The long-time slogan of the Swiss publishing house, Diogenes Verlag, was simple and cheeky: Diogenes books are less boring. (Of course, they said it in German, "Diogenes Bücher sind weniger langweilig.") What I've always admired about the slogan was that the company didn't gild the lily—books ARE boring, everyone knows this—but, instead, Diogenes Verlag humbly promised that readers would find its books less so.
I've been thinking about this slogan with regards to content marketing because---let's face it---a lot of content out there is pretty boring. I believe it can be less so.
When I spoke with Joe Pulizzi for this week's episode of Marketing Smarts, he identified "repetition" as one reason content becomes boring. "You have a strategy [and] you go along for three to six months [and] you start actually repeating yourself with content, information, advice—whatever the case is—that's just like everything else out there."
In fairness, I would say that this brand of boring arises because, on some level, it's baked into one legitimate goal of content marketing: search engine optimization. If you want to be known by the Googles of the world as an authority on "network monitoring solutions," for example, you're going to want to have a lot of content on your site devoted to "network monitoring solutions."
But even if you come at it from every conceivable angle—common problems faced by network administrators; the history of network monitoring; how network monitoring helped Curiosity get to Mars, etc.—it will quickly become clear that you are generating content with one end in mind... and that end is not to excite or engage your readers!
2. No Story/Bad Story
Joe told me that another problem with content that he sees has to do with "story."
He said that companies "have a lot assets and they're not in story form, so that's a problem." On the other hand, the assets are "already in story form and they're just not compelling; it's just not good; it's completely boring; it's not helpful."
People want to read stories. People are hungry for stories. Stories are interesting. Stories are engaging.
What's not engaging? Descriptions of product capabilities, features, and benefits. What's also not engaging? Stories that are just vehicles for describing product capabilities, features, and benefits. Also, stories that seem like they were written by the PR team rife with internal jargon and artificially constructed clients and fake situations.
It's good when companies understand that they need to tell stories. It's unfortunate when the stories they tell are boring.
3. Failure to Think like a Publisher
"Content marketing is a muscle that all brands have," Joe said.
With this muscular metaphor, Joe was pointing out something that, by now, we tend to take for granted: All brands are publishers. However, he asked, "Are we even thinking like publishers? Are we even taking our sales hats off and thinking like publishers and really focusing on the pain points of the readership?"
The questions were rhetorical, of course, because the fact of the matter is most companies don't think like publishers. They think like companies that are trying to sell products and services, and they are hoping that if they publish enough "content," that will help.
Publishers, on the other hand, because they are in the business of selling an audience to advertisers, are actually focused on cultivating and keeping the attention of that audience. They do that by figuring out what the audience wants and giving that to them in novel and engaging ways. If publishers publish boring stuff, they lose their audience and go out of business.
In other words, publishers have a vested interest in being not (or at least less) boring.
Keys to Make Content Less Boring
You can start making your content less boring by doing the following.
1. Stop repeating yourself and others.
If you've run out of things to say, stop talking. If someone has said what you want say better than you could, share what they said. When you think up something new and interesting to say, start talking again.
2. Tell stories that are not boring.
Stories are interesting when they are about real people in real situations. Stories are interesting when something surprising happens. Stories are interesting when they are vividly told, bringing the people and situations involved to life. Tell stories that will matter to your audience either because the stories are about them or about those they aspire to be. If you don't have storytellers on staff, hire some!
3. Think like a publisher.
Sometimes we're creating content for SEO, and sometimes we're creating content for the CEO. We need to create content for the audience. That means addressing the issues/problems that matter to them in a way that emphasizes their needs and interests, not the company's. It also means, like a publisher, thinking about what content can do to attract and keep your audience first and then how content can move units.
Look, we're not writing Doctor Zhivago or Gone With the Wind. We're writing marketing content. Because it is yoked to business ends, I believe, this content will inevitably be boring. Your mission, however, if you choose to accept it, is to make it (at least slightly) less so.
You can hear my entire conversation with Joe here or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Young Woman)