What’s standing between your company and more sales?
It could be paper cuts caused by your marketing content.
Yes, I’m talking about those small yet surprisingly painful slices that seem attracted to the most delicate parts of your fingers.
In the 20-plus years I’ve been writing and editing marketing content, I’ve seen many brilliant entrepreneurs, small business owners, and freelancers pour significant resources into content marketing only to run into a sales wall because of common content problems that cause paper cuts.
What causes content paper cuts? The following list will give you an idea, but it’s by no means exhaustive:
- Poor first impression
- Irrelevant graphics
- Unexplained terms
- Lack of social proof
- Strange color scheme
- Unequal value exchange
- No way to contact you
- Broken forms
- Content looks dense
- Unclear differentiation
- No way to close the gap
- Poor text flow
- Heavy negative language
- Unanswered reader questions
- Broken shopping cart
- Content lacks structure
- Lack of thought transitions
- Heavy jargon
- No clear selling proposition
- Lack of evidence
- Aggressive sales language
- Unaddressed reader objections
- Grammar errors and typos
True, none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes.
But it’s that very thinking—we all make mistakes—that leads too many content writers and content teams to leave prospects vulnerable to the peril of paper cuts.
The true peril of paper cuts is that they add up.
Death by 1,000 paper cuts
Have you heard the phrase “death by 1,000 paper cuts?”
The original phrase is “death by 1,000 cuts.” It’s an old Chinese method of torture and execution by… I’m sorry to put this visual in your mind… slow slicing.
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 a single large one.
And that’s exactly what happens to buyers when they read poor marketing materials.
Here are examples of how paper cuts play out in a few different forms of content.
Paper cuts from your website
Imagine a prospect lands on your website, which has needed 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 return to the search results. They read on. “Wait, is that a typo?” they think. Paper cut.
“What’s this supposed to mean?” they think, reading and re-reading but not understanding 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 experiencing seven paper cuts, your prospect is hurting. They leave your site, searching for a different consultant.
Paper cuts from an ebook
Another prospect responds to a LinkedIn ad and downloads an ebook from your SaaS company. It looks nice, so that’s a plus.
They open the ebook expecting to scan the headings to see what’s most important and worth reading… but there aren’t any headings. Paper cut.
Still interested, they begin to read.
Then, 97 words in, the writer begins pushing, selling, and assuming. “You need this process because it makes things easier for everyone in your company,” they say.
The prospect bristles. They had been expecting an exploration of the ebook topic, not an immediate sales pitch. Paper cut, paper cut.
Can you sense how the prospect might be losing trust in your company already? And they’re still on the first page.
Paper cuts from a newsletter sign-up page
Your prospect just spotted a post on Twitter offering an email newsletter on a topic of interest. They click the link, arrive on the newsletter sign-up page, enter their name and email address, and click the subscribe button.
“Am I subscribed or not?” they wonder, clicking the button again.
Still nothing. Paper cut.
The prospect wants to hear from you, though—a rare case, indeed—so they open their email to see if they received an opt-in or welcome email from you.
Paper cuts galore.
Although there’s a small chance that the prospect might contact you to let you know your form isn’t working, there’s a much larger chance that they’ll drift away, maybe forever.
Can you feel how painful these issues are for prospects? Do you see why you might be missing out on droves of new customers simply because your content lacks precision and polish?
Empathy and editing: Your protection against paper cuts
There are two ways to be sure you won’t wind up with paper cuts in your content: Developing empathy for readers and working with a content editor.
Content editors already have empathy for readers. That’s why they’re editors.
Content editors don’t turn away when they experience paper cuts. Instead, they dig deep to understand the message your content is trying to bring into the world. And once they understand that message, they fix your content so its message shines brightly, resonates with readers on a deeper level, and does not leave paper cuts.
But you don’t have to hire an editor. You, your writers, and your content team can develop empathy for readers, too. Here are several ways to go about it.
- Know your buyers. If this advice sounds trite, it’s because you’ve heard it many times before. But it’s not trite. Knowing your buyers is actually the first step to eliminating many of the more serious issues that cause paper cuts. Use analytics tools, surveys, social media monitoring, and customer feedback to gather insights about buyer demographics and psychographics. Understand their preferences, interests, use cases, and pain points. Do the work, and you’ll enjoy the rewards.
- Engage with buyers. Again, not trite. Don’t publish content in a vacuum. Respond to your audience on social media, in forums, in comment sections, and through email. Heed their questions, objections, and concerns so you can address them in your content. As you engage, actively listen, as it can give you valuable insights into buyer experiences and expectations.
- Know what’s happening in your buyer’s world. Stay informed about the latest news, trends, and changes affecting your prospects. Doing so enables you to address current topics and relevant challenges so your content can demonstrate to readers that you understand their world.
Developing an empathetic mindset means putting yourself in readers’ shoes and considering their emotions, experiences, and goals as part of the content-creation process. It involves understanding buyer challenges and aspirations and communicating in resonating ways.
Developing empathy also requires effort. It’s an ongoing process. But by keeping your prospects at the forefront of your mind and consistently working towards understanding, you’ll create better content—without paper cuts—and win more sales.