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The Big 5: How to Write Great “Problems” Content

Jen Barrell

Content Marketing Consultant, 10+ Years of Content & Digital Marketing Strategy

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The Big 5: How to Write Great “Problems” Content Blog Feature

Published on February 19th, 2019

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We all have a problem...some of us even have a few of them.

The main problem we have is that we’re not talking about our issues. If we did, we’d gain more trust, collect more leads, and earn more clients.

Here at IMPACT, we spend a lot of time talking about the “Big 5” -- the five topics that drive the most traffic, leads, and sales for successful inbound companies. Talking about our problems, specifically talking about the shortfalls in our product or service, is definitely on that list.

That’s right, putting it all out there -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- is a fantastic way to build the bottom line.

Why Problem Content Is a Great Solution

It’s natural that we want to protect ourselves from danger. Why risk saying something negative when we can focus on all the good we do? Here’s the problem with that: if you don’t address it, someone else will.

Your buyers are out there looking for information that can help them reach a conclusion. And we know they’re not only looking for positive reviews. They want the dirt, the difficulties, and the cons so that they won’t be surprised after the sale is made. Wouldn’t you rather they hear this from you than from somewhere else?

More importantly, wouldn’t you rather they get accurate facts (from you) than consume information that misses the mark, or worse, that’s purposefully misleading?

Being candid about your problems allows you to position yourself as the trustworthy authority in your space. This allows you to open up about possible pitfalls and then explore solutions. It eliminates the fear and resistance for your buyers by letting them know in advance what they might experience.

Some buyers will see these cons, balance them against the pros, and be ok with the decision to move forward. Some will choose to shop elsewhere -- and that’s ok. You’ve armed those prospects with the power to opt out so that no one’s time gets wasted. By showing “the ugly,” you qualify the people who see the value in the risk and allow the wrong-fit customers to disqualify themselves.

While you won’t close a deal with these wrong-fit customers, your honest assessment of what works and who it works for will continue to build trust. And the information you’ve provided will help them make the right decision for them.

How do you write great “problems” content? Here are some tips along with some of our favorite examples:

1. Dive into Their Problems

You can ease into your problems content by focusing on the problem your buyer is trying to solve. Put yourself in their position and make a list of the issues they have that would drive them to look to you for a solution.

In many cases, they might not even know they have a problem you can solve. It’s up to you to recognize their symptoms, identify the problem, and outline the options that are available to them.

Yale Appliance + Lighting does this well in their company blog. Their article “How to Maintain Your Refrigerator’s Ice Maker” quickly targets the various symptoms one might encounter with a troubled ice maker in its first sentence: “Small ice cubes? Soft ice cubes? Cloudy ice cubes? Chances are your ice maker just needs a little preventative maintenance.”

What makes this even stronger is the honestly Yale shows a few paragraphs later:

These built-in ice makers are the number one serviced component of any appliance. That does not mean they are flawed or poor quality; the ice maker just requires some regular maintenance to ensure the longevity of optimal function.

As an appliance store, Yale clearly sells refrigerators with ice makers. But instead of hiding the potential issues a buyer will find, Yale profiles it directly and honestly.

The article goes on to describe what would cause an ice maker to break down, how to clean it, and how to keep it in working order. This gives buyers the opportunity to decide if the reward outweighs the risk and, if so, how to make the most out of their purchase.

West Roofing Systems also addresses their problems content head-on in the ebook My Commercial Roof Is Leaking. Their landing page copy and video both describe the tactic they’re taking -- helping the prospect detect the problem (a leaky commercial roof), find the causes to the problem, and then create an action plan to solve it.

In both cases, the prospect most likely came to the web and searched for their symptom (soft ice cubes or a leaky roof, for example), found the content, and left the site knowing what problem they have and the best way to solve for it. Whether or not Yale and West Roofing make the sale directly, they’ve informed their buyers of their options and have built a basis of trust.

