, it’s gonna be incredibly difficult for us to incorporate that fact into how we see the world. There’s simply too much stuff in the world for us to go through every single fact, every single thing we learn, and then weigh it for its truthfulness. I would also pick up, speaking of good books, Daniel Kahneman’s, Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s really long. I got through a good two thirds of it. I felt pretty proud. He’s another UC Berkeley alum so, go Bears. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in economics. It’s a very interesting read about quick mental processing and slow mental processing.

Frames are one of the things that enable that quick processing, where you can just take in a piece of information and essentially immediately decide, Is this relevant, is it credible, am I going to add it to my store of information or not? Human brains use frames and since I’m just going to guess that you are issued a human brain, that’s kind of what you have to work with and what I have to work with. We might as well get some clarity about how they tend to process information. Both for ourselves, but also when we’re talking to other people.

Why You Must at All Costs Avoid Using the Language of Your Competitors

The second thing Lakoff talks about in terms of frames that I found was super interesting was the observation that negating the frame reinforces the frame. Here is an example that is fairly easy to understand. When Richard Nixon tried to defend himself by saying, “I am not a crook.” In fact, he repeated it, “I am not a crook. I have never been a crook. I don’t even know what a crook looks like.” We had Nixon and we had crook. We had Nixon and we had crook and everybody walked away from that thinking, yeah, that guy’s just completely a crook.

For a much more recent example, we can see that many people who have very controversial voices will tweet something on Twitter and it gets retweeted like hundreds of thousands of times by people who say, Look at this. This is terrible, it isn’t true. It’s bad. It’s wrong. All of that retweeting, all of that restating the frame, even though you’re stating it in a negative context actually helps that frame solidify in people’s mindsets.

For this reason, Lakoff has a recommendation and I think it is sound, I think it makes sense, which is, Do not use your competitor’s language. Don’t spin off clever versions of their catchphrases, or their taglines, or their slogans. Don’t use their language to talk about what it is that you’ve got to offer. Use your own language that’s rooted in your own frame. Otherwise you’ll actually reinforce their message even if you’ve just piled up a magnificent mountain of evidence against their point of view.

The Two Big Frames that Inform Culture and Politics in the U.S. (and are Active in Other Places as Well)

Continuing with Lakoff; he identifies two big frames in United States culture. I don’t, for a moment, think these are the only two frames at work, but I think they’re important. I also think that they definitely play out to a significant degree in Europe. One of the frames that we see play out in quite a few different walks of life, different spectra is the strict father frame.

Here are some of the tenets of the strict father frame. Human nature is fundamentally evil. There is a concept here of original sin. People are basically born bad, and because people are born bad, kids need a lot of discipline so that they can learn to be good. That kids are not naturally good, they need to be taught how to be good people. The strict father model, as the name implies, is very hierarchical. You might know the name of that television series from the 1950s, Father Knows Best. That’s kind of the tagline for this model.

The head of the household, who is the father, makes the rules and then everybody else needs to get in line and obey those rules because he’s the one who knows best. He’s the one who takes care of everybody. Discipline is a really key concept in this frame. Discipline is created by punishing wrongdoing and part of wrongdoing is questioning authority. Okay, so that’s a frame that’s important in our culture, the strict father frame.

Another frame that’s important in our culture is what’s called the nurturing parent frame. In this frame, human nature is fundamentally good. Kids are fundamentally good people, and if you don’t wreck them, then they’ll grow up to be good people. That’s what this frame believes. The family structure is much less hierarchical. One of the cornerstone values is empathy. The family’s job is less to discipline and punish and more to just create a space where children can learn and grow by making mistakes without making major problems. That kind of idea is in the nurturing parent frame.

What to Do With an Audience that Has Both Frames Installed (a Common Scenario)

For me, one of the more important things to notice about these two frames is that there are people that are nearly all one frame and there are people who are nearly all the other frame, but many people have both frames What Lakoff calls activated at the same time. They have some strict father beliefs and have some nurturing parent beliefs. Both of those frames are active and which one is gonna get used to make a decision is going to depend on the context. That’s where most people are.

Just as an aside that I found actually bonafide amusing, I taught nurturing parent, like I used those words, for quite a few years as a particularly solid, particularly reliable archetype to use when creating content marketing. Thinking of the nurturing parent as the archetype for an authoritative figure, but in a different way with a very different flavor from that strict father figure. I kind of chuckled when I saw that in Lakoff’s book, because again, clearly it’s probably not a massive surprise to you that would be the frame that is much more activated in my worldview.

