What the Misinterpretation of Evergreen Hath Wrought


 [cross-posted from Medium

Let’s play a little game called content madlibs. Can you fill in these blanks?

· [number > 7] Crazy Tips That [conditional] Make You [synonym for “insanely”] Productive

· How to [synonym for “rapidly”] Become a [form of social media] Expert

· [number >= 10] Habits of Highly Successful [type of leader]s.

Now, just throw together some combination of numbers, italics, aphorisms, memories of your grandfather, and quotes by Sir Richard Branson and that Highly Successful Type of Leader Who Is Also a Woman! Don’t forget your tags and links to other blog posts you’ve written about something mentioned in the post.

All set? Great! You, my friend, have got yourself an SEO-stocked, page-view-primed blog post! Just press publish, tweet out the best aphorism, and wait for the links and retweets to come frolicking in.

Don’t trust me? Just ask Linkedin. Or Harvard Business Review. Or Inc. Or Forbes. Or Copyblogger. Or even, sometimes, Fast Company. All doing brisk business in boilerplate advice.

Welcome to the land of homogenized milk and blended honey, where the grass is evergreen and banality reigns supreme.

On the surface, the success of boilerplate posts is somewhat counterintuitive. These posts are longer than the average TechCrunch “article,” have like, one picture, never of a baby sloth, and don’t fit all the ensuing bullet points within the title. These posts aren’t breaking or exclusive—they’re what content marketing folks like to call “evergreen.” Evergreen, as in come over anytime! Evergreen, as in Steve Tyler’s lips! Evergreen, as in that cardboard tree you hang from your rearview mirror.

It’s not really evergreen’s fault, honestly. The poor dear’s been bastardized from an adjective to a proper noun, replete with specific format, tone, and lexical guidelines.The one area where specificity is not welcome is in the content itself. Eg, there are lots of posts about the “power of storytelling” in marketing, but there are very few stories. Eg. there are scads of leadership tips but few illustrating anecdotes.

It’s kinda funny that as our world grows more fractured and specific, advice for thriving in it grows more and more general.

I don’t know why this is but I do know that it’s ill-founded. Specificity does not, in fact, deter eyeballs. What specificity does do is create memorable stories. There are no new plots under the sun, but there are new settings and characters and new ways of describing old settings and characters. Eg. right now I’m rereading Random Family, which chronicles the lives of a group of teenagers and their families in the Bronx between 1988 and 1998. The plot is familiar, the characters are unique and, my third time in, the story still feels: fresh. Also: raw. Also: sickening. Also: white-knuckled. Also: sad.

To the content marketers and professional bloggers and online editors, I’d like to say: go read this book. Go scroll through Esquire’s round up of the best stories it’s ever published. Go spend a little bit of time reading something great.

The devil’s not in the details but in the lack of them.