There’s a lot of talk about the need to make marketing content funny and edgy enough to rise above a sea of “me-too” blather.

Yet too many of my clients continue to play it safe – too safe, to my mind, to accurately describe the real business problems they help their customers solve. If, for example, one of their customers took six weeks to process a simple product change on their Web site, my client will balk at using that example because it makes the customer (even if they’re not named) look bad.

But it’s just that sort of real-world story that tells a prospect you understand their problems and you can help. How can you inject that drama and realism, along with some humor, into your content without burning your customers?

By using your knowledge of the quirks in your industry or market to create a snarky “Devil’s Dictionary” describing what commonly used clichés really mean. Here, for example, are samples from a Facebook post comparing common job descriptions for software developers with their “real” meaning. (Excerpts have been edited for brevity.)

What the Job Description Says What It Means
 
“…fast-paced environment.” …constant firefighting.
 
“…be a team player.” Must not question authority.
 
“Dynamic environment.” …leadership keeps changing our priorities.
 
“Self-starter” We have no process.
 
“Must be able to work with minimal supervision.” You’ll be blamed when something goes wrong.
 
“…work with cutting edge technology.” Do what everyone else is doing.
 
“…rockstar developer.” You’ll work very long hours with impossible deadlines.

Why is this content like this so valuable?

It’s real. Even if all these jabs aren’t true all the time, any developer will recognize the painful reality behind each of them. Content like this instantly shows your target audience you have hard-won experience in your field and aren’t just repeating the latest marketing jargon.

It’s funny and shareable. People need relief from tough situations by sharing a laugh with others who get the joke. Imagine if you created a list like this for your industry and it showed up on cube walls around the world, with your company name and contact info at the bottom?

You can show how you solve the problems you’re highlighting. Let’s say you’re a software recruiter and post this list and describe how you help developers avoid or cope with employers with chaotic, exploitative or otherwise miserable work environments. You’ve not only proven you know your industry, but how you can help your customers.

It protects the guilty. The creators of this list didn’t have to name any of their employers, or even mask them as “a global retailer based in the U.S.” That’s because the problems described by this list describes are so common they could apply to anyone in the industry. You get to tell real horror stories without implicating any of your customers or competitors.

Next Steps 

Don’t know how to get started? Imagine you’re at a bar trading war stories with friends or colleagues.  What common avoidable problems, organizational screw ups, failed promises and hyped technologies would you all complain about? While a “Devil’s Dictionary” is an easy way start, don’t be limited by that format. You could use a similar list of common headaches in your industry to create:

  • A series of blogs describing each of the problems and how you help your customers cope with them.
  • A “top ten” list of common problems or marketing half-truths.
  • Actual stories showing how these problems tripped up real people, with details of how they coped.

The beauty of this “snarky but safe approach” is you already have the raw material at hand. It’s just a matter of gathering it, packaging and promoting it.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.