Write about the reader, not about us and our stuff
It’s the most retweeted word in the English language, according to viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella: You.
And no wonder. Starting your message with “you” pushes the benefits to the front of the sentence and focuses your message on the reader’s favorite subject.
In fact, we’ve known that you was a writing power tool since 1934. That’s the year Ralph Tyler and Edgar Dale had adults read passages about personal health taken from newspapers, magazines, textbooks and children’s health books. Then they gave the readers multiple-choice tests about what they’d read.
Here’s what they found …
You increases readership, we reduces it.
The researchers found that the more second-person pronouns — you’s — existed in the passages, the higher readability soared. First-person pronouns (I, me, we, us) and third-person pronouns (she, her, he, him, it, they, them), on the other hand, reduced readability.
Now we’re learning this again, this time in a subject line study by Return Path. Researchers found that you was the only pronoun that increased email readership. All of the other pronouns (including I, me, mine and our) reduced readership.
And Ripenn’s analysis of BuzzFeed, ViralNova, UpWorthy and Wimp headlines shows that the second person makes headlines go viral. Think:
- What would you buy with an extra $12,000?
- A chart about silence that will leave you speechless
- 6 things you need to know today
Folks, that’s 80 years of research telling us to write about the reader and the reader’s needs. And still, day after day, year after year, we show up at work, open our laptops and write — once again — about us and our stuff.
“People spend 99% of the time thinking about themselves,” says Liam Scott, a Toronto-based speechwriter. “Actually, that’s probably a little low.”
Are you ready to make the switch? Here are three ways you can do that:
1. Lead with the Y-word.
Here’s a simple step: Start your next sentence with you.
- Instead of We’re introducing a new disability insurance, try You’ll get back to work faster, thanks to our new Ability Assurance.
- Instead of Trainingnet.com helps you improve productivity, try Get all your work done in half the time, be the office hero and go home early with Trainingnet.com’s new webinar.
- Instead of XYZ company offers SuperPlantGro, try You’ll grow bigger, lusher plants — and never have to water again — with XYZ’s SuperPlantGro
To focus your message on your readers’ interests, put the reader first. Start your sentence — start your story, for that matter — with you.
2. Try the imperative voice.
Also known as the command voice, the imperative can be commanding: Go to your room! Do the dishes! Take out the trash!
Think of it instead as the invitation voice: Make money … Save money … Save time … Avoid effort.
Speak directly to your readers about how they can benefit from your products, services, programs and ideas.
3. Use a placeholder for you.
When you doesn’t work, try a placeholder for you. That’s what the writers of these news release headlines from Silver Anvil Award-winning campaigns did:
- Blood Cancer Patients and Advocates Visit Capitol Hill to Inspire Continued Support for Be the Match: July 18 Legislative Day event aimed at delivering more cures to patients in need (Be the Match)
- Teens Get Opportunity to Celebrate With an Idol: State Farm and Grammy Award Winner Kelly Clarkson team up for teen driver safety (State Farm)
- Parents and teen drivers dangerously disconnected: New State Farm survey reveals an alarming gap between parents’ and teens views on driver safety licensing laws (State Farm)
Friends, the results are in, and you won. Want to reach the reader? Write to and about the reader.