Another thing to notice about these is that … Again, many people do have both frames activated and often one will be activated in one context. So, like, one will be active at work, and a different one will be active at home, or one is active in the political sphere, but maybe not in a hobby, or in health. People will tend to activate these frames differently depending on where they are, the context they’re in, and what’s going on around them. People who have both frames installed can have one or the other triggered, depending on your messaging.

That’s where it starts to become quite important about how we communicate. We’ve already talked about facts. If they don’t fit the frame, will just bounce off, just like meteors bouncing off the atmosphere. Messages, apart from just dry recitations of fact, are going to activate a frame of some kind. They will probably activate one of these two frames most of the time, for most of the things that we do.

I think it’s really critical, if you are in the business of persuading people, that you know what your frame is, which most of us tend to recognize it fairly immediately, and then really study the language, and more important, study the ideas of your frame, because these are going to inform everything you say and everything you do. They’re going to inform the kinds of stories that you tell. The kinds of language that you use. The images you use on your website. Your pop culture references. Everything is going to come out of that frame.

You may have noticed, if you’ve been reading Copyblogger, we talk a lot about this. This is the Unity principle from Robert Cialdini. This is belief. These are our values. Where I think the frame model comes in handy is just giving the whole thing, like a framework, to sit in. That it’s not just that I have the value of integrity, or have the value of empathy, but that those values sit in a frame. They relate and connect with other values.

One other thing that Lakoff stresses … He gets asked by political parties, Could you please come up with a tagline that’s going to be the next great political tagline? Could you please give us two words put together that are going to change everybody’s mind about an important concept? It doesn’t work that way. It’s not about a catchphrase. It’s not about a tagline. It’s the idea and it’s the framework of values that that tagline activates. You can’t just zoom in and go right to that skimming off the top and come up with a couple of cheap words that convey what you mean. It’s really about the whole message resonating properly within the frame that is the correct frame for your organization or your personal communication.

Some Parting Advice

I’ll leave you just with the advice that is his advice very much, which is that the time to start is now. Because repetition strengthens the activation of the frame. Literally every word of your content, every syllable, every pixel should be consciously chosen to fit within a frame. You have to know your frame. Now, I’m not saying that you necessarily, wholesale, take the frame from Lakoff’s book, or from this description.

These frames have flavors. These frames have exceptions. They’re not tied to a single group. They’re not tied to a single religious group. They’re not tied to a single part of the country, but each of these frames has flavors. You need to understand the specifics and the nuances, the deep beliefs, the family beliefs, those dinner table beliefs that your frame implies. Then work with that as your ground level and construct it from there.

I would be very interested in hearing, if you would drop a comment. Swing on over to Copyblogger.FM and leave a comment. Let me know, what’s your frame for your organization? The communication that you’re doing right now, whether it’s your own blog, a podcast, work you’re doing for your company, which frame is it? Is it a strict father frame? Is it a nurturing parent frame? Or do you think it’s a blended frame or maybe a flavor of one of those frames? I would be very, very interested to know.

The book is by George Lakoff, L-A-K-O-F-F, it’s called Don’t Think of an Elephant. Again, you don’t have to be a political junkie to just find this take on communication and communication strategy really fascinating. He has a million interesting little linguistic insights. If you’re not turned off by politics, I definitely recommend picking it up. It’s a fascinating, fast and fascinating read. Thank you so much and I’ll catch you next week.

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Some advice from Rainmaker Digital Services spun copywriter and teacher Belinda Weaver into a surprising new direction with her content.

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When our colleague Robert Bruce told me about some advice he’d given copywriter Belinda Weaver, and that she was seeing great success with it, I knew I wanted to have her on CopybloggerFM to tell us more about it.

In this 25-minute episode, Belinda and I talk about:

  • How she’s created nearly 200 nurturing emails for her audience — without spending a ton of work
  • The SEO-friendly, audience-friendly, and business-friendly advice that Robert gave her
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Speaking to your prospects’ emotional brains isn’t manipulative — it’s just good communication.

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Copywriters have known it for many decades, and brain researchers have started to find the evidence to support it: Humans make decisions with our emotions first, then justify those decisions with logic.

Today I talk about three charged (or even potentially embarrassing) emotional drivers that inform the decision to buy — and how to handle them delicately.

In this 20-minute episode, I talk about:

  • Adding a “first class” experience to your business without being crass
  • How to help your audience feel safe and secure as they move forward with you
  • Speaking to identity and group values in a politically volatile era

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