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From the Trenches

Stop Publishing Generic Content: A Case for Authenticity

Right Source | June 25, 2015
Stop Publishing Generic Content A Case for Authenticity

In the mad rush to create content — and more content — much of what gets published makes me stop and wonder: Haven’t I read this already? Generic content is everywhere, and certainly no stranger to content marketing. But with all the content on the inter-tubes, generic won’t grow your business or help you generate leads. Generic can actually hurt you.

What you need is authenticity.

Authentic content doesn’t come across like a corporate boilerplate or sales pitch. It doesn’t sound ghostwritten, even if it is ghostwritten. It’s genuine, trustworthy, straightforward, and honest. It’s also reflective and self-aware — or at least it presents that way.

Why does authenticity matter in B2B marketing? For one, members of the millennial generation seek out authenticity in the places they work, the brands they buy, the blogs they read, and the businesses they support. Authenticity is “the way to the millennial’s heart,” writes business professor Karl Moore in an article for Forbes. And millennials, who make up the largest and most educated generation to date, are the ones entering the workforce, starting news businesses (or moving up the rungs of existing businesses), and coming out of school ready to do something meaningful — in droves.

But the millennials aren’t alone in their fondness for authenticity. Today’s seniors, boomers, and gen Xers want it too, Moore says — and that’s where content marketing comes in.

The proliferation of digital content makes it possible for businesses to do far more than they could do with a few pieces of print collateral. Print isn’t dead, but the digital space opens doors to a deeper, more personal kind of storytelling. And it’s those stories that potential customers, clients, and partners turn to when they vet your company.

What can you do, then, to make your content more authentic? If you’re used to a traditional, corporate style, how can you breathe life into how your company presents itself to the outside world?

You can’t really fake authenticity, but you can get better at it with practice. Try these tips as a start.

Be yourself
This is rule number one. It doesn’t mean, however, that you can be completely casual in your writing if your company brand is professional and conservative. Both you (the individual author) and the company need an authentic voice, and those voices need to align with each other. For instance, if your company voice conveys professionalism and expertise, then you’ll want your content to strike a similar sense of gravity. Likewise, if you strive for a more upbeat, friendly tone, then don’t publish dense, jargon-laden content that reads like your graduate school thesis.

And different types of content offer different types of latitude for branching out with your writing style. As a rule of thumb, blog posts and drip emails give you more room to be yourself. In these, you can typically use first person (I and my) and write in a more conversational tone. White papers, case studies, and corporate communications, on the other hand, tend to be more formal. With this content, assume the collective voice of your company (using words like we and our, if your company voice allows it), and stay away from addressing your audience from an individual vantage point.

Speak directly to your audiences
Content is ultimately about building connections with your audiences. Think of your content as a conversation. This doesn’t mean you can write ad lib, without the necessary planning and structure that come with all good content. What it means, however, is that in some of your content, you can speak directly to your audience, using words like you and your, naming their predicament straight-out, and telling them in fairly direct terms why your story is worth reading.

Consider these two different approaches to the beginning of a blog post:

  1. If you manage a team of software developers, you know the unpredictable nature of development projects — and the consequences of an overbooked team.
  2. Managers in software companies often have difficulty determining the workload of their internal software development team.

While one isn’t right and the other wrong, the first example draws the audience in by relating to their specific concerns. The second takes a more distant approach. Instead of engaging the audience directly, it uses third-person narration to maintain formality.

Publish a range of voices
Authenticity involves showing the human side of your business — how your team thinks, reacts, and interprets various trends and events. It’s hard to do that if you’re always publishing content by just one or two people on your team. Instead, broaden your mix of authors. Don’t go to extremes by turning your blog into a free-for-all, but do rotate in new voices and give old ones some breathing room in the publishing schedule. Limit your internal writing team to a select group who can cover the range of themes you’ve identified in your content marketing plan. This can get tricky because it’s hard to say no to willing participants. Consider using a ghostwriter for those who are interested in the content marketing mission but might not have the writing skills or the time.

Use real, not stock, images
You want more than your words to come across as authentic — you want your entire look and feel to resonate with who you are as both a company and professional. While carefully selected stock images can often meet those criteria, make a point of adding some “real” images to your photo bank. How?

If you don’t have an in-house photographer, hire a freelance photographer to spend a day or two taking pictures in and around your office(s) of your team at work. Look for a photographer who understands the importance of aligning visuals with your mission, values, brand, and goals. And then arrange for a series of strategic photo shoots. For instance, if collaboration is a big part of your approach, you can stage shots of your team brainstorming around a table, solving problems in a lab, or reviewing blueprints together at a job site.

In addition to taking real images of your team and workspace, remember that symbolic and abstract images can convey authenticity, too. Close-up shots of your office space, tools of the trade, or even the company logo can be useful images down the road.

Convey a sense of company culture
Your company culture is shaped by your team’s beliefs and behaviors. It infiltrates all kinds of things —your organization’s overall structure, interactions among your employees and managers, how you structure your workspaces, and more.

Even if you don’t have a designated “Company Culture” page on your website, you can still communicate culture through your content, and show your audiences some of what makes your team tick. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Mix blog posts into your editorial calendar that highlight a unique feature of your company, such as the local charity you support or the “walking meetings” you just implemented.
  • Post occasional photos on social media of your employees having fun together. Do you have an employee sports league or social hour, or maybe throw Frisbee over lunch?

As you determine what might work, take caution not to overdo it. Keep these “self-promotional” posts to less than 20 percent of your overall content. And steer clear of images of your team playing beer pong, for example. Although authentic, they won’t build your credibility (or your clientele).

Keep your content from blending in with the generic sea of what gets published daily on the Internet. Work to make it authentic and your audience will notice, and will keep reading.

Want to create authentic content for your organization? Start by addressing what’s on your blog. Use this checklist to make sure you’re creating remarkable blog posts. For more help with creating authentic content as part of your content marketing efforts, get in touch.

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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.