At some point in time, the terms advertising agencies and copywriters became content agencies and content creators, respectively. As if by formal edict of the American Advertising Federation or the Association of National Advertisers, the art of copywriting for advertising became content for content marketing.
For copywriters, this meant a quick resume update. Simply find the words copywriter, writing, etc. and replace with content creator, content strategist, content, etc. It was just a quick nomenclature change. But it was much more than that for the industry, of course. This shift took place for good reason. The industry has changed. If you’re old enough to remember the original definition of copywriting, you understand why.
Copywriting was ad copy, written and sized to fit the space available in any medium, most notably print, TV, radio and billboards.
That doesn’t sound like today’s advertising and marketing environment at all, does it? What we have today is a multi-stage, buyer journey landscape where content creation for demand generation and lead nurturing rule. Copywriting in the traditional sense isn’t really happening that much. Writing? It’s happening more than ever, but we don’t call it writing marketing since content covers a larger spectrum of deliverables.
Today’s emphasis on content creation and all the writing that goes along with it comes with potential pitfalls, primarily in the form of quantity over quality.
With Great Change Comes Great Responsibility
It is well documented that content marketing programs are often massively under-resourced.
- 57% percent of content marketers are unable to produce content consistently (CMI)
- 51% percent cite lack of time or bandwidth as a key obstacle to program success (CMI)
So, what happens? As a writer colleague of mind likes to say, Sturgeon’s Law begins to take effect. That is, 90 percent of content becomes schlock. If we don’t have time, we resort to rules, shortcuts and tricks intended to lessen the required effort. Unfortunately, these same steps can inadvertently diminish the quality of content.
I’ve seen good ones and bad ones, but both are fodder for abuse by lazy or time-strapped content creators. Agencies and corporate marketing groups publish these guides with the noble intent of ensuring consistency. Content creators too often copy/paste this good work straight into their “original” pieces without appropriate attention to audience or media. The guide’s “corporate voice,” with its lovely, consistent use of third person, passive voice and over-use of the word solutions bleeds into everything, rendering new content somewhere between uninteresting and unreadable — so it won’t engage.
We don’t give readers the benefit of the doubt that IF we write a compelling story or message, they’ll invest beyond a quick scan of the bullets. In our under-resourced world, content creators often don’t have time to employ their skills and imagination to create strong headlines, sub-heads and colorful storytelling that draws readers in. Instead, we use bullets to make sure readers see the key points.
Repurposing to a fault
Repurposing content is a key tenet to good content marketing. A great e-book should have a life of its own in a variety of media and maximizing our miles-per-content is smart. But be careful not to take it to extremes. Often, you’ll see: the messaging guide content that becomes the brochure copy that turns into email copy; the email message that becomes the social media post; white papers that are brochures in disguise; ad copy that pulls from website pages; blogs that repeat brochure content. It’s quick. It feels consistent. It produces the requisite volume. But readers can’t find a reason to engage. The message doesn’t change or evolve and ultimately, you sound and feel like a dispassionate company without a great story.
Write Meaningful Content
What makes good content? Here are seven ideas:
- Lighten up on the rules! Give your content creators some room to operate and the freedom to express an idea in a tone includes some individualism. Audiences read when they find content interesting. Authors who express their ideas with a tone and enthusiasm that are exciting will generate engagement. Make sure your content and messaging guides include adequate breathing room for expression.
- Evolve, don’t repeat. Ideally, every content instance at every stage of the demand generation or nurturing process should feel fresh and new — a new chapter in an evolving story that grows without being redundant.
- Follow good writing practices. Creating great content requires the right talent: creators (writers) who understand the rules of good writing. They use accessible tones, on-target messages, compelling examples and enthusiasm to keep readers engaged. Great content is just long enough without overwhelming, so the writer must have full command of the subject matter to understand what matters most. Great writing should feel like a great story because readers love stories.
- Avoid industry jargon. You’re not in a board meeting.
- Use your imagination, seriously! From the beginning of advertising, great copywriting always included a lot of creativity; so should your content. Headlines capture imaginations and pull readers in. A surprising but relevant anecdote or example will help readers relate and see themselves as part of the story.
- Use humor. Your big, impressive white paper can include a lively writing style and a little humor, even for the most technical and detailed topics.
- Integrate visuals. There’s nothing better than a surprising visual that makes a connection, something incongruous to garner attention and entice the audience to take the next step and consume more of your story.
Content Unto Itself is Not Strategy
Creating content is obligatory. Creating great content requires strategy and talent. Remember, you and your team are creating content for strategic reasons for a target audience, with a defined editorial purpose and a specific marketing goal you can measure. Change the conversation so messages build upon each other as your audience progresses with you. You’ll avoid the quantity-over-quality trap that causes companies’ programs to meld into the noise.
P.S.: If you really want to make your endeavors stand out internally, refer to the effort as writing occasionally.