2. Tackle Your Own Problems

The truth is, no single solution is the right fit for everyone. You’ll find much more success when you admit this to your potential buyers and show that, yes, there are some problems with the solution you offer.

After all, your elementary school teacher was right, honesty really is the best policy.

In his book They Ask, You Answer, Marcus Sheridan talks about what happened when he confronted potential problems with the product he was offering at his company, River Pools and Spas. The post, “Top Fiberglass Pool Problems and Solutions,” resulted in more than $500,000 in revenue:

Now, you might think it would be insane for us to write an article with that title and, believe me, so did many people in our industry. But look at it this way: How many of our competitors were addressing that question on their websites? Of course, the answer is none.

Yet, how many consumers were wanting to know the answer to said question?

Pretty much all of them.

The title may be daring, but the content is even more brazen, detailing specific issues with fiberglass pools that may turn people off.

Again, that’s ok. Showing how your product may not be the best fit will save both your and your prospect valuable time.

We did this at IMPACT, as well, with the article “The Problems with Working with a HubSpot Partner Agency.” As such an agency, this might seem counterintuitive. Maybe, but it gives the reader a truthful look at what they can expect and how to mitigate problems that arise.

Keep in mind, whether you sell a product or a service, you have problems you can share. IMPACT’s article shows how the service sector can easily jump into the problems content area. We’re all in the business of trust, regardless of what we’re selling.

3. Show a Solution

Sometimes profiling a problem will turn a buyer off. Other times, if you can show a solution to your problem, you bring yourself one step closer to a new customer.

You want to stay humble enough to put yourself out there, but you also want to show that you have the authority and the knowledge to solve for any shortcomings.

In their article “The 10 Most Common Mistakes You See in a T-shirt Quilt,” Too Cool T-shirt Quilts faces the problems with their industry directly. Their descriptions of the problems and explanation of why the problems exist puts them in a place of authority. Even better, they provide examples of solutions to these 10 common mistakes.

A prospect can easily see that Too Cool knows what they’re talking about and has quality control in place to prevent these mistakes. By educating their followers, Too Cool is not only making their prospects more savvy shoppers, but they are giving shoppers the confidence they need to move forward with a purchase.

4. Find the Right Angle

Problems content can take many forms, and the great news for content creators is the range of angles available to write about. In her Blogging Tips Guide, Liz Murphy offers up a wide scope of topics that problems content writers can turn to:

  • The most common (and unexpected) problems someone inexperienced or a "rookie" may experience and how to avoid them.

  • "The top X problems with Y."

  • "The X problems with Y you're likely to miss."

  • "Why is X not working and what can I do about it?"

  • If you provide a lot of different products, provide honest assessments around the problems with each product type.

  • If you provide more B2b or consulting services, where there is onboarding, write about the most common issues or problems a new client might experience in onboarding with a firm like yours. For example, "X Common Marketing Agency Onboarding Challenges & How to Avoid Them."

  • "The X Reasons Why Y Fails." Works for both products and service-based relationships.

  • "X Reasons Why Y Isn't the Right Choice for You." Don't be afraid to write this from the perspective of yourself and who isn't right for you or your services. This kind of honesty will only help you weed out bad-fit prospects without wasting man hours on your sales team.

  • Why you don't do something a specific way for your clients that's common. For example, certain challenges with WordPress have led us to prefer building websites for businesses on HubSpot's Website Builder.

  • Why you don't like something -- seriously, rant about it. Jessie-Lee did a great job with her rant about WIX, and it's an article that's been a traffic driver for years.

  • The top problems with the "best advice" everyone is always preaching in your industry about solving a specific issue.

4. Be Fearless

Your problems content isn’t the place to pull punches or withhold information.

As the authority in your industry -- and as an honest, authentic voice -- it’s up to you to help people make smart, confident buying decisions.

Rely on what you’ve learned from speaking with and selling to your customers. What are the common objections they raise? Those are problems you should happily address.

Inbound marketing is about being unapologetically helpful. Go put yourself out there and start talking candidly about all your problems.

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