The Ten Commandments of Remarkable Content

 

"Do you wash your hair?"

Yep, that is the question I get asked most often at networking/speaking events over the past year*.

*Since I had someone turn my curls into dreadlocks.

The smart-ass in me is always tempted to reply with something less-than-straightforward like, "The better question is do YOU?" or "No, I gave up bathing for my 21st birthday."

See how clean & shiny my dreadlocks are?

See how clean & shiny my dreadlocks are?

But most of the time, I behave myself, and simply explain that I wash my hair just like most other people — in the shower, with shampoo.

(It IS human hair, after all, even if it is currently in the form of dreadlocks.)

Once we get past that little pleasantry, the next question I get asked most often is "WTF does 'Martafy' mean?"

That question is easier to answer without being a smart-ass.

"Martafy" = to make something remarkable. It means telling a story that captures hearts, stimulates minds, and/or opens wallets.

Some clients hire me to create something remarkable from scratch (for example, a sales presentation like this one or an investor pitch deck like this one; or even an entire marketing campaign like this one).

Others ask me to "Martafy" an existing piece of content that doesn't [yet!] qualify as remarkable nor has the ability to capture hearts, stimulate minds, and/or open wallets.


 

Side note: the verbification of my name was not a clever move of my own, but rather one I must credit to Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, who started asking me to "Martafy" things for him when I was Head of Brand & Buzz at HubSpot earlier this decade. The verb form of my name caught on, so I decided to run with it when I started my own company in 2013.

 

The next question, as you may have guessed, is, "How exactly do you do that?"

Here, again, I must subdue my inner smartass, and distill several decades worth of experience and education about neuropsychology, branding, persuasive communication, and shibui into a snack-size answer.

The truth is that Martafying something isn't easy, but it is SIMPLE—provided you follow 10 basic tenets that have been time-tested, refined, and peer-reviewed.

I'll probably offend someone by referring to them as "The 10 Commandments of Remarkable Content," but I'm sticking with that name, because:

a) I mean no disrespect, and;

b) I don't exist to please, coddle or conform for others (even the ones that pay me to Martafy stuff for them).

So, without further ado…

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF REMARKABLE CONTENT*

*IMHO

1. THOU SHALT PROVIDE VALUE.


The first question most people ask themselves before they start creating content is "What's my objective?" 

Your objective may be to attract new customers, grow your social media following, increase brand awareness, close a sale, educate a potential buyer... or something else. 

Your audience, meanwhile, has a very different objective. They're seeking either a source of pleasure or relief from pain. Nobody is googling "increase my awareness and interest in brand X."

VALUE = the importance, worth or usefulness of something.


VALUE is the thing you need to deliver in order to meet your objective and theirs

So don't create content that only delivers on what you're looking for; create content that OVERdelivers on what they're looking for. Give your audience something that adds so much value to their day that they literally tell every friend and colleague about it.

And just to be clear, this commandment is first for a reason. Ignore it at your own peril.


2. THOU SHALT UNDERSTAND & CARE ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE.

Most of the content created is crap. There, I said it.

A big reason why this is the case (aside from ignoring commandment #1) is that few people invest the time in understanding and truly caring about their audience.

"Women ages 18-35" is a crappy description of your target audience, even if the product you're peddling is a tampon. Sure, "women ages 18-35" need tampons and aren't likely to be fans of free-bleeding, but that obvious commonality does not make it okay to hand them a tampon labeled "one size fits all."

The best content I've seen was created for a very clear and specific audience persona. It not only demonstrates a deep understanding of who the audience is, what keeps them up at night, what totally lights them up, and how/when/where they consume "content," but it also conveys a genuine concern for their wellbeing.

It's personal. It's human. It reads more like something your friend would send to you than a "corporation."

Like this video from Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, for example:

For the brand, this campaign has a clear goal: to sell more boxes of Always feminine hygiene products.

But instead of following the well-worn path of reminding women that they need these products to avoid the shame and awkwardness of concealing red stains on white pants, they’re focused on building girls’ confidence as they transition from childhood to adolescence.

To me, this shows that they not only understand what their audience wants, but they care about who their audience really is, at a deeper level than their “reason to purchase.”

And that’s an idea I wish that more brands would embrace.

3. THOU SHALT INFORM, INSPIRE, OR ENTERTAIN YOUR AUDIENCE.
(BONUS POINTS FOR DOING ALL THREE)

The first time I purchased an Old Spice product was when my adolescent son started using deodorant. He didn't ask for a particular brand (or for deodorant, actually, though IMO, he needed it.), but I chose Old Spice, because "the man your man could smell like" campaign entertained the hell out of me.

