You know, nothing grinds my gears worse than some chowderhead that doesn't know when to keep his big trap shut... If you catch me running off with my mouth, just give me a poke on the chops.
--Del Griffin (John Candy) in Planes Trains and Automobiles.
The plot sounds like the set-up to a bad joke about the marketing biz: An advertising exec and a curtain-ring salesman get stuck together while trying to travel home to their families for Thanksgiving. I'm guessing most readers have already have seen John Hugh’s 1987 classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. If you haven't, I highly recommend you take the time. Steve Martin plays Neal Page, an uptight ad executive forced by the holiday rush to share all manner of planes, trains, and automobiles with the obnoxiously chatty Del Griffin, played by John Candy. I particularly recommend the film to my fellow marketers--and not only because both characters come from the profession. Among its many qualities, the film provides an excellent primer on how to avoid the traps that lead to boring content. Pay particular attention to Del Griffin, the aforementioned curtain-rod salesman. Then just make sure not to produce content that sounds anything remotely like Griffin.
Griffin is a textbook study in boring. He exhibits all the worst symptoms. Griffin thus makes for a perfect example of what no to do. After all, boring people are not simply uninteresting. Rather, they tend to assume certain bad habits—all of which represent very common “traps” we need to avoid if we want to create content that engages readers. Let's take a look at Griffin's worst tendencies--we can even call them the "Del Griffins." That's right--you heard it here first: A new term for the 7 habits that lead to highly boring content.
The 7 Deadly "Del Griffins": 7 Habits of Highly Boring People
- Self-preoccupation: Griffin complains a lot. From his allergies to “sponge pillows” to his aching feet, Griffin is all about his owproblems. More fundamentally, the tendency to complain reveals a habit for self-preoccupation—being more concerned with yourself and thus disinterested in the concerns of those around you. Effective content is, above all, concerned with the needs and concerns of readers. It’s not about you.
- Triviality: Griffin, who specializes in the sale of rings—all kinds of rings—monologues in detail on topics like “Walter Cronkite moon earrings… filled with helium… so they’re very light.” Need I say more? Make sure your content is useful to your readers. Don’t get caught up on details and features of a product that only matter to you—nobody else gets nearly excited as Griffin when it comes to the topic of earrings made of “Czechoslovakian ivory.” There’s an important lesson there.
- Repetition and Redundancy: Griffin doesn’t just talk about trivial topics; he talks incessantly about the same topics!We’ve all seen some version of this problem in content marketing. Whether it’s bad writing that makes the same point in 10 different ways, or its content that merely repeats the same idea presented in hundreds of other blogs, boring content tends to suffer from redundancy—unnecessarily excessive discussion of the same basic point. A certain degree of repetition is inevitable—creativity always builds on established ideas. But make sure your content presents the familiar in new and fresh ways. This imperative lies at the core of differentiation.
- Tone and Lack of Excitement: OK, admittedly, this one does not really apply to Griffin: He does notlack enthusiasm. If anything, he can seem overly In fact, Griffin’s enthusiasm tends to come off a bit hollow and cliché—an issue I will get to in the next point. Yet, Griffin’s tendency for over-enthusiasm does remind us that, when it comes to engaging others, tone is critical. Whether overly excited or bored by your own material, audiences will pick up on that energy.
- Inauthenticity: Ultimately, we discover that Griffin is a very nice, sincere, and in fact loveable guy. But his first impressions are insufferable—largely because he tries too hard. He tells jokes that aren’t funny. He talks too much, and his language often comes off superficial and cliché. Alternately put, Griffin’s overzealous attempts to ingratiate himself to others reminds us of the importance of maintaining an authentic voice. In content marketing, audiences will see right through an inauthentic voice.
- Distraction: Griffin’s monologues never stick to a consistent focus. He wanders, skipping from topic to topic. There’s a big lesson here for content writers—maintain a consistent theme.
- Purpose: Have a Point!Then there’s Steve Martin’s Neal Page, the unsuspecting businessman who, forced to suffer the tortuous boredom of Griffin’s tedious company, ultimately explodes into a frustrated tirade that, coincidentally, serves as critical advice for developing effective content: “And, you know, when you're telling these little stories, here's a good idea: have a point. It makes it makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”
Don’t be "that Guy"—And We Have All been that Guy!
One thing that makes Planes, Trains and Automobiles such a great film is that it does not merely reduce its characters to oversimplified stereotypes. Del Griffin is not just a boring person. Rather, Del Griffin teaches us a deeper lesson: We all have a tendency to slip into the habits that threaten to make us “boring” people. We all have a tendency to complain about our own issues and get caught up in our own concerns and interests. We all get fascinated by things that others find completely trivial and uninteresting. And we have all made others suffer through these fascinations! We’ve all been inauthentic; we all get distracted, and we’ve all caught ourselves rambling on about topics without any real purpose or point. In other words, while we laugh at Del Griffin, we also relate to him. He reminds us that we can all be “that guy.” The tendencies that can make us seem boring to others are part of being human. But, taken too far, they become bad habits—certainly habits one needs to avoid when developing effective and engaging content that others will find interesting and useful.
The Real Reason We Need to Keep a Documented Content Strategy
How do content marketers avoid the trap of falling into boring habits? We need to guard against the tendency. When it comes to effective content, the most useful way to avoid the habits of a Del Griffin is to keep your goals documented in a well-planned content strategy—an external resource that provides objective guidelines to keep your work on the right track. A documented content strategy serves as the critical reminder of your audience and their needs, so that you make sure your content will always “have a point!” The benefits of an effective content strategy are not simply about staying organized. They’re about protecting ourselves from our own worst habits. After all, we’re only human.
More than 70% of B2B marketers do not keep a documented content strategy. Why? Well, the can seem overly time consuming—not to mention overly whelming. And, as I said, we’re only human. For tips on how to develop a B2B strategy, feel free to contact us for help—we develop these strategies every day!