Most will agree that husbands or wives chosen essentially for their ability to impress others, regardless of whether or not they’re truly compatible as life partners, seem unlikely to form lasting fulfillment. How can they, when based on such shallow criteria as physical beauty or youth, often in exchange for the promise of wealth and security? Sure, both sides might know what they’re getting into and see certain benefits, but they must be willing to compromise on some level. How long before this mercenary exchange fails to deliver to one or both parties?
So it is with content. This column is not about relationships (or IS it?), so now we transition from spousal choices to content strategy.
Beautiful content allures, attracts, and commands attention. For a split second. Sometimes that’s enough, if attached to a beautiful thought that is captured in a beautiful headline, which leads to a pretty opening line, flowing to a gorgeous head paragraph, and so on. But if not attached to significant content, then deep, recurring disappointment looms around the corner. The bottom line here: shallow beauty alone doesn’t get you far. Ok, this far, duh.
Yet beauty is, and always will be, tempting. Tempting to create. Tempting to sell. Tempting to shout about – “look at the beautiful thing I’ve made!”. And that’s why marketing agency case studies and graphic designer portfolios and contractor samples are stuffed with beautiful things. A crime? No, and perfectly understandable, because beauty attracts the eye. And it helps you stand out initially when pushed into a competitive lineup with other vendors and agencies.
The Trophy Trap
But if you’re in charge of hiring someone to make your product, service, or brand successful, you can’t afford to fall under the spell of shiny, beautiful things. And if you’re selling your services to those who would have you vault them into mainstream awareness, resist the temptation to fill your visiting gift basket with only shiny baubles. It’s a shallow way to differentiate your wares, and leaves little room for exploration beyond the surface. In other words, avoid the trophy trap.
You might see the trophy trap when a creative director (most often coming from a graphic design background as opposed to writing/storytelling) leads a pitch meeting of some sort. They are trained to make things beautiful, are usually damned good at it and justifiably proud, and therefore subconsciously focus on the beauty of a campaign or launch or product. And the meat of the campaign, launch, etc. – the hard metrics and inner story – are downplayed or left out altogether.
Or the trophy trap appears when a prospective client wants to see some of your best recent work to assess your marketing skills, and you present your portfolio based on what looks the most successful, the most professional. Because the glare of scrutiny can be harsh and intimidating. Because even though that text-based direct-mail campaign you did generated nearly triple the industry standard response rate, there are no sexy visuals to show in a deck. And you fear that it won’t appear professional. As opposed to the dazzling Tumblr series on 1950s architectural awards you hired the art director for, which got lots of likes (and little traffic or conversions), and now adorns the top of your portfolio landing page because, well, it’s visually delicious.
Plain Truth Beats the Beautiful Promise
And that’s where you can’t be afraid of success: Pure, metrics-backed audience engagement, positive sentiment in third-party conversation, conversions, and sales. A great campaign doesn’t have to look pretty (as long as it follows branding guidelines). Objective success with meaningful numbers is a beautiful thing, and is worth shouting about. Don’t get caught up in a showcase race with the sizzle agency that seduces with beauty. The results are your trophy.
But didn’t Keats write that “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”? Can’t beauty ever be enough, an end in itself? Sure. In fine art, perhaps, or a cat show. For other pursuits, just be prepared for what you get in return, when all you’re offering up is beauty.