You Are What You Read (And Create): Why Bland, Vapid Content is Toxic in Content Marketing


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It’s no secret that the web is filled with vast amounts of content. It’s overflowing with it. And if you’re a creator, it might just be seeping into your dreams and waking hours. (Anyone else having the dream about NEVER finishing that endless blog post?) 

Still, as a content marketer, writer, or digital creator, it can be tempting to produce as much content as possible to stand out from the crowd. But this isn’t sustainable, or in many cases, possible. And it’s also not what our audiences want. In fact, when faced with too much low-quality or irrelevant content, our audiences—who are real people with intelligence and a whole lot of competing priorities and interests—will simply tune out. So how do we break through the noise and create content that matters?

Digital creators beware: avoid these signs of bland, vapid content

As a team of content creators who have worked with hundreds of different clients from many verticals, industries, and perspectives, we have learned to quickly recognize high-quality content. AND the kind that, well, stinks a little. Or worse, that makes us very, very sleeeeepy. 

Here are just a few characteristics of premium content in comparison with the sleep-inducing varietal: 


Premium content: 

Vapid content: 

Is created with a specific person or audience in mind with an understanding of the ‘jobs’ they have to do Is directed at a general audience, and doesn’t offer a human perspective or any detail that makes it sound like a human wrote it, felt it, or lived it
Is created to address real challenges and/or to help ‘do’ those jobs to be done ‘Covers’ a topic without offering specific or practical help 
Is distinctly ‘you’/your brand: it offers an original and/or experience-grounded take on a topic that couldn’t come from anyone else Off-brand: It sounds either ‘vanilla’ or strikes a different note than your brand voice should, creating confusion or making the audience question what your brand stands for
Delivers what the title or teasers promise Doesn’t align with the headline or teaser; doesn’t deliver what it says it will
Tells a story (your story) well, inspiring feeling and/or action Is eminently skimmable and forgettable, eliciting a sigh, shrug, or eyeroll at best
Is intentional: in content marketing, it’s designed to nudge your audience from one stage of the customer journey to the next  Feels like filler: was created to fill a hole in a calendar or a spot in a newsletter without clear purpose for the brand OR reader

OK, so have we convinced you? 

You want to create premium content and avoid content burnout … Here’s where to start

Let’s start where we always start in content marketing.

1. Clarify and understand your goals

First things first, you aren’t alone if you’re out there creating content to see what sticks. That’s a strategy that can work, sometimes, over time. A lot of time. A better approach? Sit down and get clear on your content OKRs. OKRs refers to objectives and key results and they help you in laying out clear goals with a practical approach.

2. Clarify who you’re talking to: draft your customer personas

Once you know why you’re creating content, or doing content marketing, you’ll want to know which audience groups out there can help you meet those objectives. And that starts with drafting your audience personas. Your personas should have clear messaging about their pain points and the jobs they would like to get done for their content needs.

3. Audit your content

At least once a quarter, considering your clearly articulated content OKRs and your target audience, evaluate your content to see what’s working and what’s not. This might mean simply listing out your top-performing and worst-performing content and having a think or a team conversation about what makes each so—then agreeing to do more of the good stuff and less of the stinky stuff. 

Auditing your content can bring fresh perspectives and constructive feedback to the table, saving you a huge swath of that glorious commodity, time. The bonus of a good ol’ audit: it’ll get you thinking about your audience, exactly what they want, and how you can help them.

4. Consider your most important stories and messages

Whether you are a business owner, a marketing leader, or a freelancer, getting clear on your key brand stories and messages is a must. We recommend thinking about it this way: identify three core brand ‘pillars’ that encapsulate the main stories, or narratives your brand needs to tell. This might be a pillar highlighting your company values and how important they are; or a pillar about your brand’s contributions to the environment; or a pillar about how much better you are than your competition because of X, Y, and Z. 

Armed with story pillars, you’re then able to consider the many messages that will help tell those stories in your blog posts, web copy, social content, and more—messaging that will, ideally, nudge your target audience through your particular customer journey from becoming aware of your product, service or brand, to getting hooked on your content (and signed up to your newsletter) all the way through buying from you and raving about you in a testimonial or case study.

5. Get that content organized!

Now you’ve got goals, personas, stories, and messaging. Keeping it simple and doable, start mapping out how it’s going to look when you start publishing your content over a week, a month, and/or a quarter. If you’re terrified and break out in hives when you see it all, scale back. 

Get to a calendar that feels doable – even if you’re just starting with one kind of content on one channel. Just get it down somewhere. When you break down your content it provides you clarity about what things need to be done. As they say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

6. Watch, measure, and adjust

Whatever you do, don’t just put your content out into the world and move on to the next thing. Nope, watch that little content toddler take its first steps out there in the big old world – and see where they go, and see where they fall. Take notes, (well, pick them up first) and adjust. 

Bonus: Careful watching and adjusting can mean that there’s less need to create new content all the time. Don’t be afraid to repurpose the content that had promise but didn’t quite perform at your premium level of quality: sometimes all your content needs is a little bit of refreshment.

7. Consider taking a content vacation when you need to

Yep. Someone had to say it. Sometimes it is good to take a solid break from creating content when you’ve got nothing real to say. Your audience has questions and pressing concerns that they need YOUR help with. But unless you feel like you’ve got something that will genuinely help or support or inspire them, take a beat to reflect, recover, and gather your best brand self to share.

We’ve said it before: you’re telling a story about your brand with every piece of content you create. Is yours going to be one of genuine helpfulness or vapidity?

Healthy content marketing is quality content marketing

Let’s face it: these pandemic years have been tough on us all on so many levels. If you as a creator are feeling burned out or overwhelmed, there’s a good chance that your audience is feeling it, too. Don’t let them feel it in your writing or content marketing. Instead, stop, and take a breath. Rest a bit. Evaluate what both your audience, and you, most need—that you can actually and uniquely give. 

And always reach out for help when you need it.

Get in touch to talk about how we might support you and your audience in your content marketing journey and keep you and your brand healthy.

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