The keys to content marketing that sells

What stands between your business and more sales?

It could be paper cuts caused by your marketing content.

Yes, I’m talking about those surprisingly painful little slices that seem to be drawn to the most delicate parts of your fingers.

In the 20+ years that I have written and edited marketing content, I have seen many successful entrepreneurs, small business owners and freelancers devote significant resources to content marketing only to hit a sales wall in due to common content issues that cause paper cuts.

What causes paper cuts in content? The following list will give you an idea, but it is by no means exhaustive:

  • Bad first impression
  • Irrelevant graphics
  • Unexplained terms
  • Lack of social proof
  • Weird color scheme
  • Unequal exchange of value
  • No way to contact you
  • Broken shapes
  • Content looks dense
  • Unclear differentiation
  • No way to close the gap
  • Bad text flow
  • Heavy and negative language
  • Unanswered reader questions
  • broken basket
  • Content lacks structure
  • Lack of thought transitions
  • Heavy jargon
  • No clear selling proposition
  • Lack of evidence
  • Preaching
  • Aggressive sales language
  • Unresolved objections from readers
  • Grammar errors and typos

Of course, none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes.

But it’s that very thought—we all make mistakes– which leads too many content writers and content teams to leave prospects vulnerable to the peril of paper cuts.

The real danger of paper clippings is that they add up.

Death by 1,000 paper cuts

Have you heard the expression “death by 1,000 paper cuts?”

The original phrase is “death by 1,000 cuts”. It’s an ancient Chinese method of torture and execution by…I’m sorry to put this visual in your head…slow carving.

Today, death by 1,000 paper cuts refers to dying of 1,000 small ailments or being crushed by 1,000 minor problems instead of just one big one.

And that’s exactly what happens to buyers when they read poor marketing materials.

Here are examples of how paper cutouts play out in different content forms.

Paper cuts from your website

Imagine that a prospect lands on your website, which has been in need of an upgrade for many years. “It looks like it was built in 2008,” they think. Paper cut, paper cut.

Because they need what you offer, they don’t hit the back button to get back to search results. They read on. “Wait, is that a typo? ” they think. Paper cut.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” » they think, read and reread but do not understand the text. “Sigh.” Paper cut, paper cut, paper cut.

They click on your services page and notice that the images are misaligned. Paper cut.

After suffering seven paper cuts, your prospect is suffering. They leave your site looking for another consultant.

Paper cuts from an ebook

Another prospect responds to a LinkedIn ad and downloads an ebook from your SaaS business. He looks nice, so that’s a plus.

They open the ebook expecting to skim through the titles to see what’s most important and worth reading…but there are no titles. Paper cut.

Always interested, they begin to read.

Then, after 97 words, the writer begins to push, sell, and take on. “You need this process because it makes it easier for everyone in your business,” they say.

The prospect bristles. They expected an exploration of the e-book topic, not an immediate sales pitch. Paper cut, paper cut.

Can you sense how the prospect might already be losing trust in your business? And they are always on the first page.

Paper cuts of a newsletter subscription page

Your prospect has just spotted a post on Twitter offering an email newsletter on a topic that interests them. They click the link, land on the newsletter sign-up page, enter their name and email address, and click the sign-up button.

Nothing happens.

“Am I a subscriber or not? they ask themselves, clicking the button again.

Always nothing. Paper cut.

However, the prospect wants to hear from you – a rare case, indeed – so they open their email to see if they received a sign-up or welcome email from you.

No. Nothing.

Plenty of paper cuts.

While there’s a small chance the prospect will contact you to let you know your form isn’t working, there’s a much bigger chance they’ll walk away, maybe forever.

Can you feel how painful these issues are for prospects? Do you see why you might be missing out on new customers just because your content lacks precision and polish?

Empathy and publishing: your protection against paper cuts

There are two ways to be sure you don’t end up with paper clippings in your content: develop empathy for readers and work with a content editor.

Content publishers already have empathy for readers. That’s why they are publishers.

Content editors don’t turn away when they suffer paper cuts. Instead, they dig deep to understand the message your content is trying to convey to the world. And once they get that message, they edit your content so its message shines bright, resonates with readers on a deeper level, and leaves no paper cuts.

But you don’t have to hire an editor. You, your writers, and your content team can also develop empathy for readers. Here are several ways to do it.

  1. Know your buyers. If this advice sounds trivial, it’s because you’ve heard it many times before. But it is not trivial. Knowing your buyers is actually the first step in eliminating many of the most serious issues that cause paper cuts. Use analytics tools, surveys, social media monitoring, and customer feedback to gather insights into buyer demographics and psychographics. Understand their preferences, interests, use cases, and pain points. Do the work and you will enjoy the rewards.
  2. Engage with Buyers. Again, not trivial. Don’t post content in a vacuum. Respond to your audience on social media, in forums, in comment sections, and via email. Consider their questions, objections, and concerns so you can address them in your content. When engaging, actively listen, as this can give you valuable insight into buyer experiences and expectations.
  3. Know what’s going on in your buyer’s world. Stay informed of the latest news, trends and changes affecting your prospects. This allows you to tackle relevant hot topics and challenges so your content can demonstrate to readers that you understand their world.

Developing an empathetic mindset means putting yourself in the readers’ shoes and considering their emotions, experiences, and goals as part of the content creation process. This involves understanding buyers’ challenges and aspirations and communicating in a resonant way.

Developing empathy also takes effort. It is an ongoing process. But by keeping your leads at the forefront of your mind and constantly working on understanding them, you’ll create better content — without paper cuts — and win more sales.

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