Cut through the content noise with this simple, effective framework to craft effective messaging.
Here, you’ll find:
- What the BLUF principle is
- How it enhances communication in marketing
- Best practices for applying BLUF in your content
- When it is (and isn’t) appropriate to use BLUF
Readable, informative, engaging, consistent, and findable.
These are all key qualities of effective writing, which are all essential for content marketing success. However, these won’t matter in the end if the reader doesn’t stay long enough to read your content.
While it’s not really true that our attention spans are now just 8 seconds long, there is some truth to reports that technology has contributed to the decline in our ability to concentrate.
As content marketers, this makes it even harder to get our point across, which impacts the success of our marketing efforts.
The solution? Placing the key information in front to get your point across much faster.
What is BLUF?
BLUF is an acronym that means “bottom line up front.” This technique was originally developed and practiced by U.S. military professionals in all branches, including the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force, to ensure the messaging in memos and other forms of communication was clear and concise.
Outside of the military, BLUF is also applied to writing in various fields:
- In journalism, the Inverted Pyramid borrows from the BLUF method, as it also involves presenting the most important piece of information, the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, and why), at the start of the story. The supporting details, the how, will then follow to provide contextual and supplemental information.
- In academic writing, the BLUF structure can be applied in the form of the thesis statement, which highlights the stance or the main point of the piece, and the topic sentence, which is the single main idea of a paragraph as the first sentence.
Where content marketing is concerned, this technique basically places the conclusion at the start of the content piece, allowing readers to grasp your main point quickly.
How does BLUF help in marketing writing?
The most important part of marketing content, apart from the headline, is the intro (or the hook, in traditional sales writing). Its main function is to draw in readers and pique their interest enough that they will want to keep reading your content.
You want your message to be received and understood — and what better way to do that than front-loading your content with your conclusion?
This accomplishes two things:
- First, it helps readers grasp your main idea immediately without having to comb through blocks of text.
- Second, by sharing the most important piece of information first, you are essentially guiding readers through the details, helping them get through the text more efficiently.
Other benefits of using BLUF in your marketing writing include:
Enhances reader comprehension
Research conducted by Hidi and Anderson in 1986 showed that teaching students to identify the main point early on led to significant gains in comprehension.
Although this study took place decades ago, its findings are still relevant to this day and are supported by a 2011 psychological study on story spoilers.
In this study, two separate groups were given stories to read. One had spoilers for the ending of the book as the intro. It found that the readers who were given spoilers were able to concentrate on the details even more.
Consequently, this group was able to remember even more information from the story they read.
By being given the most important information first, they were unencumbered by what was about to unfold next and were instead able to use the additional information to support the main point.
Makes your content more concise
According to a Nielsen study, users only have time to read at most 28% of the words on page during an average visit.
The more lengthy and complex your content is, the less accessible it becomes. This means the more words you put on a page, the higher the likelihood of you losing your audience.
Placing the most important information at the start of the message helps you get to the point much faster. With this information already provided, you can prioritize the supporting information you want to convey, which helps you eliminate any tangents or unnecessary details.
Eliminating fluff, lengthy introductions, and excessive background information can help you write in a clear, direct manner, making your content easier to read and comprehend.
Improves the credibility of your content
In content marketing and SEO, the best ways to establish credibility in your content are:
- Citing credible sources
- Keeping information current
- Quoting subject matter experts
But writing skills also matter in establishing credibility. Aside from the information you present, it also matters how you present this information to your readers.
For instance, presenting key information upfront demonstrates transparency and directness, which contributes to your credibility.
By being clear and concise in your messaging as you present supporting information, your readers are able to recognize the intent and purpose behind your writing.
These qualities showcase your ability to effectively communicate important information, which are also qualities of effective BLUF.
Keeps your audience’s attention
Capturing your audience’s attention is only a portion of the conversion rate equation. You also need to keep their attention until they understand your main point and decide to take action because of it.
A good headline and image are crucial in luring your audience’s attention and directing them to read your content — and a good intro is what makes them want to keep reading.
Starting with the main focus upfront is one of the best ways to do that.
With this approach, you’re immediately addressing your reader’s intent and quickly following that up with additional information, which sustains their attention on your content.
Remember that 2011 study we referred to earlier?
Well, in that study, the group that was given spoilers in the intro found the story to be more enjoyable because of the information they were given and were more likely to read through to the end.
How to use BLUF
In a Harvard Business Review post titled “How to Write Email With Military Precision,” Kabir Sehgal wrote:
“In the military, a poorly formatted email may be the difference between mission accomplished and mission failure.”
Similarly, proper writing and formatting are crucial in ensuring the success of your content. That includes using the BLUF framework properly to fulfill its purpose.
To paraphrase Sehgal:
“[BLUF] declares the purpose of the [content] and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader.”
Follow these best practices to learn how to use BLUF properly and effectively in your writing:
1. Get to know your audience
The golden rule of effective content writing is to know your audience.
As you learn about your audience, you gain more information about their needs, interests, and preferences. All of these pieces of information can help you craft content that speaks to their pain points and addresses their concerns.
The same goes for writing effective BLUF. By getting to know your audience, you can:
- Tailor your main message to the audience you’re speaking to
- Address their concerns immediately
- Write in a language (technical/academic, not English/Spanish, etc.) and tone they prefer
- Provide an appropriate amount of additional inputs based on their level of knowledge or skill
Before you start writing, take a step back and try to understand your audience.
