Has content become too vanilla?

Content came up, unprompted, in every single interview of our survey. While some customers already have established strategies in place, others are just dipping their toes for the first time. It seems though that content marketing has finally reached a tipping point with industrial technology communicators. That’s great, but a word of caution – beware of vanilla-ization.


In an attempt to fill the ever increasing number of channels and outlets, including their own, everyone from business, trade associations - even governments, are churning out industrial-scale, generic vanilla content. 

Like ice-cream, we’re programmed to consume content. But today’s target audiences and sales prospects – especially engineers and scientists – are a more discerning (and widely dispersed) bunch.  Rather than gorge on scoops of insipid vanilla, these days they are more likely to choose a more organic, varied and flavorsome selection.

Companies across every sector are knee-jerking and pumping out me-too content in an attempt to influence the dialogue around a number of megatrends and move prospects along the sales funnel.   

Vanilla Ice Age

We recently looked at how Tier 1 component manufacturers are communicating around automotive megatrends and also how big management consultancies position their digital transformation offering.  The bottom line, they are all consistently generic. A similar vanilla-ization has happened to sustainability and innovation messaging across multiple sectors.

What has caused this vanilla ice age?  Well, while companies often tell us they want to be thought leaders or opinion leaders, this is all too often at odds with a need to control the corporate narrative, to over-message and to over-media train spokespeople.  This has led to a widespread stifling of opinion and reluctance by internal subject matter experts to participate in thought leadership initiatives. 

The result is that everyone appears to be saying the same thing, in the same vanilla way, at the same time.  The people consuming content know it is vanilla, but they can’t always recognize which brand of vanilla it is.

Melting Point

The good news is that the vanilla ice age is coming to an end.  In fact, the thaw has been underway for a few years and has seen companies commit to a different content strategy - one that is more varied, more original and thought-provoking. 

That shift involves philosophically letting go of their vice-like grip on messaging and narratives and encouraging teams and experts experiment with content and opinion.  Usually, this is backed up by creating a dynamic platform as a focal point and making tools such as LinkedIn Elevate or Sales Navigator available to create a safe playground to take measured risks.

GE Reports and Clariant’s The Moleculist are two great examples of how industrial technology companies are approaching content differently, by adopting a newsroom-style with an open, informal tone and manner.

As you think about content strategy and development, a few pointers to bear in mind;

  • Develop a ‘vanilla-o-meter’ to discourage your content creators from falling into familiar patterns or knee-jerking to plug a gap. This might be gut instinct, a ‘taste test’ with colleagues or a more formal editorial board. Ask yourself, would you read or watch this yourself?
  • Try something different. Sometimes vanilla is necessary, but make it good quality vanilla. However, a mix and match, yet consistent approach of varied content formats and styles can bring an element of surprise and variety.
  • Organic and scalable, rather than industrial production. Less is sometimes more. Three scoops of good quality, organic and flavorsome content is more appetizing and satisfying than eating a liter of vanilla soft scoop – trust me, I’ve tried!
  • Encourage subject matter experts to have and express strong opinions while creating content. It’s much easier to temper the heat or add flavor and spice at an early, draft stage. Once the content begins to set it becomes harder to shape.
  • Take agile, measured risks. Try new formats and flavours - at least twice a year. Regularly review your roster of writers and experts. Do more videos.  If something doesn’t resonate well, don’t do it again.  
  • Cultivate like minds. Everyone is on the lookout for compelling, well-told stories. Find and cultivate storytellers and content ambassadors internally, among like-minded customers and seek candid feedback from editors and reporters.

So, what will it be, then… one scoop or two?


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