By Kevin Lund published July 19, 2010

Three Ways to Screw Up a Good Article

In the world of custom publishing, there are no second chances. If you’re publishing an article online, you have fewer than five seconds to make an impression; with a print or digital magazine, you may have a bit more time, but not much.

Considering the amount of time you have to capture someone’s attention, you need to make the article “sticky.” For instance, with a magazine, there are really only three things you can control that make for a sticky article—the words, the pictures, and the design. People expect more than words on a page, but for the moment, I’ll spare you the diatribe about the need for thoughtful pictures and design, and focus (sigh) only on the words.

So if you’re looking to screw up your next article, here are three sure-fire ways to do it.

Talking like you don’t get it

Unless you’re publishing a personal journal, it’s assumed that you’re trying to create a meaningful dialogue between you and the reader; one that is credible, is genuine, and resonates with him. How do you do this?  You need to speak his language. If you’re publishing solely for psychologists, speak the language of psychology. If you’re writing for most people, leave out the jargon and speak human.

In other words, if you’re publishing for the masses, don’t use phrases like, “We’ve performed an extensive gap analysis, and concluded that the synergies between the subjects that were present at the onset will exist in the future” when what you’re really trying to say is, “After several months of intense counseling, the couple realized the love that brought them together is the same love that will keep them together.”

And no matter how tempting it is to show off your academic prowess, there is no substitute for meaningful prose. Try not to be so fact-focused that you forget to make a personal connection.

Giving too much of the wrong messaging and not enough of the right one

Okay, great. You defined for me the difference between term and whole life insurance—again. And if I act now, I can get a free, at-home consultation with one of your lovely reps. Look, I can Google “life insurance” and get the same information from the quacking duck guys. How will your article inspire me to dial your digits when I come to the realization that I’m actually in need of life insurance?

The point is, write to your audience, not your ego. This isn’t about what you want, or just filling pages for that matter. It’s about what your customer needs, which you can assume, for the moment, is information. Selling comes later. If someone is reading your magazine or blog, you have a captive audience. So captivate them. Give them the information they need to make a decision to take action—even if that action is simply getting more information!

In the case of the life insurance example, how about starting by calling the article, “5 Things You Probably Don’t Know about Life Insurance”? The first bullet could be about the guilt-free, “forced savings” benefit of whole life that is better than the recent recession-spawned trend of putting money under the mattress. You get the idea.

Too Much Me, Me, Me

Good conversations are about sharing, not bragging. Remember the last cocktail party you went to with the guy who couldn’t stop talking about himself? Lots of talking, but he doesn’t really say anything. Yeah…This could be you if every third sentence is about how great you or your company’s products are.

Just in case you’re confused, try this litmus test: Pull out your latest published masterpiece (magazine, newsletter, or blog) and go to any given article. Now count how many times you mention your company’s name or your company’s product in the copy. Once? Cool. Twice? Okay, maybe. Three times? Yikes…is this an advertorial? More than four? Yawn…Thanks for wasting my time. I’m outta here! (So says your customer).

Custom content today, whether print or digital, is about conversation—good conversation. And unless the reason you’re publishing content in the first place is pure vanity (it just might be), your magazine/newsletter/blog has the potential to be one of your most effective marketing tools. The real trick is to not make it sound like one. If your captive audience is not looking to be entertained, they’re likely looking to you to address a pain point or solve a problem they’re having. Maybe they don’t even know this problem exists yet. It’s your job to enlighten them with something interesting to say, to the benefit of you both.

What other tips do you have to make articles more “sticky”?

Author: Kevin Lund

Kevin Lund is President and Founder of T3 Custom, a financial content strategy and publishing firm, specializing in bridging the marketing needs of businesses with the information needs of their customers. T3 Custom is a leader in the content revolution taking place, and Kevin is passionate about helping companies use conversation —written or verbal—as a means for driving behavior. You can follow him on Twitter @KLundT3.

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  • http://www.metznik.com Don Metznik

    Kevin,
    Good reminder. Heeding your three red flags goes a long way to creating valuable content.
    I notice that you are involved in financial content strategy. Would you be interested in an idea to extend the value of financial services by having financial executives train non-financial marketing personnel in relevant skills, disciplines, and techniques?
    Best,

  • Kevin Lund

    Thanks Don. Feel free to contact me through the links available in my bio. Happy to chat.

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Kevin,

    I love the advice “write to your audience, not your ego”. I think that goes for the writer but also for the company. I've had many clients that can't get their corporate ego out of the way, either.

  • http://www.grassrootsinternetstrategy.com.au/courses/content-marketing/ Mel

    Hi Kevin
    I still see far too articles that have big blocks of text and aren't broken up by formatting and subheadings. It's really hard to stay interested in articles unless they are skim-able.
    Melinda

  • Kevin Lund

    No doubt, whether long form content or simple copy needs to be skim-able in digital format. Magazines it's a little different, since you can really break things up nicely with design tricks to accomplish the same purpose. Assuming we're interested in the subject matter, as long as it's not a “wall of text”, our brains tend to give us the green light that it's okay to proceed with the reading.

  • Kevin Lund

    Therein lies one of the greatest challenges for content strategists. Getting firms to understand how content marketing works through meaningful conversation can be like when we were kids and the teacher had us draw something upside down. It's too difficult to imagine…

  • http://twitter.com/writersfolder C.Viswanathan

    Hi Kevin,

    Your bio is full of jargon – contradicting your own advice.:0

  • Nenad Senic

    Exactly,

    I am editing a new magazine for a company and cannot change their minds about certain articles, there's just too much of “us, we celebrate, we did that”, despite creating them an internal magazine too. It's so bloody frustrating …