Negativity often creeps into marketing copy or content to promote a product or brand. This is a problem because using words or phrases that your audience might react to negatively can turn off their attention. Writers don’t usually intent to be negative, but keeping negative sentiment from copy is surprisingly difficult.
Here are some negativity traps I’ve seen copywriters and content authors fall into over the years:
Focus on the deficiencies of the competition rather than the advantages of their products. This is very common, and it’s easy to see how a writer can get carried away. The problem with this approach is that your audience doesn’t care about the competition in your market space. They have a need to fill and a limited attention span within which you need to sell them on your solution. Emphasize the value you bring. There will be opportunity later to compare the competition.
Too much detail and explanation. The more words you write for an email promotion, web landing page, or blog post, the more likely you will find a way to obscure the positives that you want to emphasize for your product. Sometimes writers get so bogged down in descriptive text that unintentional negativity sneaks in–for example, talking about technical limits of the product in a way that detracts from what it can do, or talking about applications that product is not suited for.
Focus on the problem to solve rather than your solution. This is similar to talking too much about the competition. Your audience knows what the problem is or they would not have an interest in your solution. All you need to do is acknowledge the problem, then tell the readers how you solve it. Otherwise, you’re just reminding your audience about all the unpleasantries associated with said problem.
Using a straw-man approach to make your case. The approach has almost always failed when I’ve seen it used. The writer creates a persona that represents someone taking the wrong approach to solving the problem–i.e., did not buy your solution. Then, they might include a second persona that represents someone who took the right approach–bought your product. The risk here is that you might create a negative persona that hits too close to home for some of your readers. Another problem with the straw-man approach: It takes too long to set up. Again, get to the positives quickly.
Being too honest. I’m not suggesting that you intentionally deceive your audience. What I mean is that too much emphasis is put on the limitations of your product, typically to help explain who it’s for or its intended use. Focus on its core capabilities and let the audience decide if the product is for them.
Tone-deafness to the target audience. This is an unforgivable sin, especially for a marketing copywriter, because it means the author does not understand who he or she is writing for. You need to know not just what the audience cares about, but also how they see themselves. Using the wrong terminology to address a group is much more likely when the author does not have a clear picture of the audience. Software developers, for example, might take pride in being called geeks. Some CIOs might feel differently. Understanding such nuances is the difference between showing that you identify with the audience and calling names.
The best advice for avoiding all these traps is to be aware of them. Read and reread all copy with them in mind before signing or handing off the copy. And err on the conservative side. You never know exactly how someone will react to or interpret the words you write.