I just spent a week in the Caribbean on an island with lovely beaches and an incredibly high cost of living. The island has no income tax, so it generates the majority of its income from tourists like you and me through something called a VAT, or value-added tax, which is quite hefty.
Simple staples, like bread, are priced so high it made me ask my wife, “How does anyone afford to live here?” The answer became apparent as the week went on. Those who live in the Caribbean are either very wealthy (not us) or live very simply.
As the week progressed, I found myself appreciating the fact that less could be more. Once my awareness was raised, I discovered a certain elegance in the simplicity. For example, the cabinets and crown molding in our room were whitewashed rather than covered with layers of expensive paint. The whitewash actually highlighted the natural beauty of the woodgrain.
Arriving home to the States and the “routine” with my newfound appreciation for minimalist living, I realized that I am now highly sensitized to the waste within marketing, the unnecessary use of “empty” words used to make extravagant and overinflated claims that clutters copy.
It appears that with the proliferation of content marketing, we are starting to see an ugly underside. Marketers focused on getting “views” and social shares are in a “war of words” that is producing empty promises in the form of audience-grabbing headlines that fail to pay off with insightful or promised content.
Words like “epic” or “iconic,” once rarely used (and when they were, they were actually describing something that was of a significant historical event), are now used to describe everything from trade shows to webcasts. Such descriptions are so overused that they have become meaningless.
In the past, when someone made the statement that he or she was the “leader in such-and-such,” that person actually was and could even back it up. Or when people created a “Top 5 List” or “Best-Practices Guidelines,” they had the research to really prove it. Now marketers randomly use the enticing title of leader in headlines in a desperate attempt to be noticed.
Fueling this usage are insights from content marketing tools enabling marketers to engage in this copy-cat hype game. Just pick a topic, go to a site such as BuzzSomo (see below), search for the most popular content, and then build a similar headline.
Content marketing and, for that matter, native advertising, can benefit audiences and be effective marketing tools, but not if these practices continue.
Thanks to Steve Jobs and Apple, simplicity and clean lines are now pervasive within design. It has helped to streamline and simplify brands, from logos and website to products. The time has come for it to influence copywriting and content production.
Yes, it takes longer to write a shorter sentence, but it’s worth it. As the late-great Maya Angelou once said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing. But if it’s right, it’s easy. It’s the other way round too. If it’s slovenly written, then it’s hard to read.” As marketers, we have to do better, be better. Strive for elegance in your craft. Don’t paint the essence of what you want to say, or promote, with layers of needless or empty words.
If you want someone to read your content, be credible. If you want it shared, say something insightful or newsworthy. That is the way it has been and will always be. It’s that simple.
Scott Gillum – President, gyro Washington, D.C.
Scott Gillum has been the CMO of an INC 500 firm and the interim CMO at a Fortune 500 company. Currently, he leads the Channel Marketing practice and the Washington, D.C. office of gyro, a Top 50 global advertising agency. Prior to joining gyro, he spent a dozen years with MarketBridge, providing sales and marketing consulting services to Fortune 500 companies.
His blog, B2B Knowledge Sharing, has been recognized as a top Business-to-Business site, distributing content to a number of online publications. He has also been published in Forbes, Advertising Age, Fortune, Media Post and the Sales Blog. In addition, Gillum is a contributing author to the following books on marketing: Advice from the Top: The Expert Guide to B2B Marketing, PR News Guidebook, andTransformational Marketing: The Best of the Forbes CMO Network.
Follow him @sgillum