How to tune top ten lists for effective marketingTurns out the folks over at Spiceworks, who seem to have thought of everything, have a forum talking about not only IT issues, but IT marketing. And one recent thread stopped me in my tracks.

It turns out that customers are on to our marketing trick of doing “Top Ten” lists of IT best practices, especially when the “Top Ten” list is only a thinly disguised way to say “Buy our stuff.”

One commentator kicked it off with “I’m in marketing here at Spiceworks and I have a confession: I’m not a fan of “Top 10” lists. Top 10 ways to boost conversion, top 10 social media tips, etc. The headlines sound so compelling that I always click and read, eager to learn some quick wins. But I wind up saying to myself “duh!” on a lot of the points or “that doesn’t apply to my situation” on others. Usually a big ole “whoomp wah” for me.”

David Letterman, Watch Out

One commentator cleverly did his own “Top Ten” list of why he hates Top Ten lists. 

  1. They are overdone.
  2. They oversimplify complex subjects.
  3. They dumb down the reading skills of the public.
  4. They are a cheap marketing ploy.
  5. They’ve become a cliché.
  6. Not many people can count to 10 these days.
  7. They pad out the list with silly tips at the end to make it to 10.
  8. Are you still reading this list?
  9.  Numbers make things look more important than they are.
  10.  Because.

All of which makes me realize I may not be as clever as I think I am when I advise clients that “A top ten list is always a good idea.” And that maybe it’s time for us to kick it up a notch and make sure we’re adding value.

Top Ten Lists With Oomph

  1. Run your list by someone currently working in the field to weed out “duh” tips.
  2. Tailor your tips to your audience. A “top of the funnel” prospect who needs educating might value a tip that rates only a “duh” to someone closer to a purchase. This might mean developing different “Top Ten” lists for prospects at different points in the buying cycle?
  3. Wherever possible, illustrate tips with recent stories and anecdotes. This builds your credibility and makes for better reading.
  4. Include specific recommendations about what to do, not just what not to do.
  5. Identify the specific, quantifiable benefits of doing the right thing.
  6. Ask readers for feedback to keep them engaged, get feedback on your tips and, most importantly, keep helping your audience to keep them engaged.
  7. Measure how your “Top Ten” list content does compared to your other content – and how various types of “Top Ten” lists (more advanced vs. more basic) perform. .
  8. Stop when you run out of smarts, as I hope I’m doing. 

Now, in the spirit of my own Tip #6, let me know whether and why Top Ten lists work or don’t work for you. Do you even measure their success? And do you ever ask for, or get, feedback about whether your clever Top Ten lists are actually boring the pants off your audience?

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

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