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Words by the yard: it’s not what you say…

 - 23/10/2015

An interior design fad which, surprisingly, still endures is to buy books by the yard.  Leather-bound, opulent and dusty.  An instant library. Classical literary tomes that give any home the veneer of educated sophistication.

That sadly seems to be the plight of content in modern marketing.  “Content is king” has long been the hollow mantra.  But the creativity and excitement that goes into that is too often second fiddle to the data (big and small) that’s responsible for getting the words in front of the right people.

Many argue the rise of the “maths men” (rather than the creative Mad Men) leaves more time for greater creativity, but that does not seem to be the case.

The intelligence and insight from the growth of data science has enabled massive advances in understanding and reaching specific audiences.  Products, services and messages can be tailored more to meet and motivate the right people.

But let’s not forget data’s purpose is to make the message more effective.  It is not an end in itself.

Recently I was searching for information on the optimal length of a blog.  In this world dripping with data, I wanted to know about people’s capacity to take in information. The latest thinking on attention spans, or current trends in long-form prose.

What I found was ironically reassuring.  It turns out long blogs are OK and actually encouraged, but for all the wrong reasons I discovered.

The received wisdom, summarised by Forbes, is that long blogs are good because they can accommodate loads of key words to help boost the Google juice behind search rankings.

The argument seems to be, write lots of key words and phrases, repeat yourself, then say it again.  And again.  It will drive a bigger audience, and so the virtuous circle continues.  Regardless of what you are actually saying, how you say it or whether it has any interest or merit.  Hollow.

That may sound absurd, but publishing sensation Buzzfeed did recently feel the need to remind advertisers to worry less about the format of their ads and to concentrate on compelling content.

The sooner the marketing industry gets a grip and reminds itself that its role is to engage, not just reach and repeat (important though that is), then the better shape it and the businesses it serves will be in.

And engagement comes through what you say.