Crazy Little Thing Called Content

Go to the bookstore and grab a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. The 1960 winner of the Pulitzer Prize (and for my money one of the best books ever written), is as fresh and engaging today as it was 40 years ago.

Now, go to the discount rack and pick up a dusty old also ran.

What’s the difference between these two books? Why is one so much more successful than the other?

Is it the binding? The cover art? The paper quality? The distribution network that delivered the books to the bookstore? No, no, no and no.

The difference is the content. The text of To Kill a Mockingbird scrawled on the back of a restaurant napkin would be a more interesting read than a beautiful, high quality book filled with nothing but blank pages. Content is what matters.

But in the world of E-Newsletters, content is frequently left out of the discussion. Go to E-Newsletter business seminars, read business articles about E-Newsletters, or listen to the E-Newsletter vendors talk about what matters, and content almost never makes it to the top of the list.

The conversations in the E-Newsletter world are overwhelmingly dominated by discussions of tracking, formatting, list management and other logistical aspects of E-Newsletter production.

There’s nothing wrong with talking about these things, but they’re all irrelevant if the content of your E-Newsletter isn’t great. If what you have to say is not interesting, clear, compelling and (most of all) of use to your readers, then everything else is a waste of time; yours and theirs.

When I work with a new client, the first thing we do is “figure out” the content. In particular, we zero in on who the audience is ( click for more on this ), and what the wisdom, experience or area of expertise is that the client has, and the audience wants. That’s what we write about.

Until we get the content worked out, we don’t even talk about — much less look at — format, layout, colors, typeface, or any of the other fun stuff that goes into an E-Newsletter.

Many of my clients (frankly), find this initial stage frustrating, because they’re anxious to get on with what they perceive to be, “the real stuff,” and would rather just blow past (as one person put it) “all the conceptual BS!” I do my best to convince them that this first step is the most important part.

Bottom Line. The “conceptual BS” — the content — is what matters most, and at the end of the day, it’s the only competitive advantage that your newsletter has. Like a beautiful book with nothing in it, an E-Newsletter without great content is only worth the paper it’s printed on.

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