What "Aboutness" is About - and Why it Matters
Sometimes it's easy to figure out the subject matter of a physical piece, an idea, or a concept. A book about a shipwreck is about what happened to the ship, isn't it, or perhaps it is really about collaboration, or hope, or the will to survive. An article about email may be about which technology to use, or it may be more about the importance of staying in touch with your customer base and building trust. Getting to the core of what something is really about can be tricky, yet is very important. If you want someone to listen to you and you only have a few seconds to grab their attention, how do you best convey the meaning of your message? If your headline says "Top 3 ways to increase lead generation" but your copy talks about customer service, you risk losing the interest and trust of your audience.
I was intrigued by the notion of "aboutness" when introduced to it by a professor approximately eight years ago. According to Wikipedia, "aboutness" is a term coined in 1969 and largely used in the library science world (where I learned it) or linguistics or philosophy. It has to do with subject or intention. What is something really about?
In marketing, message clarity is essential. Delivering content that is relevant to your target market creates a perception of value, which creates opportunities for business. Developing the trust of your customers and vendors keeps you in business; they know what to expect from you and enjoy having those expectations met. When you don't meet customer expectations, trust can dissolve and business can go away. Every time you create marketing content, spend a little extra time confirming its aboutness. Have you ever read something based on the title or headline and thought to yourself at the end, "that's not what this was about"? Does it ever leave you a little confused or even frustrated? Don't do this to your clients and prospects!
Tips for distinguishing aboutness in your marketing content:
- Turn the process around: first capture the body of the content, then write the subject line or headline when you are done. Trust me, it's easier this way-the content will reveal the topic every time. If you start with a headline and the copy doesn't match, CHANGE the headline.
- Be ruthless about cutting irrelevant parts. Write it all out, then go back and see if you talked about more than one thing. If you did, separate it. For example, you create content for the Services page of your website. After reviewing it, you may have also talked a lot about your approach. Take this part out and move it to the Approach page of your website.
- Get a third party opinion. Show content to someone else and ask them what they think it's about: you may be surprised.
- Create content and walk away (just make sure to come back). We often create something in a blaze of brilliance today only to realize tomorrow that it wasn't quite as great as it seemed in the moment. If you already pulled the trigger on a social media campaign because it sounded great at the time, you can't take it back because you weren't clear on what it was supposed to be about.
- Practice, practice, practice. What is this about? What is this about? What is this really about? I think you get my point.
- Hire an expert. Sometimes it is SO worth it to pay someone else to do what we can't or shouldn't or don't have the time or interest to do. Sometimes you may only need someone to hold you accountable and keep you on deadline. You may need an objective opinion to gently (or not so gently) tell you your message is really something other than what you labeled it. Sometimes the truth hurts- oftentimes it's illuminating!
When the intent of your message is clear, you will not confuse or frustrate people by taking too much of their time or creating disconnects in their mind. You will create a positive customer experience by setting clear expectations and delivering the content your clients want from you. This is what builds a strong, positive reputation, which is a cornerstone of your brand!
If you need help developing your brand and telling your story, contact us. We can help!
� 2014 Marketing Troubadour