- What Are Pattern Interrupts?
- What We Know About the Benefits of Pattern Interrupts
- How Pattern Interrupts Are Used in Sales and Marketing
- How to Use Pattern Interrupts in Written Content
- How Not to Use Pattern Interrupts in Content
- How to Use Pattern Interrupts in Your Content Strategy
Table of Contents
You’ve experienced TLDR. We all have.
And you certainly don’t want anyone to open up your content and bounce out because they anticipate a long, boring article.
Pattern interrupts are an excellent bounce preventative.
But they’re only a part of this healthy breakfast. The fun news is, they’re the sugary cereal part.
What do we mean by that?
What are Pattern Interrupts?
Pattern interrupts are a borrowed concept from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Smart marketers, writers, and salespeople have adopted it to boost conversion rate optimization.
Pattern interrupts are an especially popular device in marketing videos, direct mail, and cold calls.
It works like this:
Just when a prospect is getting bored and zoning out, you hit them with something they’re not expecting.
Like when you were a kid and a teacher snapped their fingers to return your attention to their boring lecture. Or that popular birthday card in which Stephanie professes her love for corn on the cob.
It’s all about manipulating people’s attention spans.
An example from social media is when you’re scrolling on autopilot and you see an influencer waving in a thumbnail to get your attention so that you click. They’re interrupting the pattern of text posts by looking as though they are engaging with you.
Another example might be when you’re watching or reading a super long piece of content and the text or actor suddenly breaks the fourth wall and asks you a direct question like, “Still here?”
Now that you know pattern interrupts exist, you’ll see them everywhere.
But why should you use them in content marketing?
#1 — because they work.
#2 — because it’s fun to break rules and be disruptive.
What We Know About the Benefits of Pattern Interrupts
First, let’s think about your personal experience.
You or someone you know probably throws away colorful junk mail. But a savvy car dealership might send you a manila envelope with a key in it. You’ll probably open that one — and only because they interrupted their typical postcard ad pattern with something else that almost looks legit.
Or, maybe you ignore the subject lines in your email because you’re looking for specific senders and you just skim the rest. Unusual subject lines are attention-grabbing for at least a moment, and interrupting your pattern is entirely their goal.
You know from your own experience that both of the above examples have worked in real life.
Wiggle your toes and stretch your fingers because we’re about to dive deeper. Let’s look at how salespeople are using pattern interrupts from 10,000 feet and up close.
How Pattern Interrupts Are Used in Sales and Marketing
We’re getting to how you’ll use this for content marketing and copywriting.
But first, let’s look at how sales and marketing teams use pattern interrupt concepts, because you can draw from both.
Pattern Interrupts in Sales
There are a few pattern interrupt techniques in sales. Most of them seem the same, but they do have subtle differences worth adding to your mental bank.
Let’s look at two of the most used:
There are a few variations of pattern interrupts in NLP, but salespeople usually use one based on the concept of a “Swish” pattern interrupt.
A swish is a movement, as you know. A swish pattern interrupt “swishes” your attention away from what you expect. You know that if you put your foot on a stair step and heave upward you will move upward. But not if you had put that foot on the bottom step of a down escalator. You would swish the other way and your pattern would be interrupted.
Swishing involves disrupting a learned behavior in progress to pivot it to the desired behavior. In NLP, it’s used to break habits and usually involves visualizing a better alternative.
So how do salespeople use it?
A swish pattern interrupt in sales can be a bit more abstract than in true NLP. It’s not always a visual, or even auditory, technique.
Let’s say that Marty the coffee vendor has tried to reach Chris the office manager a dozen times. Finally, she gets Chris on the phone.
Marty knows Chris is going to say he doesn’t have time to talk right now.
So, before Chris can say that, Marty leads with, “So glad we scheduled this time to talk. I know you’re busy, so I’ll make it short.”
Chris’s pattern of refusal was replaced, or swished, by trying to remember to schedule the call. That gives Marty a few seconds longer than she would have had. She has time to say she’s offering 50% off orders over $100.
Even if Chris gets his wits back together and says there was no meeting, Marty can counter with, “When would you like to reschedule?”
The Sandler Pattern Interrupt in Sales
The point of the Sandler method is to interrupt your audience in a way that prompts them to give you something you want. Most often, what you want is extra information to help you close the sale.
Sandler’s method has you follow a typical pattern for what you’re doing (like giving a presentation) then flipping things in the other direction.
Imagine you’re 24 slides into your presentation and your audience is zoning out. You act like you’re about to advance to the next slide, but instead, you turn and say, “Wait a minute … what about this solution I’m presenting is even relevant to your needs?”
You’ve literally flipped the script on the audience. They first have the human urge to give an encouraging response, and second, in doing so, they reveal the direction your pitch should take.
What this all comes to, whatever you might call it or whichever method you use, is disrupting the sales process that people expect.
Sales prospects expect an initial cold call, a follow-up call, a proposal and/or samples, etc. A typical journey through an average funnel.
Sales professionals that interrupt that pattern steal attention from competitors and increase interest more easily. Better yet, they often save time.
We’re going to focus on using pattern interrupts in written content like blog articles in just a moment.
But before we do that, let’s look at a few examples from other areas of marketing.
Clever marketers use pattern interrupts to:
Stop Social Media Scrolling
As we mentioned before, unusual videos and images (like a person waving) interrupt a user’s scrolling pattern by grabbing their attention, if only for a split second longer than surrounding text and memes.
They might be intrigued enough to turn the sound on, and that moves them toward actually clicking the ad or post to see what it’s about.