No deodorant brand has ever done that before nor since.

To be fair, deodorant isn’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Especially men’s deodorant.

But this cheeky, remarkable video from Old Spice (which IMO was aimed more at women, for obvious reasons) planted their brand squarely “top of mind” for me.

How exactly will your content inform, entertain or inspire your audience?

Is there a way to make it informative, inspiring, and a real hoot?

One thing is for certain: if it doesn’t do at least one of these things, it ain’t remarkable.

4. THOU SHALT PRACTICE SIMPLICITY, NOT STUPIDITY.

I worked with a client recently who said that her company’s main offering was “strategic digital design.”

WTF is that?!

I understand what the three words mean, but have no clue exactly what it is she’s selling. To wit:

STRATEGIC = carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage.

DIGITAL = involving or relating to the use of computer technology.

DESIGN = to do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.

So, let me get this straight… you’re carefully planning or creating something involving the use of computer technology with a specific purpose in mind???

If so, that’s not something I’m eager to spend my hard-earned $$ on.

With some further prodding, this client revealed that >90% of what she delivers is a website or web application. However, she felt that saying, “I design websites” sounded too basic and commoditized for the level of sophistication and design excellence that her work actually reflects.

I can appreciate her desire to highlight the “oomph” she brings to web design, but I insisted that she simplify (not dumb-down) her language so that humans everywhere can better understand wtf it is she does.

I shared with her this example of a poster I saw in a local pet store; one that’s competing with the Big Box stores and holding its own, in part because they’ve managed to communicate what makes them remarkable without confusing or being condescending to their audience:

loyalcompanionsign.jpg

“Aha! So it’s a ‘people-store’ for pets! LOVE IT!”

And that is how you make it simple, not stupid.

5. THOU SHALT AVOID JARGON & HYPERBOLE.

Another reason why so much of the content out there is crap is because it is littered with words that promise everything yet mean nothing.

Here are some of the most common offenders:

innovative
DISRUPTIVE
unique
EPIC
“move the needle”
agile
LEADING
locally-sourced
STRATEGIC

Do us (and yourself) a favor and remove all the B.S. words and acronyms from your content. Or at least use them very judiciously.

Same goes for emojis.

6. THOU SHALT WELCOME WHITE SPACE & CONTROL CLUTTER.

We’ve all heard that “less is more,” yet most of us have extreme difficulty restraining ourselves when it comes to applying this to our content.

(If I had a dollar for every time a client asked me to “make the logo bigger” or add in “a few more bullet points,” I’d be a gazillionaire. The struggle is real.)

But the fact remains that our brains can’t process information when they’re overwhelmed with it. The simple principle to remember was articulated by Confucius centuries ago:

A confused mind says no.

White space gives your audience a mental break. It lets their eyes rest and their brain effectively process the information you’re sharing with them.

White space is also not necessarily “white,” and it is not “wasted space.” It’s simply the space that gives your eyes a place to rest and focus on the most important elements in front of you.

Apple has masterfully used white space to achieve this for years. Microsoft has not, but they’ve made some improvements. This side-by-side comparison of their current “overview” page for similarly-priced laptops illustrates the gap:

Apple thoughtfully uses white space to focus attention on the brilliant display of their newest MacBook Air.

Apple thoughtfully uses white space to focus attention on the brilliant display of their newest MacBook Air.

Microsoft includes everything-but-the-kitchen-sink on their Surface Laptop page, including shipping and financing details, customer reviews, and redundant labels that compete with one another.

Microsoft includes everything-but-the-kitchen-sink on their Surface Laptop page, including shipping and financing details, customer reviews, and redundant labels that compete with one another.

7. THOU SHALT DOWNLOAD THESE 10 COMMANDMENTS.

Okay, that’s not actually the 7th Commandment.

But it IS what you need to do right now to access the remaining (and critical) three.

Because here’s the thing:

If you apply even ONE of these Commandments to your next blog post, email, presentation, sales letter, infographic, video (or whatever kind of content you’re creating), it will be more remarkable.

If you apply ALL of them, you'll experience the giddy joy of seeing hearts melt, minds open, and/or wallets spew greenbacks at you like an ATM on the fritz.

And may all your content from now on be remarkable.

XO,
Marta

P.S. If you find the 10 Commandments useful, I'd love for you to share them with a friend or colleague! Just tweet/text/post this link, and share the love!

Marta KaganComment