Five Reasons Not to Use Numbered Lists in Your Marketing Content

Just returned from a trip that removed me from electronics for four peaceful, long days and I woke up a bit crotchety at the impending necessity of reviewing four days worth of email and social network correspondence.  I subscribe to several marketing newsletters online and felt obliged to give them at least a cursory review.

Here’s what I found:

  • 10 Habits of Highly Effective Tweeting
  • 12 Tips for Better Cash Flow Management
  • 4 Ways Your Company Can Win With Content
  • 3 Things You Need To Ditch To Boost Your Productivity
  • 7 Strategies to Untie Your Shoelaces if they Get Tangled in Your Underwear
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Ancient Egyptian Blog Post

Well, maybe I made up the last item, but you get the point.   Marketers these days use a lot of lists. Ever curious, I decided to seek out the origin of the numbered list. It seems that numbered lists first appeared in the 3rd Century BC as part of the indexing system for the Royal Library in Alexandria, Egypt.  The first card catalog didn’t actually have 3 x 5 index cards, but consisted of a series of  lists written in hieroglyphics on papyrus scrolls.  It must be mentioned that a few historians place the origin of lists even further back to the time of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, who is reputed to have kept detailed inventories of idols and implements of worship pilfered from the temples of conquered nations, and a 10 best restaurant list that was published in the Ninevah Daily.

In the modern era, growth of lists increased with the discovery of the bullet point in 1871 by machinist Matthias Schwalback, one of the early developers of the typewriter. Schwalback was a close friend of William Wrigley, Sr., the inventor of chewing gum.  The bullet point ensued from the fortunate collision of two prototypes. Schwalback, reacting to a test of the  original sassafras root flavor additive, expectorated a test chew of the Wrigley product into the type case of his mechanical typing machine. The period key jammed, resulting in the first recorded incident of the bullet point.

Both numbered and bulleted lists have seen exponential growth in recent years as content marketers, lacking anything useful to say, produced list after list of regurgitated drivel to induce sleep among unwitting victims unfortunate enough to be lured by tempting subject lines.

A Moratorium on Content Marketing Lists: Five Reasons Why

Enough already! Lists are overused and it’s time to declare a moratorium.  Here are Five Reasons Why:

Keep Satan Out of Your Blog Posts!

Keep Satan Out of Your Content Marketing!

  1. There is nothing less creative than a list – except mudpies. Making mudpies requires slightly less inspiration than does a list.
  2. Someone’s done it before – in fact, the “Top 7 Reasons Your Company should use Social Media Marketing” list has been published on the internet almost exactly 2,136,743 times (as of midnight last night).
  3. Lists are just boring as hell.  In fact they are the tool of Satan.  I have that on good authority from Ernest Angley, who will send you a prayer cloth for protection against devilish lists for only $7.00.
  4. There are never more than three practical reasons to do anything, or to avoid anything else.  Therefore, lists longer than three items are even more worthless than the shorter versions. It is always safe to ignore any list items numbered higher than 3.
  5. Like this one.

Content marketing is a great idea, especially for small businesses with stories to tell.  While a list or two may be necessary to make a point, structuring creative content around lists is ummmh . . . . uncreative.  Tell the story. Make it entertaining. Skip the list.

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