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From the Trenches

Nerd Alert: How to Make Boring Content Interesting

Right Source | April 28, 2016
Nerd Alert_How to Make Boring Subjects Interesting_

Have you ever wondered how giant food companies keep all their ingredients fresh long enough to turn them into products, then keep them fresh longer still while they await sale to the public? How do the Campbell Soup people safely store all those tomatoes and celery stalks, all that chicken and beef?

What’s that? You actually haven’t wondered about that? Fair enough. Neither had I, until I met someone who worked for the trade association representing refrigeration engineers. Yup, that’s a thing. See, they keep all those perishables fresh in refrigerated warehouses, and keeping a warehouse cold requires the use of dangerous chemicals and gases. Get it wrong, and those warehouses can explode.

My friend’s job was to create content for the people whose job is to safely and efficiently refrigerate warehouses. Nerdy? Sure. I think so. Then again, I’m glad there are smart people in the world who find that subject fascinating enough to have dedicated their lives to it. (I’m sure we can agree that an epidemic of exploding warehouses would be a major bummer.)

But I admired my friend. It’s not easy to take a subject as esoteric as refrigeration engineering and make it interesting. Yet the truth is that most organizations work in some obscure corner of the universe. Your little corner might be network engineering, chemistry, or oven-mitt manufacturing. Whatever it is, if you’re trying to create content for an audience of professionals, then it’s likely that some of that content (maybe all of it) will be a bit nerdy.

If you’re a little intimated by that, here are a few tips on how to do it:

  • Remember that it’s all about the audience. The first and most important thing to understand about so-called “nerdy” subjects is that they’re not nerdy to the intended audience. They live this stuff. The average person may not find an article on “Resolving Issues Loading VLAN Databases In Virtual Internet Routing Labs” interesting, but you would if you did that for a living, and those are the only people you need to care about. Virtually all business-oriented content is “nerdy” to people who don’t work in that business – including this topic. Does a mortgage banker or a dentist or the Orioles’ third-base coach care how to make things interesting? Nope. They only care about their problems. Likewise, you’re reading this blog post because you do care about making things interesting. In the content business, everything is tediously boring and endlessly fascinating, depending on the audience, aka, The Only People Who Matter. That’s why it’s so important to…
  • Know your audience. Did you know that America’s physicians right now are in turmoil over something called “maintenance of certification”? Or that software-defined networking is a huge topic in the IT world? It’s OK if you didn’t … unless it’s your job to create content for those audiences (in which case please take a look at the managing editor position that RSM has open). You can’t create effective content unless you’re willing and able to care about things that other people care about. The content you’re creating, after all, is intended for their benefit, not yours. Making “nerdy” content interesting is about understanding what the audience finds interesting about it, and why, and honing in on that. Which means you’ll have to…
  • Tell them something they don’t know. It’s not uncommon for writers who lack deep knowledge of a subject to find themselves impressed with some bit of information, and to write about it as if it’s a brand-new piece of knowledge in the world. What these writers don’t realize is that this information, while perhaps new and interesting to them, is common knowledge to people with experience in the subject matter. So they end up outing themselves as noobs and wrecking their own credibility. Compelling content requires telling your audience things they need or want to know, but currently don’t. That’s hard to do if you’re not an expert in the subject matter. So, to do it, you’ll need to either get plenty of help from the subject matter expert in your company, hire a solid content creator to help you, or …
  • Conduct plenty of research. One thing about understanding a subject at a deep level is that you start to realize that all that nerdy stuff isn’t really nerdy at all – it’s actually really important. Because if it wasn’t for that nerdy thing, we wouldn’t be able to do the nine other nerdy things that make it possible to, I dunno, fly airplanes, talk on cellphones, and keep tomatoes cold. To create content about those things, you need to understand those things. That means hard time at the University of Google. (Or, again, if the subject requires a level of expertise that’s just beyond you, make sure that you’re working closely with an actual subject matter expert or a freelancer who specializes in that niche. )

The secret to making nerdy subjects interesting is the same as making any subject interesting. Know your audience. Know the subject matter. Tell your readers things they don’t already know.

Still worried that you’re creating boring content? We can help.

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The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.