‘Nontent’ Marketing

I’ll admit it—I’m a fan of online comic Penny Arcade. If you’ve never read it, the (often NSFW) comic is a bastion of game culture and the once niche site is quickly becoming a powerhouse as all things game become more mainstream. In 2010, for example, it’s creators made the TIME 100 list of worldwide influencers.

Of particular interest to me are posts by one half of this creative duo, Jerry Holkins, who goes by the name “Tycho”. He’s the word-maker to partner Mike Krahulik’s pretty pictures, and his grasp of language is nothing short of astounding. Admittedly, some of his posts leave me scratching my head but more often than not I get a good laugh or uncover an unexpected nugget of information. So it was with Holkins’ July 14th post, when he talks about “nontent,” words and phrases masquerading as real content but that contain no value. He targeted a recent interview about the new Transformers movie, in which “Transforium” is forwarded as the substance that makes Transformers….transform.


A recent Slideshare post by content marketer Barry Feldman sums it up perfectly: Useless lists, terrible ebooks, self-aggrandizing websites and awful Powerpoint presentations yield the opposite of what companies want. These don’t drive conversion or sales, they drive consumers away.

Avoiding the Nonsense

So how do companies avoid nontent? I’ll start with the obvious: Hire a talented freelancer with a history of high-quality work. But it goes deeper than that. Businesses need to identify a message in their content, something that resonates with readers and listeners rather than simply trying to sell a product or service. And sure, sometimes this requires creating a new word or phrase but it’s a good idea to avoid the Transformers problem by following a simple rule: If something doesn’t need a new name, don’t create one.

Getting rid of ‘fluff’ is the second key to creating quality content. This means skipping the superlatives, pruning down adjectives and adverbs and getting straight to the heart of the matter. Readers don’t have big attention spans online, meaning you need to grab them at the outset and never let go.

Finally, don’t be afraid to write posts that avoid mention of your brand altogether. Talk about issues or events that relate to your market niche, but see what happens when you skip the sales pitch or a dissection of your latest whitepaper. Chances are your organic social shares will go up because readers can take away something valuable rather than another limp call to action.

Nontent is everywhere, disguised as valuable insight with fluff and posturing. Be better—create real, actionable, sharable content to grow your brand.

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