June 6, 2017


This article originally appeared on Column Five.

Have you ever slogged through an article only to find out it was a complete waste of time? We all have. The Internet is full of content marketing that is all fluff, no substance, or totally irrelevant. Frankly, too many of us have been guilty of wasting our audience’s time. That’s why content marketing is facing a bullshit epidemic.


This industry-wide problem became clear to me after reading Josh Bernoff’s book Writing Without Bullshit. The driving idea behind the book is what Bernoff calls the Iron Imperative: Be more respectful of your reader’s time than your own.

This philosophy seems intuitive, no matter what content we create, but the truth is we have become accustomed to BS, both consuming it and creating it. Why? Bernoff identifies four main reasons:

  1. We got the wrong training in school. We tried to BS our teachers into thinking we knew what we were talking about.
  2. Once we started working in the real world, we were saturated by jargon, from employee manuals to tech babble that only insiders understand.
  3. We soon learned that avoiding risk is critical, and writing clear copy means someone can disagree with us.
  4. No one edits what we read.

Now we’re drowning in meaningless content, which is a huge problem. But it’s also an awesome opportunity for your brand to stand out by creating A+ content.

The first step? Stop the BS and start focusing on creating high-value content that is worth your reader’s time. To get you on the right track, here are five things you can do to take the BS out of your content marketing ASAP.


Wheelhouse. Implementation. These buzzwords have become a plague. Sure, every industry has its jargon, but too often it’s used as a crutch to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Worse, too much jargon can confuse your reader if they don’t actually know what you’re talking about.

Your audience wants to connect with you. They want your knowledge and experience, so write the way you speak—like a human. When you do use the occasional buzzword, make sure you explain what it means. (If you still want your buzzword fix, check out our marketing gibberish generator.)


A good content marketer has one job: To deliver a story or message as succinctly and efficiently as possible. Yet we see so many “thought leaders” drone on and on in 3,000-word articles simply for vanity’s sake. Avoid their mistakes.

  • Be direct.
  • Write to your audience (see #1 above). The content, message, and audience should dictate length and format.
  • Don’t write long posts just for the sake of writing long posts.
  • Channel your innerHemingway. Share a concept as economically as possible.

Remember the Iron Imperative: Consider your audience’s time.


Good content marketing requires the right team, the right ideas, and an efficient process to see those ideas to completion. That means planning, producing, managing, and reviewing content before it goes live.

You can always make adjustments during a project, but having a basic process, which all team members can rely on, will make your life a lot easier—and reduce lag time on projects. (That said, in the interest of efficiency, you should regularly review the way you do things to see if there are ways to improve.)

Also, before you undertake a project, ask yourself if you can reasonably produce it with your existing resources and process. For this reason, wWe ask our clients five questions before we kick off projects:

  1. Why do you want to do this project?
  2. What do you hope to achieve with this project?
  3. Who is your audience, and what are their pain points?
  4. How are we going to approach the project?
  5. When do you need the project finished?

This ensures that the content we create will help achieve the client’s goals—and that production goes as smoothly as possible.


It’s incredibly frustrating to get a ton of last-minute edits a day before launch, from a stakeholder who has just been looped into a project. Likewise, it’s exasperating when you hold a brainstorm with so many stakeholders that you leave three hours later without a single actionable idea.

Finding the right type—and number—of collaborators is crucial. Some people like to be auteurs, but in my opinion, the best creative work tends to involve additional perspectives, experiences, expertise, and creative thinking. Of course, too many cooks in the kitchen is a nightmare.

For our agency, somewhere between two and five people tends to be the sweet spot for good collaboration. Some other rules that help us work together:

  • Establish clear roles.
  • Create a document that contains shared values, as well as aligned goals.
  • Let the best ideas win, regardless of work titles.

Something that might also help is finding out what creative type you are. Once you know what you are, you can learn how to work and communicate with others without wanting to rip your hair out. (This has been an awesome revelation for our team.)


Most work that our agency does involves a good amount of iteration at multiple stages. That’s because we believe doing things right is better than doing things quickly.

Our creative director is constantly telling our team to never go with their first idea. First ideas can be good, but if you don’t explore other ideas or carefully vet your initial idea, then you’re selling yourself short.

As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Don’t be judgmental when starting out on early drafts. Create, write, and draw like a wild person. Then put on your editor’s hat and edit mercilessly.


Moral of the story: Respect your audience. Focus on delivering high-quality content that will truly help them. That means less BS and a lot more value. The more you demonstrate that you are invested in helping them learn what they need to know, the more they will look to you as a trusted friend and resource, and that’s the ultimate goal.

No matter what you do, always aim to create better content than the average content marketer. Remember: Average is not good. Average is average.

Want more content marketing tips?

Source: Visual News


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