Talking Content Marketing – With Josh Bernoff

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Talking Content Marketing welcomes author and the man who makes a stand at withoutbullshit.com, Josh Bernoff

After 20 years as a technology analyst and author of three successful business books,  Josh turned his attention to the challenge of why there is so much bullshit in the world.

He helps people to identify it, in politics, in media, in marketing, and within their own companies. He also helps them to write powerful, clear, brief prose of their own that cuts through the bullshit. Briefly, Josh gives people the courage to say what they mean. He blogs about this every weekday at withoutbullshit.com.

Lets look at the written word, the challenges we have in creating it and where people go wrong.

What is the biggest challenge when changing our writing habits? 

Teachers train people, both in school and in university, to write badly. They learn to write in the passive voice, to pad out their sentences, and to take a roundabout way to get the point. This is exactly wrong for business. In business, given the short attention span of anyone reading your email, your blog post, or your advertisement, you need to get right to the point, boldly.

My writing tips show people how to write things that are brief and active and to avoid jargon and weasel words (like “very” or “most”). Fear is what stops people from doing this. Fear of appearing too simple and direct, of making clear statements that might be wrong, or of writing differently from what their teachers taught them. That’s why I’m focused, not just on clear writing, but on the courage it takes to deliver it.

In a world that is saturated with noise, repetition and self congratulation, what approach do businesses need to adopt to be heard (and build their own audience)

First, figure out what you want to say. What is your differentiation? “We understand pets better than any other retailer” or “We know more than anyone else about content marketing.”

Second, find ways to say that as directly as possible, speaking directly to the customer. Use the word “you.” As in “We help you make your pets happier. Here are three ways we do that.”

Finally, be consistent in language and use every available channel to spread the word. This is content marketing. Be useful to people. Help them, don’t sell them. They’ll find you — Google ensures it — and they’ll share what they found.

Over 400,000 people have read my blog since I started it just three months ago. Several of them are clients already. And I didn’t have to spend a penny on advertising. I just tried to be useful and entertaining.

Should businesses take more of an open approach with a ‘lets talk about it’ mindset with their audience, rather than lecture with an ‘I talk, you listen’ attitude?

I don’t think “let’s talk about it” is sufficient, since your customer doesn’t want to tell you about his problems.

You should offer real, valuable, actionable advice and content. But you need to listen as well. When people do respond, you must address their concerns.

What is your biggest frustration when looking at companies who adopt a content approach?

Some people start with a bold perspective. Then so many people with so many opinions get their hands on things and water the message down to the point where it’s worth nothing. I wrote about this in the Parable of Ray’s Helicopter, which explains how a company’s mission statement gets muddled when everybody has an opinion about it.

How do you learn? What inspires you?

As an analyst, I learned to be curious. I still am. I want to know why things work the way they do. This applies to politics, business interactions, technology companies, and interactions in my daily life. I never accept anything at face value. I seek out unusual points of view. 

I also learn from the reactions of people who read what I write.

What inspires me are people who succeed by daring to be different. People who don’t back down and don’t do things like everyone else. For example, fivethirtyeight.com. And Caitlyn Jenner.

Which authors do you hold in high regard and why?

I love authors that can make powerful insights both interesting and entertaining. I am in awe of Malcolm Gladwell, who is the master of this.

In my leisure time I read authors like Mary Roach and Michael Pollan. Most business books should have been a 2000-word essay — they can’t hold my attention like these authors. Every chapter should be a new revelation. James Surowiecki and Chris Anderson do this well. Seth Godin can make anything sound fascinating and urgent. My idol is Isaac Asimov, who wrote simple, clear non-fiction that was nonetheless fascinating.

Photo at the top of the article courtesy of Ray Bernoff


Huge thanks for Josh sharing his perspective. To find out more from Josh’s side:

Josh on Twitter: click here

Without Bullshit: click here

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