Content Marketing Skills: Writing the Hook

Content Marketing Skills: Writing the HookHeadlines and opening paragraphs are juicy bait dangling near the catfish’s nose. It’s the hook that makes things happen.

The hook is the section of a blog post, article or white paper that triggers the reader’s instinct to keep reading. A hook can be a strong emotion, a distant memory, a vivid mental image or simply something that ignites a reader’s curiosity. It has only one requirement: an ability to keep the reader reading.

Finding, sharpening and locating the hook are essential to content marketing efforts that aim to get people interested in a company’s products and services. Content with sharp, well-placed hooks keep people reading about your stuff instead of somebody else’s.

The Hook in Action

What makes a great hook? A recent article in the New Yorker had one of the most memorable ones I’ve seen lately. The writer introduces a respected academic who is having trouble making tenure. Just about every New Yorker reader knows somebody like this, so the lure is irresistible.

Our academic’s life careens out of control over the course of a 947-word introduction that opens with her shooting up a staff meeting and killing three of her colleagues. After much discussion of high-profile shootings and the pressures of collegiate life, the writer sinks in the hook: This woman accused of a triple homicide today shot and killed her own brother 24 years before.

How could you not want to read the rest of that story?

Looking for the Hook

All writers need to be watching for the hook in the course of their research. Every editor needs to make sure the assigned story arrives with a sharp hook, which should have one more of these elements:

  • Moments of recognition. Readers should be able to draw a picture of what you’re talking about from moments in their own lives. Walk in your readers’ shoes awhile and imagine what their sidewalk looks like.
  • Emotional impact. You want to quicken the reader’s pulse. Fill them with joy, fear, hate or exultation, but whatever you do, make them feel something.
  • Questions that demand answers. The hook does not answer questions; it incites curiosity. How could this have happened? Is this what I need to succeed in my career? Will this make me healthy, wealthy and wise?

Don’t drive yourself batty trying to combine several of these components when you’re writing the hook. Usually one will do.

Sharpening the Hook

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short story in six words: “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” Another story I heard back in journalism school described early biblical authors enduring round after agonizing round of revision to produce the divine elegance of  “Jesus wept.”

You’ll never be that succinct, of course, but these examples illustrate the power of saying the most with the least words. A sharp hook needs all the fat pared away. No clichés, redundancies or excess verbiage.

Also, consider multiple hooks. Draw up three scenarios that you think your readers can relate to and will encourage them to keep reading. Which one has the most verbal punch or the strongest emotional impact? Of course it’ll be subjective, but the point is, if you’ve really identified the interests of your reader, you should be able to pick the sharpest hook.

Sinking the Hook In

The hook can’t be just anywhere. A well-constructed story will have a sweet spot between the introduction and the most logical place to whet the reader’s appetite to see how the story turns out. That’s where you put the hook.

My New Yorker article illustrates why there are no hard-and-fast rules for placing the hook: It opens with a troubling/fascinating scenario which stokes one of our deepest fears: that somebody in our midst is a time bomb about to blow. The writer expends 926 words before dropping his bombshell — longer than many stories most of us write or edit. But I could not imagine it being done any other way.

For most content marketing, you’ll want to get to the hook by the second or third paragraph. The key is to distinguish your hook from your headline and your opening sentence.

A good headline will lure a large number of curious people and a good opening sentence will reward the act of reading the headline.  The hook has to be poised at that crucial moment where the reader is deciding whether to hang around or to do something else.

Place it with care.

Reputation Capital Media Services is a Baton Rouge marketing agency that helps B2B companies and their marketing agencies produce high-quality digital content, including blog posts, e-mail newsletters, white papers and multimedia. Our editors and writers are experts in their fields, which include HR technology, employee benefits, and financial services and accounting. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to find out how great content can help you attract and retain your customers.

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