I once had a breakup that went so well it almost made me want to get back into the relationship again. (I said “almost.”) It was thoughtful, it was kind and it was mutually respectful. When I think back on that relationship, what I remember most is how well it ended.
As it turns out, that’s not as unusual as it sounds. In his latest book, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” bestselling author Daniel H. Pink says we’re more affected by the way things end than we probably realize. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter to endings and why they matter. Whether it’s a meeting, a concert or a sales call, the way we remember it will be colored by how it ended, so Pink asserts that we need to give more thought to how we wrap things up.
Take a basketball game. Your team is down by two in the final seconds of the game, then a turnover puts the ball back in your team's hands. It’s a long shot, but just as the buzzer is about to sound, your shooting guard launches a hail Mary three-pointer that swishes through the net. That player is heralded as a hero for winning the game and, while it was a magnificent shot, it wouldn't have gotten the same kind of glory if it had happened, say, in the first quarter.
The same is true of other things, right down to how we die. Pink points out that a person who’s lived a good life but makes some well-noted missteps in the final months of his or her life will be remembered for those failings, while an individual with a less-than-savory history who makes a turnaround at the end of his or her life will be seen as a success story.
What does any of this have to do with content marketing? Everything.
The Power of a Big Finish
When writing content, it’s common to put a lot of emphasis on beginnings; you need a strong opening paragraph to hook readers. In fact, there’s a lot of pressure on that introduction; it has to be intriguing enough to catch readers' attention, informative enough to tell them what they’ll gain from reading the content and enticing enough to make them want to keep going.
That’s a lot of heavy lifting for one or two paragraphs and, by comparison, it might seem that the conclusion gets the easy part. Conclusions often are treated like the street sweeper that comes in and cleans up after the parade.
However, Pink’s research shows that we’re missing a huge opportunity when content ends with a whimper instead of a bang. Just knowing how to write a conclusion could change the way you interact with customers and improve your results.
Journalists, in particular, are familiar with writing content using the inverted pyramid format. Starting out with the most newsworthy information — the who, what, when, where, why and how — the story can then move directly into the important details and, finally, start providing the less essential “nice to know” information.
There’s a reason that approach has been used successfully for so long. It front-loads a lot of valuable information and tells readers what they want to know right away. But it can also lead writers to sort of fade away by the end of the piece. Blog posts and other content without a decisive ending can start feeling like one of those meandering conversations at the end of a first date where neither person is sure how to wrap things up. Ask for another date? Go in for the awkward hug/kiss combo? Mumble something about talking soon and flee? Or just wait for the other person to do something?
In order to reach its true potential, content has to leave an impression. It should make the reader want to take action, whether that action is filling out a form for more information, downloading an e-book or reading your next blog post. Maybe it makes the reader want to share it with someone else. Maybe it makes him or her ask a question (hopefully that question is not, “Is that it?!”).
Whatever action it spurs the reader to, your ending will, consciously or not, influence how he or she feels about the information that was read and determine where to go from there. Let’s look at five ways to give your content a strong finish.
Make Your Point…Again
What thoughts do you want to leave your readers with? Don’t just hope they remember your most important points; reiterate them. Not only is that good for working keywords into the copy one more time, but it reminds them of what they’ve read and why it matters.
Leave Them Wanting More (And Tell Them Where to Get It)
Not giving away everything in a single post or piece of content can help keep the readers engaged in your site. Instead of a lengthy post on a topic, break it down into smaller blog posts, then provide links to that content. Or tell them about your e-book, which offers more on this topic. You have their attention, now keep their interest.
Get Them Involved
Start a discussion with readers by asking a question. What did they think of your post? What best practices have they adopted that are relevant to the post? Find out what they’re thinking and doing simply by asking questions to get them engaged.
Give Them a Reward
Thank readers for their time and interest by giving them something. Whether that’s a free download or a discount for your services, offer them something of value that gives them incentive to stay engaged and learn more about what your company can do for them.
End It With an Action Item
Great meetings end with each person having a clear idea of what he or she needs to do next and a solid plan on how to do it. Great blog post endings are like that, too. Don’t count on people knowing what their next steps should be; tell them. Give them the links to take those steps. SEO experts also use optimized anchor text in those links, that will boost the rank of the page they point to.
In theater, the curtain call after the performance ends brings the crowd to its feet and gains the most applause of the evening. Use your call to action as your content's version of a curtain call, exciting readers and encouraging them to come back for your next show.
It's important to note that, according to Pink, ending on a positive note will also help influence how well people reflect on an experience. Putting as much thought into how you write your conclusion as you put into your introduction and body copy can ensure that you find a memorable ending that just might serve as the start of a great customer relationship.