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Three Reasons Your Content Is Booooooring (and Ideas for Energizing It)

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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.

1. Repetition


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)


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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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Comments

  • by Beverly Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    Loved this article. I too believe that telling a story is the most beneficial type of writing there is, especially in promoting a client. Interesting stories, stories that consumers can identify with. Please share a few examples of good stories that made the grade and increased business for clients.

    Thanks for the validation of good story writing.

  • by Gina Balarin Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    I agree! Here's to the next blog... All about how to persuade your corporate customers (and their marketing and legal teams) to let you tell their stories!

  • by Earl Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    Awesome post. But do stories have to be successful people? What if the stories are of your own or your acquaintances' experiences?

  • by Don Metznik Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    To this you may add, "There is no boring content, only boring writers." More via http://bit.ly/PryPsR

  • by Aaron Orendorff Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    Excellent post, particularly on the importance of narrative. Engaging content must be anchored to real life; until I can tell you, "This is what it looks like . . . This is what it feels like . . . Here's a great example . . . This is a helpful illustration . . . ," I simply haven't done my job as a writer. Whether dealing with figures or philosophy, creating a tangible, felt experience separates great content from adequate content (not to mention bad content). So much content feels skeletal and nothing adds flesh like, "Let me tell you a story."

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    Ha!

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    I like your emphasis on creating a "tangible, felt experience."

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for reading, Beverly. I hope that some others here can talk about stories that they thought were compelling and that worked for the companies sharing them.

    As I thought about this, I thought less of specific stories then the general advice that we used to give new employees: When talking to clients or prospective clients, don't just rattle off the features and benefits of our service; tell stories of what you have done for other clients.

    In fact, I'm sure that, although there are some great customer testimonials out there and some compelling case studies that illustrate what company X has done for company Y, the most meaningful stories that get told in a business context are those shared by people when meeting one-on-one with clients and trying to help them solve their problems.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    Thats often the hard part, right?

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Aug 17, 2012 via blog

    In a business context, naturally, people want to hear about success.

    But I'm sure there are times when talking with clients, that telling stories about times your organization failed or fell short could also help build credibility. If I asked a potential vendor to talk about a time when things went awry, I would be disappointed if they responded, "We've never had a problem with a client or service delivery!"

  • by Marcia Yudkin Sat Aug 18, 2012 via blog

    I don't find this argument convincing across the board. The premise is that boring is bad and exciting is good. However, in many cases customers are looking for the so-called boring stuff - the plain old features and benefits - because they are looking for something that meets precise needs. Without the boring stuff, these customers will not buy because there's not enough hard information to convince them that this is wht they need.

  • by Danielle Rodabaugh Mon Aug 20, 2012 via blog

    I found this article to be thought-provoking. Simple is not necessarily the same as boring, which is what Marcia is saying. I don't think Matthew is suggesting we, as marketers, spice content up for the sake of spicing it up. He is, however, suggesting we think outside of the box when creating content rather than regurgitating redundant information that fails to really connect with our audiences. By now, marketers *should* know how to target their content to their audiences. What gets lost along the way all-too-often is that companies should target people as people themselves — not businesses looking to sell products.

  • by Susan Mon Aug 20, 2012 via blog

    I thought the article was good advice for the most part, but you are correct Marcia: my clients want the "blood and guts" (features and benefits) right up front, and they would be bored if I tried too hard to color the lead in. Also: with today's lack of attention? Oh well, I guess herein lay the challenge.

  • by Sharmeen Mon Aug 20, 2012 via blog

    As a storyteller and a content marketer, I can't agree more with you more on this. I also think that, as bloggers, we are way too much into "all-things-bulleted" lists. More often than not, this addiction kills stories and the flow of human experiences that are beyond the limits of the "how-to" zone.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Tue Aug 21, 2012 via blog

    Marcia (and Susan) - The thing to remember is that people are looking for different kinds of content at different stages of the buying cycle. If your clients just want to know what your product does, tell them what it does. However, if the potential customer has never heard of you, don't you think that interesting, engaging and even entertaining content would make a better first impression?

    Also, I'm hearing an assumption that talking about features and benefits is inherently boring. It certainly can be, but does it have to be?

  • by Matthew T. Grant Tue Aug 21, 2012 via blog

    Thanks, Danielle, and you're right, I'm not talking about giving potential customers some kind of song and dance when they just want features and benefits.

    The idea of targeting people as people has got me thinking, though. I wonder if our emphasis on content marketing can, at times, cause us to forget that actually talking with people, especially when covering features and benefits, is preferable to making all the information we have self-serve.

    No features and benefits sheet, no matter how un-boring, can explain to a prospect what a product can do for them specifically.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Tue Aug 21, 2012 via blog

    I hear you on the "all-things-bulleted" front. Yes, bulleted lists are easy to scan and thus optimal for reading on the web, but we can lose something (especially the flow of human experiences you mention) when we force everything we write into the same schema!

  • by Beth Blacker Sun Aug 26, 2012 via blog

    When I started my business last year and decided to write a blog, it would have been very easy for me to write about cooking and baking. After all, I own a baked goods company. That might have been ok 25 years ago when there weren't entire television channels and internet sites dedicated to teaching anyone 24/7 how to do everything from boil water to prepare a 6 course meal. So I write instead about the trials and tribulations of being a small business owner. In other words, I tell stories and so far they seem to resonate with my audience or at least that is my story and I'm sticking to it!

  • by Sharmeen Mon Aug 27, 2012 via blog

    Thank you for your reply. It's just that there is so much noise and contradictory advice out there that it confuses the living daily lights out of even the most experienced marketers. But, it is good to follow this site for some sanity and order=)

  • by Matthew Grant Mon Aug 27, 2012 via blog

    Glad we can provide "sanity and order"! No small feat!

    As far as the contradictory advice goes, I think the key is jumping in and trying things out. All advice is necessarily general and doing is the only way to figure out what is going to work in our specific situations. IMHO.

  • by Matthew Grant Mon Aug 27, 2012 via blog

    Great to hear that you've found something that works, Beth!

    People certainly seem to like consuming content about food, but they will also happily read about real world struggles and how they have been overcome.

  • by Reggie Dover Sun Sep 2, 2012 via blog

    You really nailed it. Marketers need to stop thinking in terms of quantity when putting content online. Throwing a bunch of text out there and hoping your keywords stick is quickly becoming a terrible way to increase your web presence. Not only are readers turned off to your brand, but Google's algorithm is catching on as well. Long, wordy articles that read like like advertising copy may contrbute to your SEO, but at what cost?

  • by Matthew T. Grant Tue Sep 4, 2012 via blog

    Indeed, Reggie. There may have been a time when quantity of content mattered, but those days are quickly passing. Long live Quality!

  • by Tyler Mitchell Tue Aug 20, 2013 via blog

    I think the key is to write anecdotally but to remain authoratative. It pays to have life experiences to pull from when writing, but stories from colleagues and aquaintances work well too. The more you network and communicate with others in your field, the more you have to relay in your writing.

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