You can invest hours creating a masterpiece of content only to have your audience ignore it. And that, my friend, is frustrating.
You make excuses as to why it fell flat. But, excuses are just the skin of a reason stretched over a lie.
The truth is, it’s easy to create boring content. It’s a lot harder to create content that resonates, drives engagement, and inspires the audience to take action.
But, when you dig into the science behind audience engagement, you find four mainstays that make the most impact. Learning to identify, harness, and wield the power of these four elements can revolutionize your marketing, and give you the power to move your audience to action.
The 4 Elements of Effective Marketing Messages
Before we dig into what the four elements are, we need to understand their application. It’s more important to understand the correct application than it is to have a deep understanding of each element. Because misapplied, the elements lose their power.
The Foundation of All Marketing Communications
Marketing messages have one purpose: to move the audience into taking a specific action. That’s it!
When applied to content marketing at the top of the funnel, just about every piece of content has the purpose of driving an awareness-level conversion, like downloading an eBook or subscribing to your YouTube channel.
When you look at your marketing from a macro level, you will find that this purpose is achieved through three sequential steps:
In order to effectively market a product or service, you must have a hook: what is going to get the attention of my target persona?
Once you get their attention, you need to bring them into a story, either yours or theirs. Regardless, this story must lead them to the conclusion that they need what you offer.
Note: don’t miss the obvious in the previous paragraph. I said, “lead them to the conclusion.” Too many marketers spend all their time telling their prospects they need the solution, rather than guiding their prospects to that epiphany themselves.
It’s a difference about as subtle as Michael Scott, but a lot of people still miss it.
Going Deep: Inception
The hook-story-offer process is a lot like the movie inception. It’s relevant at the macro level, but it also goes deeper on almost infinite levels.
In the movie inception, people go inside other people’s dreams. And, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on in real life and what’s going on in their dream.
It gets super confusing when people inside another person’s dream enter into the dream of someone inside that dream. And, then at the 3rd level, they may enter into yet another dream inside a dream inside a dream.
We talked above about the Hook, Story, Offer framework at the macro level. Now, let’s see how it works on a micro level.
Inception Stage 1: The Blog Post
Consider a blog post as a marketing asset. It plays a roll in the overall hook, story, offer of the brand as a whole. But, in isolation, it also has a hook, story, offer framework.
The title is the hook: it has to get the reader’s attention.
The body is the story: it has to bring the reader into the narrative in a way they find meaningful.
The offer is the call to action: if the story did its job, the readers will convert on the CTA.
Inception Stage 2: The Blog Introduction
If you want to go to a deeper level, the introduction has a Hook, Story, Offer framework–the offer being to read the post.
Inception Stage 3: The SERP Listing
Let’s go one step further, the 3rd level of dreams, so to speak.
The SERPS results, or the search results on the first page of Google.
This is a small bite-sized piece of the page or blog post that Google is listing. It too has the hook, story, offer framework.
The Title is the Hook.
The MetaDescription is the Story.
And the CLICK is the offer.
Making the Hook, Story, Offer Framework Meaningful
Now that you know the application of effective marketing communication, let’s talk about the Four Elements that can give you persuasion superpowers – like Wormtongue or Saruman!
(I had to get my LOTR reference in for the week, sorry.)
Just because you know the foundations of a good story doesn’t make you a good storyteller. People can spew facts about the Hero’s Journey or lecture you on the 3-Act structure, but that doesn’t mean they're on the same level as J.J. Abrams.
The Four Elements are important because they give the Hook, Story, Offer framework life. They are what make them work effectively.
The Four Elements of Marketing Communication
These four elements don’t have to be used in isolation. They can be wielded in sequential order, or in any order you choose. They can be used one at a time, or you can use them all in a single piece of content.
There are no hard and fast rules as to usage. This is where practice and studying your audience comes into play. But, as you practice, you will instinctively learn how to match the right element with the right desired effect.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the real power is hidden.
Element 1: Social
The social element usually comes in the form of a story. This is where your marketing pulls the reader's attention away from the features and product specifics, and makes the message human.
This is a powerful element that can move people to make decisions they would otherwise not make, or at least not make any time soon.
It works by the power of association. Prospect Peter has a very particular problem at work. And, he needs a solution. But, something particular is holding him back from buying your solution.
When you tell a story about Customer Cathy who had the same problem and the same reservations, but your solution helped her reach the same goal Peter has, he will be much more likely to buy.
The Social Application
Whenever you launch into a story about someone or a group of people, you are engaging in the social element of communication. And the social element is a powerful way to reduce objections, alleviate concerns, build trust, establish credibility, and reduce the assumption of risk.
It’s kind of like the Yelp of conversation. The most powerful social elements are the ones with five stars. So, use the most powerful stories you can find.
Element 2: Inspirational
Have you ever done anything dangerous, bought anything expensive, or did something out of the ordinary? Afterward, were you ever asked, “What inspired you to do that?”
