The deadly trap of being TOO generous in your content marketing

The deadly trap of being TOO generous in your content marketing

Be happy for me. A couple of weeks ago I solved a question which plagues freelancers: where should I buy my lunch?

I had so many options - sandwich shop, cafe or Mcdonald’s with a side of afternoon regret. 

Like trying to remember the name of a song, my brain recognised every wrong answer, while simultaneously failing to come up with a right one. The range of options was overwhelming - itself an obstruction on the path to making a decision.

Stomach grumbling, I stumbled past a truck that sold ciabatta stuffed with chicken and chorizo and various sauces and salads. The smells. The price. I knew my search was at an end.

A sure way to kill the buying mood

Uncertainty. A distinct and distinctly unpleasant emotion which reliably kills a buying mood. An emotion which can easily fester in your writing and marketing.

Offering too much in the sense of writing about too many things at once will confuse the reader. Attention is always a precious resource, particularly online. Don’t waste it by spreading it too thin, over too many topics at once. Doing so is a sure way to increase the already worrying number of people who won't make it all the way through your content.

That doesn't mean your marketing should lack for detail - in fact it should be stuffed with it - but you never want potential customers or clients to be at a loss as to what your central message is.

Editing as the natural enemy of uncertainty

The path to eliminating uncertainty in your content is through editing. In the heat of writing, besides the usual typos, the purpose of a particular piece of writing will get lost. Editing is the time to revive that purpose in your mind. And that done, it will prove easier to recognise and remove or redraft any redundant cul-de-sacs or redundant avenues you may have wandered down.

(1) The first and most important rule is to let the draft sit for a minute (or more). Stephen King, in On Writing, advises you put the draft away in the drawer for a week or two. Obviously if your deadline is the same afternoon, you have hours rather than days to make edits.

But the principle remains important. At the point of typing that last word your perspective is limited - you are nose deep in it. Even if the break you take is the length of time it takes you to make a cup of coffee, you will still edit better because for it.

Typos will be winkled out quicker and it will be easier to tell the difference between the three types of sentences, the living, the dead and the potentially resurrectable. 

Open up a gap, some gap, between the person who wrote the first draft and the person who is going to edit that draft.

(2) Adopt a style guide. There are many great ones out there - AP, Oxford University, The Writer (my personal favourite for its breadth and ease of use). Even should you have a company style guide, it is unlikely that it will cover everything.

Learning a style guide means less thinking and faster writing in the long run - should this be hyphenated? Colon or semi-colon? Stumbling over these questions, again and again, is not a good use of your time.

Adopt and adapt a style guide. Style guides are general things and they can't possibly cover every terminological instance that crops up in your speciality.

(3) Read it aloud. This is a classic bit of advice for a reason. Even if mutter it under your breath, you will come away with a better sense of how your writing will actually sound in someone else’s head.

(4) Give it another look after you hit publish. The advantage of digital publishing is the endless opportunity to edit and re-edit. Unleash your inner George Lucas on the thing after hitting the publish button and you will likely discover a few more typos; or maybe a sentence that could be improved by a George Lucas reference.

(5) Find another pair of eyes. It’s helpful if these are attached to another person. If you know other writers, or are sitting next to one right now, try to set up some kind of work share. An editing quid pro quo.

Editing requires disinterest and a certain ruthlessness. It’s an opportunity, not just to eliminate typos but also to home in on the central purpose of your content. What is the main point of this piece of content? What action do I want a reader to take? These questions should be constantly hovering around as you edit.

Answering these questions will likely mean axing a sentence or paragraph you really liked but consider them the cost of clarity (or maintain a rainy day please-help-me-come-up-with-an-idea file for those sentences you just can't bear to part with).

Can I phone a friend?

Uncertainty is a fact of life. We deal with it on a daily basis, at varying scales, from the very small - what shall I have for lunch? - to the very large - would I be able to make it work, if I upped sticks and moved to another country? At the larger end of the scale, uncertainty is like a bomb, ticking away, drawing a panicked look or two, but remaining essentially undefusable. 

We can defuse uncertainty on the smaller scale by testing our intuitions. On the larger scale, we can ultimately make things clear but often only at great cost - by sacrificing time, money or relationships.

Every person who views your content will be dealing with some measure of uncertainty in their lives. Try not to add to it with your content!

Image courtesy of hji, flickr

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