How to buck the bad content trend
Mediocre. Unambitious. Generic. Crap. Doug Kessler explains how you can avoid the pitfalls of most content marketing.
Most content marketers have a lack of ambition, according to Doug Kessler, co-founder and creative director of Velocity. Doug has always been one to speak with conviction, and perhaps that’s why he’s developed notoriety for creating cutting-edge content in the B2B space.
“It never occurs to [marketers] that what they’re going to produce could be awesome and people will love it, share it and thank them for it. It’s tragic and totally common for 99% of the content out,” he explains unapologetically. “People don’t want to be great. It’s not even in the brief to be great.”
The trouble is that the expected standard for good content has been raised higher and higher over the years, while business’s expectations of what they should be producing have stayed the same. “There was a time when a persona and a buying stage was enough,” Doug says. “It’s not anymore, the bar has gone way way way higher.”
For Doug, you need to be putting in the hard work and the homework before words even hit the page. “People take a lot of shortcuts on that,” he says. “No one stops to ask ‘does anyone care about this’?”
The aim of content is likely to become flimsy due to ill planning, and the impact of this is content that doesn’t hit the target.
Doing the hard work and the homework
To solidify his aim and create tight content, Doug is a firm big believer in outlining what he plans to write. “Even if I’m writing a blog post, I may do a few bullet points on the page to say where am I taking this?”
By doing simple bullet point planning, Doug can ensure his content is structured in the right order. Like an argument, if you build upon strong points you’re likely to win. But say things in a disjointed fashion and no one is going to side with what you’re saying.
However, Doug is just as human as the rest of us, and there are times when he doesn’t know his own opinion. “Sometimes I write to find out what I think and start typing. But I know that I’m going to go back to restructure.”
Top tip: Write down your goal for the piece and then bullet point the areas you’re going to cover in order to get there.
A fresh spin
Yes, it’s unlikely you’re going to uncover a brand new phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean you need to go down the same well-trodden path as everyone else. “Take a convention and turn it upside down,” recommends Doug.
Someone’s a lot more likely to read something about a topic they already know if it’s written from a different perspective. If you’ve written about a topic in the same way as everyone else then why would they look at your article? They’ve already read it.
For example, if you’re writing about customer experience rising due to companies like Amazon or Netflix, Doug says it’s not going to work. “You’re not going anywhere by stating the obvious,” he says. “What is a fresh view? An upside-down view? What will make someone’s eyebrows raise up and say ‘here’s a spin on an issue I hadn’t thought about’.”
Top tip: Think of the most obvious angle for your article and flip it. For example, with this article we could have focused on ‘how to achieve good content’ (we’ve been there, done that). With this piece, we changed the focus to bad content and how to avoid it.
Stealing from the wrong places
Where do you go when you need some inspiration? When you just don’t have a Scooby about what to write? Other people’s work. It’s normal to do a bit of research, look at what’s out there, and cherry-pick and adapt things you like. But this is where confused writers fall down a trap of taking inspiration from average content.
“I’m big on stealing,” says Doug. “But I want to steal from great work. I don’t want to steal from average work. There’s so much mediocrity out there that not aiming high enough is super common.”
If you’re taking inspiration from average content, others will do the same which just creates a cycle of generic content. “So much content is painting by numbers, and it comes off that way,” confirms Doug.
Top tip: Make sure you understand what great B2B content is, and aim for that quality. Perhaps research B2B marketing campaigns that have won awards for their content or have simply found fame online.
Thinking up great ideas rather than ‘just good’
Earlier in this article, Doug said personas and a stage in the customer journey weren’t enough to rely on to deliver the ingenious content you’re after. Now, he says, you also need to be seeking the opinion of your target audience. From speaking to them you’ll be able to understand big things like common challenges they face, as well as smaller things like turn of phrase.
“For example,” says Doug. “If you’re talking to someone in IT and they say ‘spinning up a server’, you’ll find out they use the term ‘spinning’ instead of ‘deploying’. All of a sudden you feel like you’re in their world instead of outside. Direct and frequent contact is one of the huge ways to do this.”
It’s from talking to his target audience and picking up nuances that Doug finds the fresh spin he’s looking for in order to make good content great. “I really get to know them, and know I can’t pass mediocre crap off to them. They’re smart and busy, so I’ve got to get a sense of what they care about.”
Top tip: Give someone in your target audience a phone call and talk through the topic you’re planning to write about – this should be your primary means to make your content relevant. Do still use personas, buying stages and audience data, but alongside audience interaction.
Getting great ideas accepted
There will always be an idea that you think is great, and follows Doug’s recipe for great content, but your boss may not agree. When that happens it can feel disappointing.
“For a long time in my career, I did get disheartened. I spent all this time coming up with great ideas and then these jerks came along and ruined it,” admits Doug.
But Doug decided to change that by also bringing them into the hard work and homework stage. He now speaks with stakeholders and aligns content to their goals, as well as make sure they have alignment with each other.
Doug will be walking through how content marketers can gain access to stakeholders, manage them, and get great ideas approved at B2B Marketing Ignite 2019 on 9 July.
Doug’s favourite piece of great B2B content
When I ask Doug what his favourite piece of great B2B content is, it doesn’t take him long to respond with Volvo Trucks’ ‘The Epic Split’ campaign which features actor Jean Claude van Damme. “That is B2B. It’s a huge hit, resonates incredibly and has had a big impact on their business,” says Doug.