Content marketing, in its current, somewhat overheated, incarnation, rests on a single assumption…
People won’t buy from you unless they trust you and they will only trust you if you give them free content.
A corollary is, “all other forms of sales and marketing are outmoded and obsolete”.
Brochures extolling a product’s benefits won’t work any more, we are told. Instead you must write an article about the problem it solves.
The assumption is attractive. It lets us off the hook of needing to sell, an activity many of the ex-journalists drawn to content marketing are either unwilling or unable to perform.
Instead of speaking to prospects, uncovering their needs and then explaining how our products help them, we just sit at our keyboards creating ‘content’.
One of the consequences of this line of thinking, alluded to in Mark Schaeffer’s Content Shock blog post, is that if everyone buys into the idea, any competitive advantage is negated. The answer, apparently, is to produce more content of even higher quality. Still free of course.
Unusually, compared to, say, the SEO content industry, the result is a race to the top.
Small-town lawyers, marketeers, and entrepreneurs will soon be spending all their time and/or money not on running their business or looking after clients, but on creating content.
However, the assumption and its corollary are largely untested.
They do not, as yet, have the evidence base that traditional direct response advertising, face-to-face selling or telemarketing have.
Here is another, equally plausible, assumption:
By creating high quality, free content, you will establish a reputation as someone who produces high quality, free content. And whenever people want to know about your specialist subject without paying for the privilege, it is you they will come to.
Meanwhile, when they need a divorce lawyer, summerhouse, music magazine or digital camera, they will buy it from whomever tells them a convincing story about how their life will be better once in possession of said object from said vendor. You know, benefits an’ that.
I have many quantifiable results of ‘old-fashioned’ sales and marketing campaigns that rely not on content but on salesmanship.
My agency has, among its clients, organisations of every size and shape who win their business through cold calling, warm calling, face-to-face sales, key account management, advertising, direct mail, e-shots, telemarketing, exhibitions and PPC.
Many of them do also produce content, but, as yet, none has much evidence that it leads either directly or indirectly to improvements in the bottom line.
This is not the content marketers’ assumption in negative. I am not arguing for content marketing to stop. Nor am I saying ‘it is dead’ – that favourite trope of marketing bloggers.
What I am suggesting is that a little humility, a little open-mindedness, might not go amiss while the evidence is being assembled.
And that, as in so many aspects of life, the key to successful marketing is balance.