Marketing Emergency: Nobody's Making Content Worth Reading

How can I go about teaching enterprise, and their B2B marketers, how to produce better content? This is a real marketing emergency, if there is such a thing.

Have you looked at the number of white papers out there lately? And how they all suck? At the collateral? At the websites? At the press releases and the fatuous corporate blogs? At the 178 social media sites per company—few of which offer much relevance or are of interest to customers, shareholders, suppliers, or even employees. Enterprise writing does not "go viral."

There are better things to do with time and money than produce content no one will read or see. "Content marketing" is king, but not if you create the wrong content, or bad content.

I ask myself, can I help more by writing for them, or by teaching them how to write themselves? And is that even possible? As a professor years ago, I saw that by the time people got to my classes, their ability to write had been more or less fixed by the amount they read as children and the amount of encouragement they received in elementary school.

With all the time I spend at startups, I realize young companies are much better communicators and marketers than enterprise companies. They have to be. They have to get and keep customers, or they die. In the enterprise, approaching death is often non-obvious. Kodak. (Squirrel.)

Long, long ago, when I was teaching English, I belonged to a group in the National Council of Teachers of English called the Committee on Public Doublespeak. We professors were committed to wiping out jargon, bullshit, unclear writing, and all the ways people obfuscate rather than clarify.

Thirty years later, I look around me and the amount of content has proliferated, but the quality of it has gotten even worse. About five years ago, Chelsea Hardaway wrote a book called Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, addressing the same problem.

Yet B2B marketers have long discussions about whether they should be doing more or less SEO, more or less inbound or outbound marketing, more or less "earned media." This discussion is the proverbial arranging of the Titanic's deck chairs.

How much of what you do is never important. The quality, and relevance, of what you do is important. Every enterprise company should pretend to be a startup.

[Image: Flickr user bburky]

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  • Thomas Champion

    I think you bring up some very valid points, I would go one more step and expand your argument about writing prowess even farther and include most of the literary works of today as well.  I don't agree with your assertion about reading having a significant affect on the quality of writing though.  I was reading well above my age as a child, I ended up getting degrees in Marketing, History and minors in Comp Lit, and English and I was never better than an average writer.  While I do believe reading is something that affects a person's ability to write, I think it also has a lot to do with how that individual's creative side is personified.  I personally am an excellent orator, but I am definitely no author.

  • Matt Steffen

    Great post, very illuminating. But above all I love the fact you have the guts to say "bullshit" in a blog. Thanks for the worthwhile content Francine!


  • Mogwai

    You've flagged a pertinent issue (and, let's face it, huge opportunity for communication professionals). Taking 'quality' as a given, you also recommend 'relevance'. Convincing large corporates, comfortable in their immense media spends, that relevance is paramount is a difficult task. Most brand and campaign work I tackle requires huge time to convinve the client that their perspective on their product is not the most important; it's the customer's that counts. So write to the customer's priorities.

  • Brian Creath

    Agreed. One of the biggest problems stems from the label 'content.' Neutral at best, content fights a quality perception, and gives one the notion that words are simply something that are used to fill in a box of, oh, let's say 140 characters. I've written quite a bit on this topic at my blog, The Idea: http://briancreath.wordpress.c...

  • krusk

    Completely agree with this article except that I don't think most startup are doing it right. Some are doing it very well, others are simply imitating those who do well, and there are plenty of startups out there who don't know what they're doing. (They may just be avoiding the typical buzzwords and same old tactics big companies are using.. so maybe that's something.)