Formulas can be really useful. They provide a set of prescriptive rules that, if followed properly, turn out the same results every time. We have formulas for medicine, formulas for drinks and baby formula because we want consistency and reliable results in all those things. Then we have Formula 1 racing which, to many people, pretty much exemplifies the problem with formulas: they tend to make things efficient but predictable, monotonous and unsurprising.
When it comes to blog posts, a lot of people are looking for the winning formula. There’s the 80/20 rule of headline which states that, on average, 8 out of 10 (80%) people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 (20%) will read the rest. There’s the ultimate headline formula and plenty of blog posts about formulas for the perfect blog post and one reason we see all these blog posts about blog posts is because content marketing demands that every business become a content producer, regardless of whether they have something worthwhile to say or not.
Marketers everywhere are looking for an edge, a quick fix, winning advantage that will set them ahead of the competition and formulas might look like the answer, but they’re not. The problem is that everyone is reading the same articles about content marketing tips and tricks and they end-up using the same formulas. Don’t get me wrong, some of the formulas out there are wonderful, insightful and intelligent; just look at Coke’s secret formula or the KFC blend of herbs and spices but, if we all use the same formula, everything ends-up tasting the same.
One example of what happens when too many people sue the the same formula to create content for their marketing is the UpWorthy phenomenon. Upworthy has been referred as “… a site that posts viral videos with terrible headlines”, with blog posts that get huge amounts of click-throughs by using incredulous titles with phrases like these.
- You won’t believe what happens next…
- One weird trick to…
- The reaction to this [story/event/video/whatever] will shock you…
UpWorthy weren’t the only ones to discover this technique, of course, Buzzfeed and many others regularly used the same trick, but it didn’t take long before the click-through generating formula was being emulated all over the place. Some might argue that this is a logical evolution of the headline, since one of the main objectives of a successful headline (or blog title) is to get people to read what follows, but your headline writing shouldn’t only be about achieving that single function.
We are very keen on optimisation and many of the posts about creating killer content are well worth a read because they inform us about what works and what doesn’t, but sometimes it’s possible to optimise the life and soul out of something. Formulas can be useful, yes, but if you’re serious about your content marketing strategy and want to differentiate your business, then when it comes to actually getting down to some keyboard action, please don’t use a formula unless you want to produce the same predictable and formulaic content as your competitors.
Remember that all cars are designed using wind tunnels these days, but the final look of any new car must be a balance of the aerodynamics (what’s efficient), the brand (who made it) and aesthetics (how it makes us feel)… otherwise every car be exactly the same.
Next time you’re trying to create some content, try something that solves one of your customers’ problems, or helps them to do something better, or maybe you could just entertain or inform them but, whatever you do, do it with your customers and your brand in mind, not just your business goal.