I don’t know about you, but if I have to read (or write) one more piece of stuffy, fluffy, jargon-filled marketing content, my head will literally explode.
(Okay, not literally … although “literally” apparently can mean “figuratively” these days, so ... there you go)
You know the kind of stuffy marketing content I’m talking about, right? The kind that's overflowing with words like:
- Core competency
- Bleeding edge
In other words, stuffy marketing content is content laden with crap: Crap about how glorious a product or service is and--if your writer's any good--crap about how your prospect’s life will be better, faster, more efficient, and richer when she plunks down her cash to buy what you're selling. Right here. Right now. Today!
This kind of content may even, God forbid, be written in the dreaded third-person (and often passive) corporatese:
Incorporated nearly 40 years ago, StuffyCompany is one of the longest established, independent, privately owned companies. StuffyCompany offers a comprehensive portfolio of services designed to protect and enhance today’s international business community. The company has built a reputation based on the delivery of a high quality service which is discreet, thorough and extremely successful.
StuffyCompany acts for some of the most pre-eminent companies in the world and operates on every continent. When working with clients a very close relationship is maintained which ensures the best understanding of their particular requirements.
Please, I must insist:
Content like that is not useful.
It’s not helpful.
It’s tedious to read.
It’s pedantic, pontificating, pretentious ... a worthless, steaming pile of cow dung, figuratively speaking*.
Are you guilty of publishing crappy content?
Is content like that lurking on your website or in other marketing materials right now?
You can be honest; you're among friends.
You can also take heart: Crappy content is everywhere.
I'm sad to say that I'm guilty of helping to produce some of it myself.
Here are a few real-life examples, some edited, some not, all pulled right from my files. Naturally, I changed names.
Since the birth of our company, we have been pushing forward, innovating, and expanding to bring better products and services to companies like yours around the world.
SuperDuperInstantProduct, a secure, unified, one-stop application, delivers a quantified, actionable view of a company’s overall performance as compared to the performance of competitors, the market, and leading indices.
With SuperDuperInstantProduct, scaling to a sustained annualized program is achievable. To achieve the reach, consistency, credibility, predictability, and return you desire the following five steps will point you in the direction of success.
The trouble with that content is that it probably sounds exactly like competitors' content.
Odds are that you could substitute a competitor's product name for "SuperDuperInstantProduct," and the content would still make sense.
Why? because the words used to describe the company and its product are bland, boring, the same.
Most competitors are using those same words, which makes them meaningless.
Think about it.
If everyone's innovating, then no one is -- you have to break away from the pack to innovate.
If everyone's offering a secure product, then your product's security isn't worth bragging about.
If a prospect sees that every competitor promises "quality," then the word means nothing.
Self-Test: Is your content crappy?
Want to see something that might be a little scary? Try one or more of these simple content exercises yourself.
Open the homepage of your website. Wherever you see the name of your company, product, or service, substitute the name of your largest competitor, and their product or service. Does the content still make sense? If so, you may have a crappy content problem: Your content fails to differentiate you.
Visit the websites of your top three competitors. Substitute your company / product / service name wherever you see your competitor's company / product / service name. Does the content still make sense? Again, chances are that your site is suffering from crappy, non-differentiating content.
Glance through this list of bland, crappy words; see how many you're using to talk about your company, products, and services.
- Save time
- Reduce risk
- Pushing forward
- Better products
Again, you’re not alone.
This crappy content is all over the web.
But my question is: WHY?
Why does crappy content continue to flood the web?
Even worse, why does it continue to issue forth from my keyboard – me, a marketing writer who knows better?
Crappy content is not always "the writer's" fault.
In my case, it happens when I accept rush assignments.
It happens when a client doesn't "get" that 25-cent words are preferable to $1 words--and then I get locked into writing the way a client wants to talk about their stuff.
It also happens because it’s unbelievably, frustratingly difficult to get at the details I need to write great copy--copy that doesn’t sound like everyone else’s.
It happens... because I let it.
Don’t get me wrong: I do try to fight against this heavy boulder of content mediocrity.
I try to explain. I say things like:
- Hey, do your readers really speak this way?
- Aren't they going to want to know what you mean by the word "quality"?
- By rapidly, do you mean within a month? Within two weeks? Within two hours?
- By simple, do you mean as simple as smiling, or as simple as turning down the volume on your car radio, or as simple as an Algebra II problem for a student in Differential Equations?
- By secure, do you mean that even the best CIA hackers couldn’t crack the system, or that the lower-level folks won’t be able to get into the payroll module and see what everyone’s making? Or maybe you mean that the servers are housed in a room that’s as closely controlled and monitored as the systems on the International Space Station are?
A real-life example: How crappy content is born
I found myself in the fight against crappy content again yesterday.
A client needed a rush piece to act as a lead magnet on a new homepage due to go live next week.
Because the job was a rush, the client provided a good deal of “approved” content so the work would go faster. Here’s a piece of that approved content, edited to remove recognizable details.
