If I had to guess, I'd say that you've met a "hook" before, perhaps in a favorite book, movie, or on television. The rainy day meet-cute, the backstabbing plot twist, the rhetorical question posed by Morgan Freeman. It's the moment the unraveling happens, the moment you lean in a little bit closer to wonder what in the world is going on here?
And they worked, because they kept you in your seat – or moved you to the edge of it.
Hooks are emotional entry points introduced to trigger a response. They exist, very much on purpose, to compete for your attention, and then to fully capture it. Without hooks, stories are just a series of flat statements. And without an emotive crescendo, like anticipation or intrigue or humor, your story is sure to fall flat. Drama isn't something to avoid here, but rather, something to use to your distinct advantage.
There's a lot of noise out here, mostly created and perpetuated by people who claim to be "thought leaders" and "social influencers". These people understand how to tell you something, but they often fail at hooking you with something that matters deep in your emotional brain. As we've mentioned, there's a vast difference between broadcasting to immersing.
All of this to say — hooks make all the difference.
When the average attention span in 2014 is but a mere 8 seconds long (shorter than a goldfish), you've got to become a Hook Master. Your blog posts, videos, visual content, and social media campaigns will be better for it.
(1) Start in the middle.
In media res, a literary technique often used by the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, is a story that begins in the middle of the action, rather than setting it up. Opening your story in the middle is one of the most brilliant ways to offer up a hook, as it disrupts the classic linear progression of a story. In fact, in media res is so powerful that it's actually linked to the release of dopamine, the brain's pleasure center, as a kind of neurological reward for our provoked curiosity.
Even if your story doesn't begin with a cold blooded murder or a recipe for whodunit, you can still tell a story that breaks the mold. Open your content with a surprise that we didn't see coming.
• Give your videos a head-scratching thumbnail or intriguing one-line caption. By leaving something to the imagination, curiosity will get the best of most audiences. John Hancock used this as part of a "second screen strategy" during the first NFL game of the 2014 season, dropping us in the middle of a conversation before prompting viewers to the brand's microsite to see what happened next.
• Start a blog post with dialogue of an actual conversation that prompted you to write. Drop us into the middle of the action, and let us set up.
• Open your video with sensory B-roll footage that shows first, and tells second. Cartoonist Scott McCloud calls this technique "aspect to aspect", capturing a tiny physical detail that grounds people in the space in which the action is taking place. Kind of like waking up from a disorienting dream, and trying to understand where you are.
(2) Use data in your opening scene.
Remember how we said the average attention span these days only lasts 8 seconds? Allstate gets it. Which is why the brand does a particularly exceptional job of introducing a shocking (and darkly humorous) set of statistics.
"Last Thanksgiving, about 2 million people tried to deep fry their turkeys," one Allstate holiday commercial starts off by saying. "15 succeeded at setting their houses on fire."
Rather than beating around the bush or using complex storylines, they get to the point – fast.
• Start with a visual trigger that pairs well with your narrative, like stacking 73 LEGO's to signify 73 out of 100 Americans.
• When hooking your audience with an unsettling fact, prove how you (and only you) can solve the problem using your [value proposition].
• Prompt a next step through a clear call-to-action. Your audience has learned what's wrong; show them how they can make it right..
(3) Put other points of view on the table.
Stories that address fears, uncertainties, and doubts (FUDs – such a fun name, no?) are stories that hold emotional weight. Even more so when we change our point of view to see the story through someone else's eyes.
Instead of selling your life insurance as a product, turn your value proposition on its head to illustrate how important life insurance is from the perspective of children who take care of aging parents. Instead of telling a story about your soft drink, give your soft drink a personality, a voice, and a name. Instead of filming a public service announcement about the perils of drowning, create a way to visualize what drowning actually feels like.
Telling the story from a different point of view than what's to be expected can reveal a whole new range of emotions that hook your audience.
• Instead of selling your brand to the immediate buyer, think about those who are secondarily affected by the purchasing decision. Think about the range of emotions they feel when their fears, uncertainties, and doubts are assuaged by your brand. Children, parents, significant others and pets are often those that have a story waiting to be told.
• Give inanimate objects a persona. What is it like to be a cookie on the shelf? Do Band-Aids have feelings too? By illustrating the emotional state of the things we often reach for, we can paint a whole new positioning in the consumer's mind.
• New perspectives offer new interpretations of meaning. When we offer a new perspective on, say, how diapers feel to a baby, we can understand that a diaper isn't just a diaper. To a parent, it's a soft, absorbent solution. To a baby, it's a sagging, uncomfortable mess.