The Real Secret to Creating Great Content

May 27, 2020

Probably the greatest single piece of advice I’ve ever heard about content creation didn’t come from a college class/professional course, or a boss/mentor, or any other supposed expert source. Instead, it came from the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Here it is:

Yes, it’s said in anger and frustration as part of a much longer rant. The whole piece is brutally painful as well as brutally funny.

But within the comedy is a true pearl of wisdom: Try having a point. 

Death of a story

We see this all the time. Someone at an organization recognizes that they need to produce content to demonstrate the organization’s expertise so they can gain a competitive advantage.

The organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs), who are very knowledgeable and have strong views on the topics in their wheelhouses, share their ideas and experience with the marketing team and PR agency. They have the makings of a great story that will capture attention and position the organization as a leader in the market.

The content is produced, and it captures the passion and expertise of the SMEs. Then the review rounds start, and by the time the organization is done scrubbing the content what was once a fat, juicy steak has been sanitized until it is reduced to a piece of limp broccoli that will be of interest to exactly no one including an editor.

Sometimes it takes the form of genericizing the content until it sounds like something a high school senior would turn in for a composition class after the grades have already been posted. It’s serviceable, grammatically correct and decently organized, but it no longer conveys the fire that the SME felt for the topic.

Basically, any sense of personality has been removed. That’s bad enough.

Worse are the reviews that take an interesting, informative piece and convert it into a blatant marketing piece for the organization. That might work on the organization’s website, but it won’t fly if you’re trying to get it past an editor for earned (read: non-paid) media.

Of course, even if you could make it past that gatekeeper, there’s really nothing in it for the reader. If they wanted to read marketing-speak they would have gone to your website.

Healthcare’s special challenge

Healthcare organizations have a special challenge because our industry loves us some jargon. It seems like healthcare as a whole never met a technical term or three-letter acronym (TLA) it didn’t like.

It’s almost as if the goal is to make the content as difficult to read as possible, like it requires some sort of book cipher to read it. Which of course goes against the most basic rules of successful selling, where you want to convey information in the easiest-to-understand language to reach the broadest audience possible.

Making content effective

The most effective content is the content that has a point to make and makes it convincingly. It doesn’t just convey information. It grabs the reader or viewer by the lapels and says, “Sit down and listen, because I’m going to tell you something you need to know.”

It then does just that: focuses on what the reader/viewer needs to hear rather than only on what the produce of the content wants to say. But it does it in a way, as Steve Martin’s character says, that is much more interesting for the listener.

In many cases, that means telling a story that has a beginning, middle and end. As humans we are wired to understand information presented in story form. It’s part of our survival mechanism.

The Vanishing Hitchhiker approach

Take urban legends. The point of an urban legend isn’t to get you to believe in the legend itself (although social media may have changed that intention). The point is to warn you that something bad could happen if you’re not careful about certain behaviors, like teenagers parking in a remote area to do the things teenagers do.

But even when we’re not warning about the dangers of parking near insane asylums when a resident with a hook for a hand escapes, stories help give us context we can use to process information and ultimately take an action. For marketing that means becoming interested in our product or service.

That doesn’t mean every piece of content must tell a story. But unless it’s a data or spec sheet, it needs to be interesting enough to capture and keep our attention, especially when so much else is competing for it these days.

The point is…

If you make your content bland, or plain vanilla, it’s true you’re unlikely to offend anyone. But you’re also unlikely to persuade anyone either.

If your goal is to capture hearts, minds and ultimately sales leads, be sure your content has a point. It’s so much more interesting for the listener/reader/viewer.

Ken Krause

An award-winning writer for his work in advertising, marketing and public relations, Ken Krause has a diverse background that includes more than 30 years of combined agency- and client-side experience. Ken has in-depth experience in technology products and services, healthcare, supply chain, consumer electronics and other vertical markets. He previously served as Vice President of Content Services at Tech Image, where he spent 14 years. Ken also served as Marketing Communications Manager at ASAP Software (now a part of Dell). His earlier career includes stints as an Account Manager at Marketing Support, Inc. and McKee Advertising and as a Senior Copywriter for Meyer/Fredericks.