Better Content Means Killing Your Darlings
William Faulkner coined a literary expression that all content creators should know: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Eliminating cherished but unnecessary words and phrases is essential to good writing. Faulkner’s advice may sound morbid, but it is spot-on for any writer, from novelists to B2B marketers.
In 2015, The Statistic Brain Institute reported that the average human attention span is just 8.25 seconds, a decrease of 3.75 seconds since 2000. This decline is attributed to the number of screens and deluge of information competing for our limited attention.
Suffice it to say, if you’re a B2B marketer you need to make your short-form content as easy to comprehend and retain as possible. Whether your audience reads, watches, or listens to your content, it’s important to trim your ideas down to their simplest, most essential form—be it a blog post, video script, or social media post.
This is easier said than done, especially in the B2B technology space. The products and solutions are often complex, rich with features and benefits that require detailed explanation. They also likely align with a bigger idea or message that needs to be amplified. These dynamics can make distilling and simplifying your ideas difficult, because everything seems important. If you need to kill your darlings, these three pieces of advice can help soften the blow:
- Stick to your core messages
When outlining your content, clarify the three most important messages. Then identify the ideas that will support those messages. Document this hierarchy and refer back to it as the project moves forward. When it’s time to tighten the story, ask yourself if there are any ideas or concepts that, while interesting and relevant, may not actually fit into the scope of the message. Are there any ideas that are diluting or distracting from the primary message? If so, bid them farewell.
- Don’t fret; it’s not your last content piece
I’ve seen a tendency among marketers to sometimes want to incorporate as many ideas and messages possible in order to make the most of whatever asset they’re creating. It’s understandable, but as I remind clients: If every idea is important, then none of them are important. Omit the non-essential ideas, but don’t throw them away altogether—develop a separate asset dedicated to them. This allows you to explore ideas more fully and give them the space they deserve.
- Leave your audience curious, not fatigued
Yes, your audience wants and needs information, but they can only absorb so much at a time. Your job is to provide enough information to pique interest and curiosity in your company’s offerings, but not so much as to overwhelm your audience. Make sure your thoughts are complete and provide enough detail, but don’t go overboard. This admittedly comes down to editorial judgment, and the decision isn’t always obvious. Read your content out loud and make note of when it feels like it’s dragging. Does it meander? Where are you losing interest? Share a draft with colleagues and ask them to review it with these dynamics in mind—it always helps to have a second (or third) pair of eyes.
It’s all about good judgment
There are no hard and fast rules when deciding what darlings to keep and what darlings to cut. In order to edit effectively, every content asset should be assessed within the context in which it’s published: Who are you trying to reach and what is their (relative) proclivity to engage with your content? Where will the content be consumed—on a smartphone, in print, or on a flat screen at a conference? These and other factors will help determine what stays and what goes.