Surprise! Content can destroy your brand

Everyone loves content these days. You don’t have to search to far into the realm of marketing thought leadership to find someone musing on the fact that “content is king.”

Think I’m exaggerating, search the content jobs on LinkedIn…it’s truly madness.

You’ll discover content managers, content strategists, content gurus, content ninjas, masters of content, etc. This isn’t actually a bad thing: People are finding more ways to leverage their editing, writing, and, more important, creative skills, to build careers. Awesome!

However, no one has discussed the other side of this explosion of content: Bad — and I mean really bad — writing or content strategies can have a negative effect on a brand, and by proxy, a company.

Before I get all anecdotal here, let me first make a couple of things clear.

  1. Writing is hard. It’s a lot more challenging than people realize. There are a ton of factors that go into putting coherent thoughts into a format that actually makes sense to other humans.
  2. I am extremely guilty of writing really shitty copy. I mean, really bad stuff (if this ever gets read, there are quite a lot of folks out there whom I’ve worked with who are vehemently shaking their heads in agreement). I am forever indebted to editors who not only taught me and fixed my massive errors, but for also putting up with my juvenile, wanna-be-Hemingway behavior.

Here’s the thing, I know when my writing sucks. And, most of the time when I create a content turd sandwich, I try to apologize and try to genuflect to the folks who have to deal with it.

But, there are too many people out there that are capital ‘C,’ Content Marketers who are spewing up incoherent blogs, proclaiming “INBOUND MARKETING!” and just waiting to gobble up Marketing Qualified Leads™.

And they don’t have a clue, because many companies REALLY don’t care about content output. They just know they want it, and it doesn’t even compute that there needs to be oversight, also known as editorial control.

Let me give you a brief example of putrid content I came across recently, and I’m going to be really vague here because I do have a soul, and I don’t really want to personally crush anyone else’s perception or dreams or whatever if I don’t have to. Because, you know, we don’t need anymore of that shit in this world.

Today, I came across a blog post that I believe was meant to serve the purpose of marketing and customer acquisition. The company that published it is, as far as I can describe the team, young and full of potential — they’ve raised a decent amount of early venture capital and have been lauded in certain tech circles and by “people in the know.”

The blog post they just published was awful. I mean a total dumpster fire.

It was self-congratulatory in a completely un-ironic manner. It read like a fourth grade essay on Tuck Everlasting at various points, you know: “The point is that there are lots of things that can happen and they do, sometimes people can live forever but if they have a choice, they would rather make frogs everlasting.”

The blog post also made no sense, in terms of having an organizing structure and logic.

The biggest problem with the horrendously written blog post is that it changed my perception, for the worse, of the company that published it.

I have known this company, which I won’t name, for a while and respect the people leading it. However, I am now questioning their leadership ability after reading what is, whether they know it or not, a publicly facing brand asset. Now I’m wondering if they are as savvy entrepreneurs as I originally thought.

Let’s be realistic, this bad piece of writing won’t destroy the company. It just takes a lot of the shine off of it for me. And that’s diametrically the opposite of what good marketing should do.

(The best comparison I can make to this piece of writing are the new Pizzeria Uno commercials airing these days. Have you seen these bad boys? You know, the one with the guy who’s putting on an offensively bad Italian accent and has some sort of beard/makeup issue? I mean, “Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?”)

The great thing about this complete content misfire is that there are lessons to be learned here.

First, companies need to be careful with their brand assets, especially how they present themselves online. Content isn’t some plug-and-play solution to build customers or clients. Content is a great way to gain attention, and, when done well, good and differentiated content can be a game-changer for startups. But, it could also become detrimental if approached carelessly.

And, even for the bad content creators out there, there is hope. Writing is a practice, most bad writers and lazy content marketers can improve.

So here’s my advice to all you so-called content geniuses out there:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Stick to a theme.
  3. Don’t be cute.
  4. Realize that someone other than you actually has to read your words.
  5. Go to journalism school…Hahaha, just kidding. Do not do the J-school thing, whatever you do, don’t do that! You’ll become even worse: You’ll become a formulaic content automaton!