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According to Wikipedia: “A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. The word derives from plat, the French word for “flat.” Platitudes are geared towards presenting a shallow, unifying wisdom over a difficult topic. However, they are too overused and general to be anything more […]

by JERRY SILVER // Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Digital PR specialist and CEO at Spin Factory

According to Wikipedia:

“A platitude is a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. The word derives from plat, the French word for “flat.” Platitudes are geared towards presenting a shallow, unifying wisdom over a difficult topic. However, they are too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with an ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution.”

Whether you’re in marketing and communications or not, you’ll see these platitudes everywhere. And for some reason, platitudes are becoming the go-to format for many lazy content marketers.

How can you avoid becoming one of those lazy content marketers?

Look And You Shall Find Platitudes … Everywhere!

Let me give you a few examples of commonly used platitudes seen everywhere in B2B-type content:

Exhibit A: “It’s important to have a strategy.”

Honestly, how many professionals would think that their brand should go without strategies for their businesses? The content marketer should instead strive to demonstrate either exactly how a strategy will affect the outcomes or how to craft a strategy that will work — preferably both.

Exhibit B: “Be patient and think long-term.”

Sure, but how? How exactly do I get rid of those pesky feelings of impatience and those internal pressures of producing results as fast as possible?

Exhibit C: “Always put the customer first.”

Once again, a perfectly valid approach to business in general: being customer-centric. It makes sense, right? But how exactly does one put the customer first? That’s the actionable type of advice we’re looking for.

Exhibit D: “You should produce epic content.”

Most professionals already grasp the concept of how good content tends to perform better than not-so-good content. Producing really, really, really good content must then be many times better than publishing content that is … well, I guess not that good?

Still, all those platitudes seen everywhere seem to “work” somehow. Why is this?

Why Platitudes Seem To Work Well

Platitude writing tends to do quite well in social media. A text loaded with obvious statements and no real knowledge can still attract quite a lot of social media engagement.

How is this possible?

For one thing, people often hit that “Like” button (or emoji-button or whatever) without even reading the actual article it refers to. Instead, their engagement reflects how they agree with the headline and how it adds to their own personal world view1. It’s probably also a psychological bandwagon-effect2 at play, a way of signal belonging to important social circles.

Now, I’m not worried about information overload as a result of too much platitude writing being published. I tend to side with Clay Shirky, on how “there’s no information overload, only filter failure.” But I do worry on behalf of brands and their communities who deserve better than to fall victims of lazy content marketing.

How To Fight Platitude Writing

If you’re a content consumer (which basically applies to all of us) would suggest the following: Please stop encouraging lazy content marketers!

Here’s a control question that you can use:

When you see someone posting content telling people how important it is to start putting out “epic content”, don’t think “oh, I agree that epic content is important” and then share it to your friends. Instead, ask yourself, is there really any type of actual knowledge being shared here? Or is it just another piece of fluffy content loaded with platitudes?

Or if you’re a content producer — how can you avoid dispensing platitudes in your own persuasive writing?

This is how you could fix it:

When you copy-edit or proofread your content, also do a platitude check. Look for obvious statements that you aren’t “bringing home”. With just a little bit of practice, it’ll become second nature to you.

Do you agree that platitudes are to be found everywhere in content marketing — or am I just looking in all the wrong places? Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Please note: The depicted platypus has nothing to do with platitudes in general, or this article in particular, not at least as far as I know. Platypuses are rather interesting animals with complex personalities and depth of character. And like content marketing without platitudes, they’re quite rare.

shutterstock_201475937

Notes:

  1. Wikipedia: Cognitive Dissonance.
  2. Wikipedia: The Bandwagon Effect.

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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.

Add your comment:

Eric Lindesvärd

I fully agree with you. That is why I find the messaging hierarchy model (budskapshierarki) so useful. Basically, there are four levels in the hierarchy. I think it works for personal posting as well as for brand dev, because in the process of using it, you can’t escape the ‘why’ question.

At the top there is a brand promise or brand positioning statement. This promise can be very open since it’s reflecting the brands understanding of a basic human need. It’s the answer to ‘why should I care?’.

Second level is the product or service promise, for each and every product the brand is providing. These promises are the ‘reasons-to-buy’.

Third level is handling rethoric issuses and persuasion. Facts and benefits for every second level promise, where every fact corresponds to a single benefit. It’s the answer to ‘how is it possible?’.

Fourth level is about the offer. The answer to ‘why right now?’. Or call-to-action if you like. But that’s a separate topic.

Thinking through the three top levels should wipe out any platitudes in messaging. The third rethoric level in particular. The process can take weeks or months for a brand organisation. But the cognitive process itself is not very hard and can be applied to any messaging activity.

Reply
Doctor Spin

Wow, such a valuable insight to share, Eric, thank you. Let me know if you’d like to write a guest post on it, it really sounds exactly like what would interest anyone reading this blog. And I will definitely read up on the messaging hierarchy model, thanks!

Eric Lindesvärd

Thank you for a great post! I would be honored.

Jeffrey Joy

Great post. I really enjoyed it.

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Reply
joseph5351

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Reply
stefankrafft

Nice post Jerry! I do think a lot on what quality in content marketing really is. Lately I’ve been struggling with one particular issue and that is why we tend to think that all great content must be aimed to solve a real problem. Or as it often is described, help your customer on their buying journey. I am not a big fan of that platitude at all. Not all good content must be aimed to solve problems, there are more to it. Inspiration, feel-good and more. I am working on a post on it, will come back and post when I am done.

Now, back to your post and one of your examples. If a post with the title “Always put the customer first” only told me the importance of doing that, it’s crap. If the post also described a model for how to do it in a really smart way, it would probably get my attention. Than it goes from just “noise” to at least having a chance to add some value to me. Also, when doing so, that content piece includes a personal touch and a story that might attract me to some level to its writer.

See what I mean?

Reply
Doctor Spin

Awesome perspective, Stefan. A piece of online content doesn’t have to be problem-solving in itself to be perceived as valuable. The first thing that comes to my mind is reinforcement — because that’s something people always look for. Content that will confirm their way of seeing the world. Excellent insight — promise to drop a comment here with a linkback to that post when you publish it! :)

stefankrafft

Glad you got my point. There is of course obvious that answers on questions from your audience is crucial, but I the very best of content marketers do more than that. They support my buying journey as everyone tries to do. But even more important, they support my personal adventure as an entrepreneur and marketer.

By doing that they secure a place in my mind as enablers of my own success what ever that might be. I’ll even fight to keep those brands/solution even though there might be good logical reasons to make switch.

Take care Jerry!

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