Increase Open Rates in Email
Take a second to envision your email inbox. It’s like all one block, right? That’s because the subject lines go all the way across.
Most marketers treat subject lines like mini sales pitches. Everyone is conditioned to ignore expected sales pitches. And while greeting words like “Hey!” or personalization (the use of your name) used to be decent pattern interrupts, they’re part of the anticipated noise now.
Here’s a subject line that successfully caught my notice:
See the “doesn’t equal” sign? I did. It took me a second (or two) to figure out what it was. Obviously, I’m a words-before-math person.
Anyway, that split-second drew my attention away from the rest of my inbox, which I’m sure was MarTech’s plan. Well done.
What else might snatch attention? A one-word subject line? Three words and an emoji? Both of these would certainly stand out amongst the great wall of text that is the average inbox display.
From sound effects to strange facial expressions and even to silly wigs, pattern interrupts are HUGE in video marketing and online videos in general. You may find flashy, loud videos annoying, but they often get results.
But not with every audience.
Fluorescent green title thumbnails have their place, but that place probably isn’t B2B sales.
Pattern interrupts in video are sometimes subtle, yet still effective.
- Increasing or decreasing background music volume
- Switching from a live person to a whiteboard animation
- Changing camera angles
- Using a pop-up text box
How to Use Pattern Interrupts in Written Content
Brian Dean of Backlinko refers to pattern interrupts in content as “skim stoppers.” That’s a good way to think of them.
The idea is to make web readers pause and pay attention just when they might get reader fatigue.
There are several ways to avoid reader fatigue, and we go into that in another post.
For now, let’s focus on pattern interrupts.
As we go forward, the assumption is we’re writing a blog post or article to be posted online. If you’re writing some form of B2B communication or report, alter it. (For instance, don’t put the smashing punch bowl girl gif in your end-of-year report).
Try to include an image — be it a photo, illustration, gif, whatever — for every 600 words.
This is the most basic pattern interrupt. You’re probably already doing this by default.
You can source royalty-free images at no cost (donations accepted) through sites like Pexels, Unsplash, and Wikimedia Commons. You may want to limit images of faces to a paid site like Shutterstock for your own legal protection.
Setting Off the Text
When text is in a different color, weight, font, or something else that sets it apart from what surrounds it, it causes the reader to pause.
They read the offset text and then read what comes before and after it for context.
A good time to use boxes or highlighting is for important takeaways or for CTAs.
You could also use block quotes to set off quoted text, especially from a speaker, author, or a resource outside your organization.
Ask Interesting Questions
Have you ever heard of bucket brigades?
You are currently reading through one right now.
It’s content writer lingo for text that moves the reader along through the page like pre-firehose firemen passing buckets of water.
A question on its own line entices the reader to move along to the next line to find out where the writer is going.
The example I gave above is a ”grease slide” bucket brigade, but you could go deeper. You could ask a thought-provoking question that makes the skimmer pause to consider their answer.
The Weird Stuff
If you can afford to go crazy with your pattern interrupts, by all means, go ahead. Throw in that nutty gif or non-sequitur.
Just make sure whatever you’re using is as funny as you think it is. Rope in your coworkers to read through the section you’re using it in and give you feedback.
Learn more about content marketing.
How Not to Use Pattern Interrupts in Content
There are ways of using pattern interrupts that would have the opposite effect.
Don’t use pattern interrupts:
1. Without Considering Your Audience
As mentioned before, don’t get too flashy with B2B in formal industries like finance or government. Stick to block quotes and interesting questions and avoid funny videos and memes.
2. From a Negative Angle
Also, avoid using negative pattern interrupts. For instance, it wouldn’t be fruitful to use a gif of a drill sergeant in a weight loss article. You might think tough love is the answer, but many readers will have a negative reaction that may subconsciously keep them from returning to your site for additional content.
3. For Blatant Manipulation
Aside from the fact that pattern interrupts are a slight form of manipulation, don’t use them for overt manipulation. If it’s recognized as such, your reputation may suffer.
An example of this might be a bucket brigade designed to make the reader feel self-doubt:
Do people ever make you feel like you’re just not good enough?
Maybe they’re right.
That’s why you should try our product/service.
Again, using a pattern interrupt in this way will eventually have a negative impact on your business and possibly your personal reputation.
4. Too Often in One Piece of Content
Lastly, don’t overdo it. Like any gag, pattern interrupts lose their usefulness when they become obvious and ubiquitous.
How much does blogging drive sales? Find out.
How to Use Pattern Interrupts in Your Content Strategy
Yes — you can use them in your overall strategy.
Say you publish a blog post four times a month and send out an email newsletter once a month. Even if you have some dedicated fans reading all five pieces of content, they’re going to get complacent at some point.
Interrupt your own pattern once in a while by “suddenly” dropping a new type of content out of nowhere.
Don’t tell them that you’ve got a podcast coming up next month. Send an invitation a few days beforehand instead.
If you have snail mail addresses for any of your readership, hit them with actual physical mail announcing some new development in your organization. Be considerate with what you choose, though. No one needs another notepad with only ten pieces of paper in it.
Learn how to fully develop your content with our 7-step content development process.
To wrap up, pattern interrupts are simply a way to break up the text in long-form content in a way that keeps your readers interested.
I gave a few examples above, but there are a gazillion ways you could use the concept in your own way. Unique content is the important thing.
Let us know how you use pattern interrupts in the comments. We’d love to know!
If you like this idea but aren’t really into writing, get in touch to find out how we can help you scale your business through our content marketing services.