Mike Essex

How FTSE 100 Companies Use “Boring Content” To Make Billions

24th Apr 2014 Content Marketing Blog 10 minutes to read

Boring Industry TitleNobody wants to create content that is seen as “Boring” but sometimes that’s exactly what a business needs in order to help convert customers. In my presentation from BrightonSEO I take a look at how the 100 biggest businesses in the UK & US use boring content to earn billions and the lessons you can learn from them.

You can find the entire slide-deck below, as well as a run-through of everything I discussed under that:

The digital marketing industry is obsessed with “Great Content”. We hold it on a pedestal as something that we should all aspire to. Most likely this is because it’s the type of content that wins awards, goes viral and gets links.

But does it actually sell?

In my opinion “Boring Content” is the biggest opportunity in Content Marketing right now.

Yet no one talks about it, because we’re ashamed of content that doesn’t seem “great”. I think that’s fundamentally wrong and something we as an industry need to fight against.

Great Content vs Boring Content

I’ve recently seen a lot of people highlight the General Electric Pinterest page as an example of great content. Whilst it does look great, and in some industries Pinterest does work very well, I doubt it helps them sell aircraft engines, power distributors and healthcare solutions.

The content we should really be talking about by General Electric are their microsites that perfectly highlight the benefits of their products and are business focused whilst also looking good. Not to mention the news stories they have that perfectly explain what they do without dumbing things down in an effort to reach a large crowd.

General Electic Microsite

There may not be many social shares and links to those sites but that’s not the point of them. They exist to sell and that’s all they need to do. They don’t need to go viral or act as “link bait” yet they are essential to GE’s business model. They are the true types of content I feel we should celebrate.

The Buying Cycle

One of the key goals of Content Marketing is to raise awareness of a business and that’s one of the things “great content” does well, but there are other stages in the buying cycle that also have to be considered. If you aren’t creating content that ticks all of the below circles then you need to shift your Content Strategy to cover everything.

Buying Cycle

In the FTSE 100 and AMEX 100 there are many companies who turnover more than a billion pounds every year. Most of them are businesses you’ve probably never used and they certainly aren’t all known for great content. Yet they sell countless products and clearly they do have Content Strategies in place.

So let’s take a look at what they (and a few others) do with boring content that taps into the buying cycle every step of the way.

Company Background

Buying Cycle: Consideration

At Johnson & Johnson every employee is told the credo by which the company operates. It’s a list of values that they have to learn and abide by when carrying out business. It’s what makes the company unique and it’s no surprise that they carve it into the walls of their business.

Which is why it’s no surprise that their About Me page carries that same messaging. I’d recommend you give it a read and consider whether you own page is so important that you’d carve it in to stone.


Technical Specifications

Buying Cycle: Consideration

Tech specs are generally seen as quite a dry topic and not every customer cares about the finer details of a product. However for those that do, if you neglect to explain the finer details of your product you will lose them.

I really love the website for the Autographer, a digital camera that takes photos throughout the day. It highlights the prestige of their product and the technical specs that help it stand out with a great designed page.


Press Releases

Buying Cycle: Awareness

“But Press Releases are dead!” Tell that to the biggest businesses in the world who still use them to deliver key messages to the press and gain exposure for their products. Even the most boring looking Press Release could contain information that gives a business the edge and I think it’s always worth diving through them for every client (or your company).

For example, the Genentech website has lots of Press Releases that may seem dull but they include such revelations as this one about them launching one of the first ever drugs to treat breast cancer. If I was doing Content Marketing for them that would be exactly the type of content I’d push for them as a priority. All thanks to a Press Release.


Company Locations

Buying Cycle: Consideration / Purchase

Adding a list of locations to a website is typically one of those steps that just gets done at the end, but if your business has many locations and activities it can be really important that prospective customers know what you do and where.

I really like the Operations Map the team at Glencore Xstrata created to help show what their 90 offices do in 50 countries. It’s a quick way for prospects to learn a lot about them.

Operations Map

Competitor Comparisons

Buying Cycle: Consideration / Loyalty

The Xbox One hasn’t exactly had the best press compared to the PS4,  thanks to countless articles declaring that the PS4 is more powerful. As a prospective customer that’s very damaging to my view of their product and something that can’t really be ignored when I consider buying the console. Thankfully Microsoft made this great guide to the other areas that set them apart.

Xbox One Benefits

Even more importantly Microsoft had some of their senior engineers carry out interviews with the press. Typically these aren’t the people who would promote the product and normally the focus is all about the games on the console. This change in approach was something I really liked and whilst normally I couldn’t care less for articles about DDR5, 1080p or SRAM on a console, in this case it was necessary for them to dive into the technical elements in order to convince me to stay as an Xbox customer.

