Content Marketing Insights

When bad is good: Here’s why you have to talk about the problems

When bad is good: Here’s why you have to talk about the problems

Have you ever heard the phrase: That sounds a bit negative, can we make it more positive?

A small, innocent request from management, the marketing manager or the sales department, which creeps in and dismantles good content marketing from within.

It ruins the good story, the good content.


Story A

Once upon a time there was a small village. It was at the foot of a mountain in a remote part of the country.

The village had long been plagued by a fire-breathing and rather gold-loving dragon that lived in a cave in the mountain. Over the years, the village had kept the dragon satisfied by sacrificing sheep, crops and gold to it. But this year the harvest had failed, the sheep had run off the field, and there was obviously not much gold.

But the dragon didn't care. From the top of the mountain it spewed fire and with a deep rumble let it be known that the village had a week to satisfy it or the whole town would be razed to the ground.

The villagers were horrified and had no idea what to do. But one Wednesday a warrior rode into the city. The residents asked if he would defend the village against the dragon. The warrior could most certainly help, but not for free.

The villagers had to make a choice. Bet on the warrior or try to satisfy the dragon once more. The choice fell on the warrior.

The warrior rode towards the mountain one Friday afternoon. The townspeople hid in their houses and waited with bated breath for the warrior to take down the dragon.

Roars and booms rang out from the cave in the mountain, but the dragon fell.

The village became famous for being the small town that felled a dragon, and the dragon's cave in particular became a big tourist attraction with a large merchandise sale as a result. And they all (except the dragon of course) lived happily ever after.

Story B

Once upon a time there was a small village. It was at the foot of a mountain in a remote part of the country.

Nothing good or bad ever really happened in the village. One day a warrior came by.

"Oh, look, a warrior," the villagers said. The end.

I know I'm exaggerating, but this is actually a real problem. Take away the bad and you take away the good story.

good bad problem dragon

Use problems to create incentive

But marketers don't necessarily insist that something should sound more positive because they're afraid of scaring off a potential customer. Rather, it is about the marketing manager wanting to create a positive feeling surrounding the product or service she is selling.

And that is quite understandable. There's just one problem:

"We sell the world's best motor oil," doesn't sell that much motor oil unless you're looking for motor oil.

"There's a better way to put oil in your engine" talks about the product in a positive way and might sell more motor oil, but probably not.

"The way you put oil in your engine is bad for the mechanics. It's bad for your car and bad for your bottom line because you have to replace the engine more often."

Although the message is negative, it will, if it is true of course, ultimately create more sales.

After all, in content marketing we want to focus on the customers' problems, not our product. In this way, we create value for the customer and incentive to take action.

Let's use an obvious example:

If you were a doctor, you wouldn't be fulfilling your medical oath if you didn't recommend the best possible treatment based on your expertise. You would probably convey your opinion in an educational way, but you would be clear and direct.

The same applies no matter what industry you are in. Whether you're selling heat pumps, guitars, or accounting services, your customers will pay for your advice.

In other words: It takes a bit more time and a bit more work to write opinion-based content, but the content becomes much more valuable.

Motivate the target audience by showing the consequences

Because change is hard. Whether it is investing in a new ERP system or taking out a loan for a car at a new bank, it requires the ability and desire to make a decision.

People will typically motivate themselves to change if the situation they find themselves in is not sustainable. However, it rarely happens.

This means that you must motivate the customer or the lead to change.

If you really want to motivate your potential customers to buy what you are selling, you must explain to them that the way they are doing things is wrong. Show them what it costs.

Make the thought of NOT changing worse than change itself.

PAS: How to write about the problems

How do you then work with problems in your story?

You can actually put your work with problems on formula. A pretty classic formula even. Maybe, have you heard of it?

It is the PAS model.

PAS stands for Problem, Agitation and Solution.

The model shows how you can use a problem to build a text that makes the reader take action:

  • Problem: Describe a problem that the reader can relate to or know.
  • Agitation: Elaborate on the problem and describe the emotional or concrete consequence of the problem.
  • Solution: Present the solution to the problem.

It's actually relatively simple, but let's take a closer look at what the three elements entail.


What's the problem? Identify the critical pain point. The better you are at describing the pain and at showing readers that you understand them, the better it will work. Readers should almost feel that the writer understands and can feel what it is like to be them. When that happens, the model really starts to show its worth. The text speaks directly into the readers' thoughts and feelings.


Then pour salt in the wound. Remind the reader of how painful the problem is by applying emotional pressure or by highlighting the consequences. The reader must feel how serious and relevant the problem is. Make it hurt.


And then comes the solution. You just happen to have it in your back pocket. The solution to the reader's most pressing problem.

PAS model

Example of using the PAS model

We wrote the following email for one of our clients, a credit insurance company:

Hi xxx

One in two companies has been the subject of fraud or financial crime in the past two years. Typically, the fraud takes place through an e-mail that has been hacked. (problem)

We also experience from time to time that our customers are exposed to fraud. Often with large financial losses as a result. (agitation)

We have gathered our insight into some concrete advice, so that you can be better equipped to identify possible fraud. (solution)

Without the dragon, the audience doesn't care

If it wasn't obvious, your product or service is the warrior in the story from the beginning. The goal is to make your target audience relate to the villagers. When your solution rolls into town, the villagers must be so amazed at their luck that the answer to their very problems has appeared. It may cost money, but life after will be better than before.

If there is no fire-breathing dragon, it doesn't matter how strong the warrior is, the villagers don't care.

In other words: If you really want to help your customers, illuminate the problems. This results in better content that will ultimately motivate your potential buyers to take action.

Join the cool kids.

Get the hottest takes and steamiest insights in the world of content marketing.