Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Let Me (Not) Explain: When Your Content Marketing Says Too Much

One of the most potentially tiresome elements of any story in literature, film or theater is exposition -- the delivery of information that helps the audiences understand the plot or characters but doesn't exactly thrill. The only error worse than relying on extensive exposition is stuffing all that dramatic deadwood into the beginning of the tale. Over-explaining is a surefire way to alienate readers or viewers who are there to be emotionally grabbed up and swept away -- and it's just as ineffective when it comes to marketing your products or services.

Does this mean that detailed information is inherently bad? No! Sometimes it's those little details that make what you've got more desirable than the other guy's offerings. And if you're marketing a house, car, boat or some other high-dollar item, you'd better have reams of data on hand for the careful consideration that goes into such purchases. In other words, the harder the sell, the more explaining you have to do in your marketing content. But even then, you have to think about where and when all this content needs to come up in your audience member's journey through the sales funnel.

In another post I talked about the pitfalls of the "endless home page," in which an entire website's content seems to be shoehorned into the very first screen the viewer encounters. This is an extreme example of over-explaining, but it can and does happen. Every word of that information may be valuable -- some of it may even make a major contribution toward an eventual purchase -- but it doesn't belong here. That's partly because the home page needs to present a welcoming, non-intimidating gateway to your brand, and partly because the home page is mostly about the sizzle, not the steak. Your marketing content's first task is to engage viewers on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. The initial push of excitement, wonder and/or relief you make here will carry the viewer on to the next level of discovery, whether that involves turning a page in your pamphlet or clicking on the right link to answer a burning need to know more.

At this point you can start introducing more and more detailed information because you know you've already got your visitors half sold. If you've done it right, they'll now focus on the data with the goal of confirming their initial hopes and excitement. Even the skeptics will come at the information hoping that it will prove them wrong about their doubts. Bear in mind that some of the many details you provide may provide certain visitors with reasons not to buy your product or service. If you haven't already got them on your side emotionally, you'll lose them then and there. But if you have, then they might keep pushing forward anyway to find other data that outweighs their objections.

So more often than not, "over-explaining" is really a matter of "premature explaining," or putting the intellectual cart before the emotional horse. You or your copywriter may compose marketing content bursting with sound, sensible, logical reasons to buy something -- but ultimately it's the primitive, emotional "I want this" impulse that compels the actual decision. Before you appeal to the brain, make sure you've already appealed to the trigger finger!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Role of Negativity in Your Marketing Content

Does complaining have a place in marketing? Sure it does! In fact, complaining about some problem or other is a time-honored tradition, especially in your pain statement.  ("You scrubbed those dishes till your hands were raw and the plates are still filthy. Don't you wish there was a dishwashing liquid that really made things easier?") But as with most copywriting techniques, there's a right way and wrong way to go about it.

Tearing down the other guy has its downside. If you want to position yourself as better than competition, go right ahead -- but I wouldn't make a whole campaign about it. Your audience might wonder why you're feeling that insecure about Brand X. The reader of your content may ask,"Why doesn't this brand talk about its own positive qualities more?" Even your pain statement can work against you if you hammer away at it like Debbie Downer. Present the problem, yes, but then leap into the solution in time to salvage the reader's mood and get them excited about the solution -- you.

The occasional rant can add a little spice to your blog among the many other kinds of articles you post there. But tread carefully. Just as too much spice can ruin a meal, too much ranting can ruin your online presence. Negativity in large doses will simply drive readers away. I follow a certain well-known copywriter's blog less frequently than I once did for this very reason -- I got tired of reading complaints about this or that bad experience with a client, how the industry isn't what it used to be, etc. If a blog can be said to take on a persona, this one had become a cranky old fart. Don't you do the same, unless your business expressly caters to the "You kids get off my lawn" crowd.

What about replies to complaints? Perhaps your business has a listing on Citysearch or some similar local-search directory for products and services. If so, hopefully your listing collects rave reviews from satisfied customers -- but the occasional angry, name-calling criticism can go a long way toward wiping out your good reputation. The urge to post an equally vicious rebuttal may seem natural. Don't do it! Instead of descending to the level of the complaining post, to take some time to cool off and devise a rational, polite, professional-sounding response. If you can't manage to do that in a timely manner, hire a copywriter to do it for you. I've actually written several such rebuttals in the past for business owners who didn't trust themselves to respond in the right tone.

Too much negative verbiage in a marketing piece is like too much negative space in a painting -- in both cases, you risk ending up with nothing.