All of this helped them generate a lot of positive press with some articles even reporting the Xbox One as the more powerful console by the end.

Product Benefits

Buying Cycle: Consideration / Purchase

Some products are technical by their very nature and there really is no other way to sell them. For example, servers are not something I like to chat about at the pub but when choosing a new one there are certain elements I need to see. I’m really impressed by the price comparison RackSpace offer as it compares 40 pieces of technical info side-by-side so you can quickly see which one is better value.

Rackspace benefits

If you need a server that has 32 VCPUs compared to one with 4 VCPs then no amount of Pinterest Pages and viral YouTube videos will convince you more than a simple chart.

Product Perceptions

Buying Cycle: Loyalty

Some industries have such a bad reputation that pretty much any piece of content they create externally will either get ignored or come under intense scrutiny. For example, there are few industries with a worse perception than the Tobacco industry who come under pressure from public bodies, Governments and customer lifestyles every day.

Imperial Tobacco seem to recognise this and their entire website is devoted to trying to shift perceptions of the creation of their products. It’s not designed to trick people that smoking is safe or anything manipulative like that but it is a refreshing bit of transparency.

Imperial Tobacco

User Perceptions

Buying Cycle: Loyalty

Fruit smoothies may not come under the same scrutiny as cigarettes but they too have suffered negative press in the last year. From claims that they pose a health risk to articles about how their sugar content is similar to eating several donuts. One of the companies cited in those articles was Innocent Smoothies (part of the Coca-Cola group) and I personally stopped drinking their products after the articles.

Innocent are known for having great Social Media interactions, a fun brand and creating great content but that didn’t matter to me. I was worried their products were unhealthy and no amount of “great content” could convince me. What I really needed was “boring content” to convince me that their products were better than eating donuts.

They went some way to addressing this with their guide on how they taste good, do you good and do others good, although I think it’s a battle they need to continue fighting with more of this type of content (such as medical studies) if they want to shift that image.

Innocent Smoothies

Brand Management

Buying Cycle: Loyalty

Sometimes a story can break that is so damaging to a brand that they have to stop everything and address it as a priority. Content Strategies need to be flexible for this eventuality and that’s certainly something Heineken know very well. When a photo surfaced online of a dog fighting event with Heineken banners surrounding the ring, people assumed they had sponsored the event.

Ultimately that wasn’t the case and Heineken made a great visual explaining what really happened and the actions they had taken. As with Glencore Xstrata this shows how tackling a boring but business critical topic can be done with something that looks great.

Dog Fighting

Customer Aftercare

Buying Cycle: Service

Your existing customers also need to be reached with content. In the case of Vax they found sites were ranking for their product user guides and monetizing them with adverts.

To combat this Vax uploaded many of their own guides to their website and they now outrank the other sites. A nice example of how continuing to support customers and repurposing existing content can help you reach more people.

Vax guides

Product Pages

Buying Cycle: Purchase

If there’s a more important piece of content on a company website than the product pages themselves then I’ve yet to see it. “Great content” will draw people to a site but it’s the product pages that will actually convert them. They have to be the best pages on your entire website.

We’ve got an entire whitepaper about Conversion Rate Optimisation that explains how you can continue to improve these pages, but for now let’s quickly take a look at the Aviva product pages.

Aviva Pages

What I love about them is how they use price information, star ratings, testimonials and bullet-pointed benefits to really sell what they do.

Annual Report

Buying Cycle: Loyalty

Shareholders rarely see engaging content that is designed specifically for them. Given that they either fund the business (shareholders) or are critical to its running (employees) I believe they need content as well. If anything the content created for them should have at least the same effort as that for customers.

I really like this annual report from Land Securities that goes through their profit gains, shareholder return and business return. There’s some really dry information in there but it’s all packaged in a nice way that keeps you reading. If I had shares in their business I’d be very impressed and ultimately that’s a very powerful group of people to keep on your side.

Land Securities

In Summary

The one key message to take from all of these examples is that they are designed to drive conversions. They don’t exist to go viral, win awards or get links. They exist to convert and ultimately that’s what we need to ask from every piece of content we create, whether it’s “boring” or “great”.

Image Credits

Credo from Johnson and Johnson
Vscan from GE
Technical specs from Authographer
Press release from Genentech
Operations map from Glencore Xstrata
Xbox One benefits from Xbox.com
Server comparisons from Rackspace
Focus areas from Imperial Tobacco
Chain of good from Innocent
Heineken does not support dog fighting from Heineken
User guide from Vax
Car insurance product page from Aviva
Annual report from Land Securities

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