While the primary purpose of marketing is to get our audience to take a specific action, it’s not always best to demand it directly. Just telling them to buy your product over and over isn’t going to work.
But, occasionally, adding the action-oriented element of inspiration is needed.
For example, Ryan Deiss and the crew at Digital Marketer host the Traffic and Conversion Summit every year. For the years I attended, and he’s probably still doing this, the last session of the conference is 100% filled with the element of inspiration.
The last year I attended, Ryan Deiss gave the final talk. And it was all about the one thing. With everything you learned at the conference, he wanted to inspire everyone to go home and do that one thing, no matter what.
Because the sales of second-time ticket purchases are determined by one thing: getting value from the conference. And, no matter how awesome the conference is, the truth is that most people aren’t going to take action.
Kind of like most of the people who read this post won't implement any of this.
But, without action, the conference holds no value. If you don’t implement the Four Elements, you’re wasting your time reading this.
So Deiss spent a lot of time and energy trying to inspire his audience to take action.
Inspiration is action-oriented. It’s a call to do something specific.
And a lot of great marketing falls flat because we’re too scared to inspire. But sometimes, you gotta get them to move.
Element 3: Tactical
The purpose of tactical information is not to convince you of the importance of the action. It’s not to sell you on the benefits of the action. It’s information on how to do the action, pure and simple.
When it comes to marketing, especially through content, you cannot discount the Tactical element. It’s the primary way you provide value before the sale. You’re giving them steps to take that will bring them a very specific benefit.
This is a common type of messaging in blog posts, especially in the marketing world. We like to give practical information, kind of like this blog post itself.
Element 4: Emotional
This is the extremely powerful element that acts as a multiplier to the other three.
Consider the Social element:
It’s one thing to tell a story about a customer who had a problem at work, bought your solution, and it solved her problem.
It’s another thing entirely to talk about the fact she went to work every day with a sick feeling in her stomach because of the problem. How she felt like a failure inside, and thought everyone else was secretly judging her because of this problem. And, how she told you about it with tears welling up in her eyes. And, how once the solution was implemented, she felt like a champion. She wanted to run up the stairs in Philadelphia like Rocky. She couldn't stop from smiling. She had butterflies in her stomach she was so excited to go to work with this new solution in place…. etc.
When you add the element of emotions on top of one of the other three, it enhances it, makes it more real, gives it color when it was grayscale.
The Power of Emotion
Whether we like it or not, we humans are emotional creatures. And, while we like to think of ourselves as logical, we still run out and buy the next iPhone the moment it comes out.
Everyone that just said, "not me," you can easily think of a scenario that will apply.
People don't buy on logic. They buy from emotion. Then, they use "logic" as the excuse to buy. This is also known as rationalization.
It's surprising how many organizations fail to market on an emotional level. Instead, they yapper away about their products, their features, and (ugh) their superior customer service.
If you want to give all of your marketing a persuasive jolt of energy, start integrating emotional marketing into the mix.
Gillette... they don't sell razors to men. They sell the hopes and dreams that when I use their razor, I will have a supermodel wife that wants nothing more than to touch my face.
Pharma companies don't sell side-effect-inducing drugs. They sell the happy life those drugs are supposed to deliver.
Ever notice how the guy with irritable bowel syndrome can't go to the party? The drug fixes his bowels, and gives him a massive headache, intense sweating, and temporary blindness... but he sure enjoys the party in the commercial.
Ever notice how the dad glances into the rearview mirror at the two sleeping children in the backseat? His car used its super-duper braking assist to stop them before they hit the deer. The emotional message is, if you don't want your children impaled by antlers, buy our car.
Making It Work in the Real World of Marketing
Let’s start with the first inception level, the blog post titles. In this example, I’ll use each element in isolation, showing you how the application can be made to blog titles.
The Four Elements: S.I.T.E.
Social: How Acme Bricks Helped W. E. Coyote Catch a Roadrunner
Inspirational: X Reasons Coyotes Need to Buy Bricks Right Now
Tactical: How To Make a Roadrunner Trap Using Nothing But Bricks
Emotional: These Bricks Will Help You Finally Win and End the Suffering Forever
When it comes to content marketing, for example, every piece of content–blog posts, videos, podcasts, you name it–should be built upon the hook, story, offer framework. It’s the structure of great, action-inducing marketing communications. But the framework on its own doesn’t make it effective.
When you add these elements, it gives the framework life. And, with life, comes power.
If you start watching for each of these elements in the marketing content you like the most, you will find them. And, the best content marketers know how to wield them, each one for a particular purpose.
The more you look for them, the more you will find them. And, the more you notice them, the better you understand their best use cases. And, when you get to that level, you can start wielding them in your own marketing.
Want to give your marketing life?
Inject the Four Elements, and see what happens.
Ryan's experience ranges from higher education to SMBs and tech startups. When not doing digital marketing, he's sure to be enjoying some kind of nerdy pastime.