Why it’s good to be a tease

“Damnit Lee, you really know how to write a teaser.  I’m pretty certain I know all or most of what you’re going to go through, but I just had to find out.” – Colleague

Last week I needed to test out some new material (see “Practice”), so I booked a meeting room and sent an invite to a handful of colleagues.  Everyone who received an invite was an “optional” attendee because, technically, no one needed to be there and I didn’t want to imply otherwise.

The first person to arrive at the meeting, other than myself, began by saying, “Damnit Lee, you really know how to write a teaser.  I’m pretty certain I know all or most of what you’re going to go through, but I just had to find out.”

I don’t think he was aware of how significant this compliment was.  In fact, I very much do strive to write good teasers, because I believe they’re vitally important.  Why?  Unless someone is obligated to give you his or her time and attention (and sometimes even then), you are absolutely competing for it…so you’d better earn it.

This little truth applies in many areas, from the trivial to the significant: simple meeting requests, webinar invitations, job posts, enormous multi-platform marketing campaigns…really anytime you are requesting that someone, when faced with alternatives (and there are always alternatives), chooses to give you some of their time (or decides to be a “conversion”, in marketing parlance).

Here’s an example: A number of years ago we implemented regular internal training webinars, during which someone (usually) on the marketing team would deliver some material (e.g., product updates, new messaging, overview of analyst coverage, etc.) to the sales organization.  Some of the invitations that went out were bare-bones and factual, what you might term as dry.  Other invitations posed questions, created curiosity gaps, began a story, and used other tactics to grab the reader’s attention…in other words, they were exciting.  Both types of sessions delivered information of enormous utility to the same group, but the sessions with the “exciting” invitations invariably had relatively better attendance than the others.

However, we live in the real world, and as a consequence we are always in competition for time (which is frighteningly finite) and attention (which is filled with wanderlust).

In a perfect meritocracy, this wouldn’t be the case: provided both types of invitation conveyed accurately what was to be presented, then the potential of each session would be evaluated on value and they would have, on average, equal attendance.  However (spoiler alert!), we live in the real world, and as a consequence we are always in competition for an audience’s time (which is frighteningly finite) and attention (which is filled with wanderlust).  Example: I’ve been invited to 18 hours of meetings this week, and for me it’s a four-day week!  Several of those meetings conflict with others.  In every case, I need to decide whether or not it is worthwhile to the organization or to myself for me to attend.

So, assuming you’re sold on the concept or have by this point closed the page, you might be wondering how one goes about writing an attention-grabbing little teaser.

Personally, I’m never formulaic with these things (formulae aren’t particularly considerate of context…as all US banks found out with their insanely ignorant VAR modelsZing!).  Instead, sometimes I’ll think about questions that the recipients might be asking:

  • “Why should I care?” / “What will I get out of this?” (we in the marketing professions really must never overlook this one, yet I see so many campaigns that fail to address it)
  • “What will you be delivering?”
  • “What will you (Lee) get out of this?” (don’t underestimate this one, either: people like to help and contribute, and there’s nothing wrong with letting them know how much help they could be to you)
  • “What will I have to do?” / “What is expected of me?”

I suppose that also implies that I know my audience, so maybe that’s really the best place to start.

Just giving some thought to those questions usually gets the ideas flowing.  From there, things get awfully tactical and nerdy, and you can take them to an extreme with keyword optimization, jumping on hot trends, associating your note with adjacent topics (i.e., mooching off some other topic’s popularity), and so forth.

Personally, I usually just try to be funny while suggesting that it’s a worthwhile use of someone’s time.  While I fear that this next part is the meeting invitation equivalent of a “you had to be there” moment, I’ll nevertheless provide a very slightly redacted version of the invitation that spawned this post.  Do keep in mind that it was sent to peers, so I was awfully casual with my tone (which I suppose was somewhat strategic, because I wanted the meeting to be very relaxed).  The meeting subject was, “Learn about Stuff”:

Hey all,

I’d appreciate your assistance as an interested and critical audience as I test out the content I’ve drafted for the upcoming _________.  What’s in it for you? I dunno, you can learn more about stuff?  What’s in it for me?  Well, I’m hoping with a comfy audience like yourselves, you won’t shy away from asking questions, pointing out flaws, and such, which will let me get a feel for the timing and improve the overall content.

This deck will be presented in a slot described as: “_________ _______ ___________ & _______ _______ (_________ __ _____ ______)”.  I also received guidance to “say as little as possible while communicating all the important points”.

So in a nutshell, it’s a very little about an awful lot.


Would that invite have convinced you to attend?  Maybe not, but so long as you’re not my audience then that’s alright.  In my case, I was rewarded with an 80% attendance conversion rate, and we had a terrific session: the questions that were asked led to some significant tweaks to the content, I figured out the timing, and information was shared within the organization.  Hopefully, and I have reason to believe that this is the case, the folks who participated felt it was a worthwhile use of their time.

…but a few words of caution: I believe it was David Ogilvy who said, “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising,” and that little saying applies here.  Your final product (e.g., the presentation you give, the discussion you chair, the product you deliver) had better deliver on your promise (explicit or implied) to be worth your audience’s time and attention, otherwise you’ve just burned some credibility.


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Advertising, Marketing
4 comments on “Why it’s good to be a tease
  1. […] He’s preaching to the choir when he says on p224 that, “A tweet, or even an email subject line, can always be improved by an apt metaphor, a vivid image, or a poetic sound.” In fact, going way back in this blog, I talked about similar concepts in Why it’s good to be a tease. […]

  2. ohhhh I did not notice it was optional !!

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