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You know those starved-for-work folks who stand out on street corners in extreme heat and wave around signs and giant arrows attempting to bring you into a nearby store? Of course you do. They’re everywhere. Cheap advertising, I guess. I have to believe they make $8 an hour or whatever minimum wage is in your state. This is not a position that demands much skill.

Fairly often, these human ads have a tiny touch of schtick. Costumes are common. Maybe they wear a sandwich board or have a prop of some sort. Let’s call it what it is. It’s dull.

A street corner advertising rock star.

Her job is to generate traffic to the Verizon Wireless store. She has no props. Nor does she hawk an offer you haven’t seen a million times. Sounds, pretty ho-hum, I know. But day after day, she’s doing her thing on the well-traveled corner of Green Valley and Francisco and she calls a ton of attention to herself and the store. I bet she actually does generate traffic. And I’d bet you an hour wages, she’s paid several shillings more than minimum wage. Why?

She dances. Enthusiastically. Oddly, actually. Relentlessly. She has an iPod in her pocket, earbuds in her ears, music in her heart, and she never stops dancing. And believe me, she doesn’t dress like or move like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. And if you’re wondering if she’d cut it on “So You Think You Can Dance,” the answer is no chance.

She doesn’t bring amazing talent to her extremely unusual profession. She brings originality and passion.

Let’s talk about online marketing now.

A marketing copywriter handles your online marketing, maybe even a specialist, a web copywriter. If that’s not true, go away. This article is about copywriting and for those who take marketing communications seriously.

Now, in this age of inbound marketing, content marketing, online marketing, whatever-you-want-to-call-it marketing, some truths have become self-evident. One of them is there’s a huge call for publishing stuff. When you perform the task correctly, your website attracts traffic and gets shared.

So as a marketer, you hunt for copywriters and creative people capable of producing stuff. Many even hunt for stuff factories. Some congregate and republish stuff in the name of “content curation.” Given the need to deliver lots and lots of stuff everyday, some companies (not yours, I hope) settle for some pretty low-quality, low-cost stuff. Feel free to call it shit if you want because it stinks bad. It consists of words—keywords—not much more—not ideas—not opinions—nothing original or memorable.

You either get remembered or you get forgotten.

Vanilla gets a bad rap. People use the word to describe what they feel is bland. No fair. It’s a flavor. It might not be your flavor, but it’s a flavor still. It’s the flavorless stuff that deserves jeers.

I like to say, “You either get remembered or you get forgotten.” Which would you like to be?

A similar theme surfaced in many of the presentations and conversations at this year’s Content Marketing World conference. Of the 1,000 attendees who came to learn about, teach and exchange ideas about content marketing practices, you’d find zero who wouldn’t agree there’s too much unorginal, uninspired content begging for the customer’s time and attention. New word: it’s “nontent.” 

Think Elvis, the king.

There were more people than seats when it came time for Ann Handley of Marketing Profs to present her ideas on creating “epic content.” Ann told us to find a distinct voice, take risks, and take a stand, then showed us several examples of companies who have.

For me, Elvis comes to mind. Distinct voice? Oh yeah. Risk taker? Yes, ma’am. And, of course, Elvis took a stand and then some with his greasy hair, the leather, the sneer, and the provocative below the belt gyrations. The music itself was so unique, a deejay in Ohio named Alan Freed felt compelled to give it a new name: rock n’ roll. Not everyone liked it (there’s an understatement if there ever was one). But oh, oh, oh, millions of hound dogs LOVED it.

When you turn some people off, you turn some people on.

I started my career in copywriting in 1988 as a devotional follower of the legendary, sometimes controversial, ad copywriter, Tom McElligot. Tom insisted his agency’s clients deliver messages that would cut through the clutter or none at all. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did with Inc. in 1988:

“If you break the rules, you’re going to stand a better chance of breaking through the clutter than if you don’t. If you try to live with the rules, in all likelihood the work will be derivative. It won’t be fresh. It won’t have the necessary ingredients to disarm the consumer, who increasingly has got his defenses up against all sorts of advertising messages coming his way.”

(He continues…) “We like to say that when everybody else is zigging, that’s when it’s time for you to zag. And the smaller the company is, and the bigger the competition, the more crucial that advice becomes.”

Amen Tom. My version is “When you turn some people off,  you turn some people on.” Whether we’re talking about advertising campaigns or modern content marketing tactics, the lesson remains undeniably valid.

We’ll never claim there’s not enough media.

I love the way Tom Stein of Stein Partners Brand Activation put it when he had the microphone at Content Marketing World.

“Content – is it the new merlot, or the new black?  There’s lots of conversation about content being the new black.

Wine consumption increased by 66% percent after ’60 Minutes’ did a show on the health benefits of wine.  Casual drinkers went with merlot.  Demand went up, supply went up, and the quality went down.  It became synonymous with crappy wine.

Today we’re seeing a glut of content.  And quality looks like it may be on the decline.  It’s incumbent on content marketers to ensure the quality stays high. Let’s make sure content doesn’t become merlot.”

Step in your blue suede shoes.

Are your online marketing efforts evoking any emotion? Do you have a voice? A point of view?

Or is your stuff calculated and careful and quietly swimming the same direction as the minions of anonymous minnows?

Here are the real questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Would I read, listen to, or watch that?
  • Step it up… Would I buy that?
  • Step it up further… Will I remember that? 

3 yeses =  rockin’ content

Call on your gut. Find the nerve to touch nerves. And when the majority of the crowd is just standing there, dance.