I’m a list maker. I make shopping lists, to-do lists, and travel planning lists (remember travel?) I even have a list on my phone of things I miss about living in Alaska. When I feel overwhelmed by work, my form of “self care” is to take out a fresh piece of paper and make a project list. Lists are good. Lists help you control your life. Just don’t let them to control you.

A lot of marketing content is now being written in bulleted lists. It’s become a common formula: A couple opening sentences (the intro); a column of bullet points anchoring short phrases about product features; a couple closing sentences (the outro); and a call to action (CTA). 

Clients will ask me to write “a few bullets” for their web site, saying they’re pretty sure “people don’t read anymore.” I have to say, I don’t buy that. People are reading all over the place. They can’t even wait in line without reading their phones. The fact is, we’re bombarded all day every day with reams of information. It’s not surprising that people are selective about what they want to read. 

Information, not content

I see this as a challenge to make content more interesting – not to cater to short attention spans. People will choose to read – and share – what they find engaging, interesting, or entertaining. They want information that adds value to their lives – even if it’s momentary amusement. Is it too much to ask to have well-written information? 

Some content, like technical specs, works well as a list. But the benefit of a list is also its drawback: It encourages skimming. In the case of technical specs, then, a shopper may be looking for that one feature that will decide their purchase. But they’re typically perusing specifications near the end of their purchase process. Does the car have Bose stereo? Let’s check the list.

Tell your brand story

A list will hardly ever truly romance the product. It won’t tell the story of your brand. If you fall into the trap of trying to sell with lists, you’re telling your customers that your product is simply an accumulation of features, and that they’re welcome – no, encouraged – to skim. Like a menu, they will see what jumps out at them, but they’re unlikely to be truly engaged.

In summary, then, here’s why I’m not a fan of bulleted lists:

  • Lists are lazy
  • They’re everywhere 
  • They lack imagination
  • It’s not how real people communicate
  • They invite skimming
  • They don’t tell your story
  • And then there’s the problem with punctuation: Do you put periods at the end of each statement? No periods? Semi-colons? Who knows!?

There’s more!

One more thing: We really need to stamp out the use of “and more!” As in, “These cookies have nuts, chocolate chips, real butter, and more!” Please, either list all the delicious ingredients, or assume I’m intelligent enough to figure out that cookies, by definition, also include flour, sugar, and eggs.

Let’s not insult consumers by giving them boring content. It’s amazing to me how many times “the words” are an afterthought when a new web site  or brochure is being designed. In fact, content is often treated decoratively. You can call me biased, but when I hear from designers that I need to shorten a headline because it doesn’t fit, well, I’ll give you fit! Whatever happened to “form follows function”? 

If your customers deserve interesting and well-crafted storytelling, I’m here to help!

Copyright Liz Behlke 2020