Style vs. Substance

For quite awhile, I was using images in my posts frequently.  Almost daily.  Enough that stock photography company Shutterstock took notice and we worked together to create a blog outreach program.  Images are vital to modern blogsBut images are, in essence, style.  Important, but mean nothing without substance.

And images are just one element that could be considered style.

  • So is a funky design…
  • Or a creative logo….
  • Perhaps clever formatting within posts…

You get the idea.

It goes beyond blogging, and actually permeates all aspects of content marketing and even marketing at the macro level.  Many companies are great at style but lack substance.  Some have substance but lack style.  Few have both.


Helps you stand out amongst your peers

If everyone else wraps their ideas in bland looking packaging – you can position yourself against them by having something that takes chances.  Glen Allsop at ViperChill knows how to make his content  stand out through unique styling.  So does the team at Smashing Magazine.  So does Dustin Curtis.  Do you?

Needs to be strategic to create the right kind of connection with prospects

For example – if your market is the Digg crowd, do you think an overly corporate site is going to attract them?  Unless you’re being ironic, probably not.

Makes people take you more seriously

I already stated the benefits of having a custom theme for your blog.  If you’re devoting any time (something far more valuable than money) to digital publishing, it makes sense to invest in a unique style for your site.  Think RSS and the real-time stream are all that matters?  Wrong. A majority of people still view content itself on site.  Ask anyone with a blog to look at their web stats and they’ll say the same thing.

It’s not just blogging:  any digital content you publish should have style if you want people to take you seriously.  It just shows you care.  Even if you’re willing to prove yourself and create substance-worthy content for years, style is a shortcut to gain attention quickly.


Trumps style

Style is important, but if you have substance it can be forgiven to have a lack of style.  Robert Scoble has a decided lack of style (sorry Robert the default WP theme lacks style).  So does Louis Gray (sorry Louis, that blogger theme is not visually interesting).  But it doesn’t matter.  They’re A-list tech bloggers with insane amounts of trust from the digital community.  Substance trumps style every time if you’re that good.  The better you are, the less you need the flash.

Is style (in writing)

If you’re smart enough to craft writing that has substance, it will inevitably also have some sort of style.  Unless you’re 100% robotic in your content and know nothing but technical writing, style is part of what makes up substance.  Do you read Outspoken Media’s blog?  You should.  Their writing defines style and substance.

Nurtures authority

As noted by Brian Clarke in his must-read “Authority Rules:”

Authority is powerful stuff.

Authority can be abused and it can definitely corrupt…

But it can also build trust, admiration, and respect.

And when it comes to online marketing…

Authority is what works.

Without substance, you have no chance at authority.

Is timeless

The nature of a real-time web creates a constant churn of content always pushing what’s old down and what’s new up.  But great content that has true substance is timeless.  Valeria Maltoni, author of Conversation Agent has an aptly titled section on her site’s sidebar titled “timeless.”  Apt, because the content has substance and is still referential to this day.  If you have true substance, you can cut through trends and the ever-quickening nature of disposable content and stand the test of time.

Other thoughts on style vs. substance

Style and substance are subjective

Your style could be my substance, and my substance could be your style.  They are subjective and open to interpretation.  But style and substance that hits the mark for your target will embody the items mentioned above.

Balance between style and substance

Can you have too much style and not enough substance?  Sure – and it can go the other way too, especially if you don’t have the reputation yet to create something thick with substance that lacks style.

Style is necessarily to hook people

As an electronic music artist who mostly writes instrumental music, I’ve learned the importance of hooking people with having some style at the start of songs.  While it’s fun for me to write a 10 minute+ long song with a drawn out introduction that undergoes many progressions and transitions, if there’s no initial hook with style no one will listen.  Perhaps that’s OK as I create music purely for intrinsic reasons and not to pay the bills, but if I want people to listen I need to have style to go with the substance, and it should be apparent at first glance.  Do you think marketing is really any different?


Do you ever stop and consider the balance of style and substance in what you’re doing?  If you don’t, you should.  As a content creator, marketer, blogger or web pro, or artist understanding this is key to creating ideas that stick.

Other Vs. Posts From The Future Buzz:

Mass Media Vs. Niche Media
Excitement Vs. Passion
Old Vs. New
Active Vs. Passive
Simplicity Vs. Complexity
Work Vs. Play
5 Blogs Winning The Numbers Game Vs. Traditional Counterparts

image credit:  seier via flickr