Say This (Not That) In Your Content Marketing

August 8, 2016 Brad Shorr

What to Say in Content Marketing

When marketers think about improving content quality, they think big — how to create groundbreaking new ideas and brilliantly original treatments of old ideas.

There are two problems with this. First, original content at that level is exceedingly hard to create. Second, your customers and prospects may not even be looking for something groundbreaking or brilliant; more often, they are looking for things that are much more mundane, like reliable products at reasonable prices. If you’re banking on “epic content” to carry your content marketing program, you’re a gambler, not a marketer.

In my view, improving content quality means focusing on the little things. When you do enough of the little things right, the cumulative effect is to make your content far more coherent and persuasive. When customers and prospects understand what you’re saying and are motivated to act by what you’re saying, you are doing content marketing effectively.

Here are several examples of “little” things that may be undermining the quality of your content and causing you to miss sales opportunities.

Circular reasoning

Instead of: Because we’ve been in business since 1900, we are one of the oldest firms in the industry.

Say: In business since 1900, we are one of the oldest firms in the industry.

Or say: Because we’ve been in business since 1900, we have logged more hours of field research than our two closest competitors combined.

Circular reasoning (sometimes referred to as “begging the question”) may sound reasonable at first glance but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In this case, the first statement essentially says, “We’re old because we’ve  been around for a long time." If you want prospects to open their wallets, lock down your arguments.

Dangling modifier

Instead of: With a lifetime guarantee, you can confidently purchase our blender.

Say: With a lifetime guarantee, our blender will never let you down.

The construction in the first example states that you, not the blender, carry a lifetime guarantee. True, some readers may not notice or care about this error, but some will.  Why take a chance when a bit of editing eliminates any risk whatsoever?

Euphemism

Instead of: Your investment is …

Say: Your price is …

Euphemistic writing – masking an unpleasant idea with a silky-sounding word or phrase – annoys and confuses readers. On the other hand, straightforward, no-nonsense phrasing helps readers understand you quickly.

Exaggeration

Instead of: The most innovative product on the market today.

Say: A new product with exciting benefits.

Exaggerated sales claims make readers skeptical and thus totally backfire. In a world awash in marketing content, we tend to inflate and inflate and inflate the message in a desperate attempt to rise above the noise. In such a world, understatement may actually be the attention-getter you’re looking for.

Formal style

Instead of: Our firm is a leading supplier of…

Say: We are a leading supplier of…

When companies refer to themselves in the third person, the effect is to make the content stuffy, boring and hard to read. Today’s readers respond to conversation and are put off by dissertation.

Gobbledygook

Instead of: Mission critical

Say: Important

David Meerman Scott pioneered the concept of gobbledygook back in the mid-00s. Gobbledygook is puffed-up, empty phrasing that has no connection to real people and the way they talk. Gobbledygook sucks all of the persuasive power out of your content. It must be purged!

Hashtag overuse

Instead of: Great #efficiency #tips for #sales #management

Say: Great efficiency tips for sales management

Every discussion of content quality should at least touch on social media. One point your content marketers need to understand is that hashtags slow down comprehension – the exact opposite of what you want on a lightning-fast medium such as Twitter. Unless you have a very strong strategic reason for using hashtags, don’t use them.

Industry jargon

Instead of: Our SEO services align with Google’s most recent algorithmic updates.

Say: We follow SEO best practices.

Industry jargon makes sense to people in the industry, but not outside of it. In this example, the first statement will make a prospect’s eyes glaze over; the second statement will reassure him/her that you know what you’re doing. Similar to exaggeration, the use of industry jargon is meant to impress, but instead produces skepticism.

Informal style

Instead of: Our corporate attorneys rock the house.

Say: Our corporate attorneys have 8 to 37 years of litigation experience.

Too much informality turns prospects away rather than luring them in. The “instead of” example above usually occurs when a firm outsources its content to someone  unfamiliar with the target audience – and then compounds the problem by failing to edit it. Outsourcer beware!

No image captions

Instead of: [No caption on a photo of your office]

Say: 50 full-time employees work on your behalf every day.

People are far more likely to look at images than read a paragraph of text. Images that accompany online content create ideal opportunities to add captions that drive home a sales point, because people notice short captions and read them. Adding captions to popular, existing content is an excellent project for your content marketing team.

Passive voice

Instead of: A comprehensive suite of services is offered by our agency.

Say: We offer a comprehensive suite of services.

Like formal style, passive voice makes readers passive. However, you want them to be active (e.g., excited about contacting you to place a $100,000 order), so use active, powerful verbs whenever you can. Check this list out if you want to refresh the power verbs in your vocabulary. 

Poor scannability

Instead of: Blah blah blah blah blah

Say: 

  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah

Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s what you display. Bullet points are scannable; they draw attention to key points quickly. Conversely, large blocks of text intimidate readers and cause your key points to be entirely overlooked.

Weak call-to-action button text

Instead of: Submit.

Say: Schedule your free consultation.

Since the goal of content marketing is conversion, every content marketer should have at least a working knowledge of conversion rate optimization (CRO). The above example is just one of hundreds that could be weakening the persuasive power of your content right now.  That said, call-to-action buttons are an excellent starting point for a CRO review, since they are (or should be) prominent on your web pages and have a major impact on conversion.

Vague claim

Instead of: Our automated payroll services are spectacular.

Say: Our automated payroll services save clients $2,000 in administrative fees per year on average.

When making buying decisions, people are comforted by facts and precision. Statements such as this “instead of” example occur when marketing is disconnected from sales — when marketers don’t really understand the fundamentals of why people buy the product or what data points provide meaningful credibility. Sales and marketing must be joined at the hip, communicatively speaking.

Verbosity

Instead of: At ABC Company, we value your business.

Say: We value your business.

Verbosity takes the oomph out of your ideas. As Charlie Brown might have said, “Good grief, be brief.”

Over to you

For a few more quality content ideas, check out this blog post. This is a topic that merits a lot of study and conversation. What have you done to improve the quality of your content?

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