Find out what topics they’re interested in and understand their pain points. Tailor your BLUF statement and additional inputs to your specific audience because you are writing for them, not for yourself.
2. Perform in-depth research to find your main idea
Before you can start writing effective BLUF, you need to make sure you have a thorough understanding of the topic you’re writing about to find your main idea.
For instance, if you’re writing about thought leadership on LinkedIn, then it takes more than an idea and a quick Wikipedia search to get everything you need to write your content.
Just like what you would normally do when writing content, you need to put in the time to:
- Perform keyword research
- Analyze search intent
- Talk to other subject matter experts
- Gather all the data
Ask the right questions, find the answers, and organize your thoughts to form a general idea of what you want your content to look like.
Then, summarize your thoughts and synthesize your main idea to form your main point. This will help you in constructing your BLUF.
3. Write and format your content accordingly
Now that you’ve formed a deep understanding of your topic and audience, it’s time to start writing your content.
Structuring your content with the BLUF framework is a fairly straightforward process, so you won’t really need to work with templates.
Based on the BLUF acronym, its structure can be broken down into three main elements:
- Bottom line – the main message or idea you want to convey, which is typically found near or at the end of the content.
- Up front – refers to the position at the very start of your content.
- Context – supporting information that elaborates on or adds to the main message or idea.
Let’s take a look at the following example to see BLUF in action:
BLUF: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) boosts your brand’s online presence and drives organic website traffic. By ranking higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), you can increase your chances of reaching your intended audience.
You can improve your SEO performance through the following tactics:
- Keyword research
- On-page optimization
- Quality content creation
- Link building
These techniques are crucial in improving your website’s performance on SERPs. The better it performs, the higher your likelihood of attracting your target audience to your brand.
In this example, we can highlight a few things:
- The first sentence (written in bold) was the key message of the content. Its primary purpose was to highlight the impact of SEO on a brand’s marketing efforts early on.
- The second sentence provided additional context by stating that the main source of organic traffic in SEO is through SERPs.
- The third sentence expanded upon the main message and supported the preceding sentence by listing the techniques used in SEO.
- Lastly, the final paragraph reinforces the crucial nature of these SEO practices and emphasizes their value in helping the brand improve its online presence.
This basic structure can also be applied to any content you want to produce, whether it’s a social media post, landing page, or client presentation.
When is BLUF most effective in marketing?
One common disadvantage of writing in BLUF is that it eliminates all the suspense of the ending. But unless you’re writing an expository essay or employing an emotional marketing approach, there really isn’t any reason to build up suspense.
However, if you’re looking for a better way to write marketing content, then the BLUF technique is one of the best methods you can implement.
You can apply this method of writing in the following aspects:
- “Problem/solution” marketing – use the BLUF statement to highlight a key pain point and present the solution upfront.
- Email marketing campaigns – start with a compelling subject line, then convey the key benefit in your opening line. Follow up this statement with supporting information separated by bullet points or subheadings to make it scannable.
- Blog posts – draw in your readers with your concluding statement as your intro, then provide more information in succeeding sub-sections to support your main point.
- Landing pages – write a compelling headline and start your copy with your unique value proposition.
- Advertising copy – grab user attention by highlighting the main benefit at the start of the message.
- Social media marketing campaigns – use eye-catching visuals captioned with the main message, immediately followed by supporting information.
- Client presentations – articulating your main points early on immediately conveys you know what you’re talking about, allowing you to draw potential clients in.
When is BLUF not appropriate to use?
BLUF is a versatile technique and can benefit your content in a lot of ways. But it’s not always the right approach.
Because it’s swift and direct, it can make your content seem unemotional and unengaging.
Here are other instances you might not want to apply the BLUF approach:
When you’re marketing complex products or services
Customers will always want to know more information about the products they’re considering purchasing. They will want to know about how it works, its unique features, and how it solves their pain points.
This usually requires a more detailed and layered approach to ensure these nuances are communicated effectively — something that the BLUF approach may not be able to convey properly.
Additionally, if you’re dealing with a more skeptical audience, placing the most important information first may cause them to ignore everything that comes after it, rendering your content ineffective.
When you want to evoke emotions from your writing
Emotional marketing is a good strategy to employ when you want to appeal to a person’s emotions rather than through factual information.
But creating content that appeals to a person’s emotions will often require gradually building a narrative or a story to connect with the reader on an emotional level.
This may involve setting a scene, providing background information, describing emotions, or building suspense.
With its conciseness and upfront delivery, the BLUF approach may not allow for the gradual development of emotions within the reader.
During lead nurturing campaigns
Lead nurturing is all about relationship building. It’s about establishing rapport, gradually building trust, and building a sense of connection with potential customers to guide them further along the customer journey.
This strategy typically requires a more conversational and engaging style of writing, which is the direct opposite of BLUF.
The BLUF approach is a good writing style to apply if you want to get information across much faster. By applying this approach to your content, you can help readers focus on important information and help them comprehend the additional details you provide.
Using BLUF in your writing may not be as easy to pull off, especially if you’re used to communicating in a more conversational style. But over time, this type of writing will become a valuable tool in your marketing quiver the more content you push out.
And as always, if you need expert help in implementing effective marketing campaigns, don’t hesitate to reach out.