I was always one of those procrastinators. I made it through a writing degree by pounding out seven or ten pages of content in single late-night bursts, depending entirely on meager scraps of innate ability, sheer momentum, and luck.
During one of those wee-hours word-binges, I jotted a stern warning to myself on a Post-It and slapped it on the wall behind my desk: “The process is the product.”
I probably went on to ignore that mantra for a few years after, but as I’ve developed professionally I’ve internalized its simple truth: The things you make will always betray the way they were made. Those last-minute college assignments were laced equally with brilliant nuggets and glaring oversights. You can’t generate bulletproof content from thin air through willpower and cleverness alone.
It’s something that I now keep in mind every day that I’m at PCG Digital. In my role as a content writer, it’d be easy to turn my brain off and just check the boxes. Our company is primarily in the automotive industry, and you can feasibly describe a car with just a listless list of attributes and a call to action. But that’s a cheap process, and it’ll produce flimsy, dull product.
Consumers can smell indifference or lack of knowledge pretty easily. If you’re going to write truly effective marketing content, you’ll have to be able to manufacture a sort of passing passion for the subject and the audience.
You don’t evoke enthusiasm without being, yourself, enthusiastic. For instance, if I want to describe to someone why a particular car should be appealing to them, I’ve got to see why it would be appealing to anyone. I go build my own custom model on the manufacturer site: These are the options that’d be cool to have…ooh, that’s a great color…of course I want all-wheel drive, are you kidding me?
By stirring in myself the same sense of (for lack of a better term) product lust, I’ve both studied the subject to convey that information knowledgeably, and built a certain personal enthusiasm that I can inject into the content.
The same applies to tailoring content for geo-targeted audiences: You don’t connect with people by simply cramming the name of their town into the text. Google it! Google Earth it! Read a blurb of history, click a local news site, poke around in street view: Try to get a glimpse of what folks who live in that Toledo suburb or rural Mississippi county are seeing in their day-to-day.
You don’t have to hop on a plane and go experience the area. But you can quickly get a glimpse of the sort of place you’re speaking to: small town or big one, rolling hills or flat land, big box store or mom-and-pop. You’ll at least have some sense that you’re writing to a real place, with unique people, and you can channel that into more personalized, direct language. A little knowing nod to local patterns or past-times can go a long way, as long as it isn’t ham-fistedly corny.
And once the content is done, reread it–not just for errors (you should be doing that anyway), but to ask yourself if it appeals to that customer you’ve tried to imagine, whether it captures all of the things that excited you when you were doing your groundwork on the topic. If it doesn’t, the solution might not be the backspace key, but rather a little bit more time with the subject.
Your own process will, of course, differ from mine, and from the next person’s. But know that readers will always be able to tell whether you know what you’re talking about…and you won’t be able to convince them to care if you can’t convince yourself. The way you went about making the thing is inseparable from the actual thing. The process is always the product.