I've been called out for having poor grammar, awful spelling, and yes, switching point of view on my readers. While all three writing fails are easily solved with some proper editing, I also have the issue of impatience. So I have learned to ask other people to review my writing before I publish it.
My college English professor told me repeatedly to pick a point of view and stick with it. But after all these years, and thousands of pages later, my primitive brain still seems to want otherwise.
Taking a first person approach creates a level of intimacy and authenticity I'm not able to achieve otherwise. This is what really appeals to me as a writer.
What's the Point
Let me start by getting everyone on the same page about point of view. There are three primary view points used in just about every writing style, from fiction to news, personal blogs to technical white papers. They are first person (I, me, my), third person (she/he, her/his) and second person (you, your). Within each point of view are variations like active vs. passive or limited vs. omniscient. But I don't want to get into details partly because I'm not an expert and because there are tons of good articles on the subject already. And this post is about choosing a point of view that works best content marketing and for me specifically.
I've generally seen content marketing take either a first person, or more frequently, a second person approach. Second person point of view is seen as very effective because it's flexible and puts the reader into the story. When I'm writing in second person I'm speaking to or at the reader. It allows me to carry the message of the content and doesn't require me to have personal experience with what I'm writing about. For this reason, it's more flexible. I can give readers information I've learned or heard about or cited or even think might be accurate. I'm not limited by what is directly from my own experience. Using second person writing tends to pull readers into the meat of the story, makes it more personal and generally stretches my skills as a writer.
First person on the other hand is most common in fictional storytelling and less used in marketing, although it's still frequently chosen. I often see the first person point of view used to demonstrate authority or expertise of the writer on a given topic. Moreover, taking the first person approach creates a level of intimacy and authenticity I'm not able to achieve with second or third person. This is what really appeals to me as a writer. I hope to connect with my readers in a way where they feel empowered and develop a sense of trust with me and my content.
Incidentally, the choice for point of view largely comes into play with text based content marketing. For other mediums, like podcasts, first person is almost exclusively used. So if first person is your thing, here's a great post that covers the basics of starting a podcast.
I Choose First Person
Personally, I find that second person takes away from this trust because I'm able to hide behind the content. By telling my readers what they can or should do vs. sharing what I did or didn't do, I create a level of accountability that just feels more authentic and reliable. On top of that, I am also the type of person that is willing to share experience on things that didn't work. Or talk about ideas I'm testing but aren't proven yet – and generally open up to my readers about my journey on a given topic. By sharing from my own personal experience I've been able to connect with people such that they come back to hear more.
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At that moment I knew I was making an impact. It felt good.
I also don't like to be told what to do. I'm not sure anyone likes that. I find second person to be very lecture like. When I read second person articles I feel like i'm being barked at — "I'm an expert and you should do this". It makes me feel like I should know more than I do and I'm inferior in some way. I know this isn't the intent of articles written in second person, or at least not always, but I prefer to read personal stories. I find that I'm able to internalize the information, process it and come to my own conclusions better when hear what someone else tried rather than what someone else tells me I should try.
I might be alone on this, but it has worked for me over the years. I've always found stories and experience to be the most effective way to get people to listen and actually hear me. And when I thread instruction with experience, it tends to stick.
I recently discovered Groove's blog, a Founder's Journey, and it reminded me how effective content marketing can be when I find a unique voice and a compelling niche. I was reminded of my own experience building my first SaaS business, Velocify, more than 15 years ago. I should mention I get zero credit for actually coming up with a content marketing strategy and executing on it back then. I just did what I knew, and what I knew was that I didn't really know the first thing about building a software company. So that's what I wrote about (my blog posts dating back to 2005 on Medium here).
But it worked. It didn't work in exactly the same way as it did for Alex and Groove; I didn't reach 100K subscribers. In fact I never got any subscribers, because I didn't think to even add a subscribe box to my blog 🤦. It worked because people related to me and my struggles growing a startup. I was a CEO my readers could trust and were willing to make a bet on.
I remember one day, about 4 years in, I was showcasing at a trade show for our industry. A gentleman came up to me and said "I read your blog. I saw your panel. I really don't know exactly what your company does, but I want to work with you."
At that moment I knew I was making an impact. It felt good. And incidentally, that person was head of sales for a sizable mortgage company that later went on to become one of our largest clients with over 200 seat licenses. Ten years later I sold Velocify for $130M.
So my approach to content marketing is similar in that I write what I do. I share the successes and the failures alike. And while many content marketing strategies are written in stone — there are a lot of unknowns. People and technology change on a dime. Tactics that once worked like a charm may not work the same as they did a year ago leading to new tools like Frase for keyword and question research (side note, I just started using this tool and it's really impressive, 5-stars, highly recommend). Even the marketing automation world changes. Products like Convertkit and Mailchimp continue to evolve to help with SEO. Search engine and domain ranking algorithms change. And there is best practice content overload. So rather than regurgitate what other people have written, I'm going to write about what I'm actually doing.
When it comes to content marketing, I won't categorize myself as an expert. I'm more of an intermediate level content marketer. That said, I am an expert on testing and iterating. I've become very effective at taking something that worked for someone else, iterating on that idea, testing it, evaluating results, iterating again and repeating until it works for me. And incidentally, I've rarely find that duplicating exactly what someone else has done actually works that well. I've had to tweak it to my own circumstances to get results.
A New Voice
Back then, my voice was simply my experience. Just as it was with Alex and Groove. And that worked great. But I don't think that means I have to be "going through" something to find a voice that is both compelling and authentic. Sure, building a startup is hard. No matter how many times I've done it. And while I'm way more experienced than I used to be, I certainly still struggle and I could write about that again. But I don't think that's my truth now
So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to execute a content marketing strategy for Markup Hero. I've researched and read a ton of great material from experts in the field and I'm applying those learnings to my own experiments. And I'm going to share my content marketing journey here. I'll share what's worked and what hasn't. I'll explain what I iterate and when I duplicate the ideas of others. And I'm going to share about it in the first person. And I'll see if my readers slam me for being naive or praise me for being authentic.
Please subscribe and stay tuned.