Another feature embraced in the digital medium is the ability to track and monitor behavior. The data generated was to be a goldmine of information that would enable better targeting and delivery of tailored messaging. However, no one told consumers and as they became aware of the extent they are being tracked online, they embraced ad blocking technology to improve their browsing experience and protect their online presence.
I had to write an entire ebook based on content like this. And I had only a few hours to do it in.
The deadline was bad enough. But the content... it was making me sick.
I got up from my desk, and paced around the house. (I work in a home office.)
Found my husband lollygagging in the kitchen, nibbling on some chips. (He's self-employed, too. Pest control.)
As I looped around the center island, I said, “I can’t stand writing this crap anymore!” Mouth full, he nodded sympathetically, having heard this complaint from me many times before.
“It's all BS!" I said, shaking my head. "No one wants to read pages filled with this kind of language! People are busy; they don't have time for this fluffy, jargon-y crap! And I hate writing it!"
By this point, I was angry.
Angry at my client for wanting to publish this kind of crap. Angry at the marketing industry as a whole for excusing--and thus embracing--this crap. And angry at myself for taking on assignments that require me to write this crap!
“Why don't companies just come right out and say what they mean?" I asked my husband, not really expecting an answer. "Why not say, 'Look, we know you have this problem. Yes, it's terrible. Yes, it sucks big time. Yes, it's making you lose money and customers. Let us tell you about something we created that will make that problem go away for you. This is what it's called. And here's what it does."
My husband chewed. My rant continued. “Don’t create these crappy pieces filled with words like implementation, identification, execution, measurable, robust. NO ONE WANTS TO READ THAT CRAP!”
My husband swallowed, nodded, getting into it now. “Yeah! Go! Preach it! You tell ‘em, sister!”
But I was running out of steam. The clock was ticking, and I still had at least three more pages of this crap to write.
So I went back to my computer, fueled with anger at all the crappy marketing content I’d written in the past, all the crappy content I was writing now, and all the crappy content I knew I’d have to be writing in the coming weeks, months, and years if I planned to keep doing this work for a living.
How to cut the crap and create useful, helpful, readable marketing content
Then it hit me: Who says I have to keep on writing crappy marketing content? Who says I can’t write content the way I think it should be written, in a real, conversational, honest way? And who says I can’t start doing that RIGHT NOW?
I looked at monitor, scrolled back a page, and reread what I had just written.
I’ll spare you the pain of having to read it yourself.
I said, “NO WAY! That’s crap!”
Then, I went back to the beginning of the ebook and started to literally pound out what really needed to be said, what readers really needed and wanted to hear. (Yes ... because I mean literal in the literal sense: My fingers were literally pounding out letters on the keyboard.)
SuperDuperInstantProduct does x, y, and z, and also does one better: It frees you from having to run on and off “SuperDuperInstant” programs, which do nothing but tally up higher costs and result in a sad lack of engagement and dismal ROI.
If you want to hit the sweet spot—and we think you do—then you really need to consider a complete solution—a platform that combines what has been, until now, a discombobulated and disconnected array of tools, programs and solutions, each designed to support one component of the whole engine you need to SuperDuper right.
You know the kinds of tools we’re talking about: A tools, B databases, C tools, and D engines. Sure, those components are fine as freestanding piers, but try to use them to support an always-on, end-to-end program, and see how fast they crumble.
Granted, there’s still fluff and vagueness in there, stuff I’d have edited out given the time. But my deadline had already passed; I had to get this content over, pronto.
“It does read much better than it did before,” I thought, suddenly realizing two things:
- My anger was gone.
- But it was my anger at crappy content that drove me to write something better.
That’s when I knew I had to write this post – to share a possible solution with others out there who, like me, are sick to death of crappy marketing content.
The solution to crappy content? Differentiate! Speak human! Get ticked!
Okay, okay... so you don't really have to get angry to rid yourself of crappy content. Besides, it wouldn't be good for your health. But what do you do when you run across bland, jargon-filled, vague content? Simple: Think about the people who will have to read the content.
Look at it from their eyes. Have some empathy, for God’s sake!
Think about their problems. What’s holding them back? How can what your company sells help?
Think about what their lives are like right now as they search for the missing link to their ultimate goal.
What questions might they have? What objections will they raise?
And then speak to those things in the content.
And please, lose the jargon. Don’t use words like implementation, execution, scale. Think and speak in real-life metaphors, the way real people do. Talk about stuff that will help readers connect with what you’re saying.
Look at what your competitors are saying; see how you can differentiate. Anticipate reader questions and objections. Look for ways to make the reading experience easier.
Your content still may not be perfect even if you do these things. But I guarantee it’ll be better than the crap you might have put out there otherwise.
And, as a bonus, your new readable, helpful content may even lead a few more readers to YES.
* Fletcher Reede, played by Jim Carrey, describing how he feels about his boss, Mr. Allen, in the film Liar Liar.