Last week CMO.com columnist Anoop Sahgal posted a column about “The Rise Of Content Marketing,” and it got the two of us talking about where marketing content comes from and who produces it. Now we’re working on a follow-up together. But this also got me thinking about the quality of content in the service of marketing.
A lot of such content is embarrassing because it has that “Wink-wink, of course we’re selling a product here!” character to it. In other words, it’s not really content. It’s ad copy made to look like content. As Anoop points out, really good content doesn’t just sell a product. It establishes the company as a subject-matter expert. It takes away the sales pitch and replaces it with substance.
Imagine that: Marketing content that means something. It’s what you want, but I hope you realize it’s going to cost you.
Why would a column by a headhunter about career issues be concerned with how content is used in marketing? Because when you’re asking for a job, you’re putting content out there to convince the employer to hire you. The content you put out there, and how you deliver it, means the difference between a job offer and rejection.
Like advertisers, the mistake job hunters make is to talk about themselves (or their products). Like advertisers, job hunters use ad copy—a resume. But whether I’m a headhunter, an employer, or a prospect, you and your product aren’t what I want to hear about. I care first about what I need. It’s why I’m hiring or shopping. To get my attention, your “content” has to be about me.
That’s the distinction marketing consultant Ryan Caligiuri makes in a wonderfully short, classic article, “Be An Educator, Not An Egotist.” And it’s the basis of my short PDF book, “How Can I Change Careers?” The idea in both cases is simple: Don’t talk about yourself. Talk about the other guy’s problems and challenges and how you’re going to tackle them. Don’t talk jobs, don’t talk sales. Talk shop.
Ouch—that’s why content is going to cost you a whole lot more than producing a resume about you or your product.
Caligiuri talks about educators and egotists, and he describes the psychology this way:
“Your prospects tend to ignore people trying to sell to them but they will buy into someone who is offering insights, information, greater advantage and results.”
That’s why self-serving content marketing doesn’t work. You might as well just use a traditional advertisement instead. Don’t insult the prospect or waste her time by pretending that ad copy is content. Says Caligiuri:
“Educators are willing to put the prospect first because they understand their success and that of their clients are one and the same . . . An egotist, however, uses presentations often not all that insightful and focused solely on what they do or sell. The motivation is to achieve sales, not to help the marketplace achieve greater insight.”
Executives like to tell me they spent $1,000 on their resumes. Then they ask me, “How can I stand out from my competition?” (As a CMO, you’re asking the same thing every day.)
I tell them to shut up and stop talking about themselves. Talk about the employer instead. Better yet, show that you actually understand the issues the employer worries about every day. Educate the employer about those issues.
It’s easy to stand out when you do that. But it takes a great investment of time and effort—more than the price of a resume or ad campaign. Nobody said it’s easy to stand out. That’s why I tell job hunters that a resume is a waste of time—it’s ad copy that’s about you. It’s not about the unique other guy standing before you.
Caligiuri ends by saying:
"This is what will set you apart from the rest of the egotists and ensure your prospects respond more positively to your marketing communications.”
This is why a content marketing strategy is a long haul—it’s about education. And education is a dialogue, not a presentation, ad, or resume. This is why a good content marketing strategy is going to cost you a lot of time and money. You can't stand out by behaving like everyone else who's got their hand out, asking for business.
Now, tell the truth: Does your company’s content stand out, or is it just more marketing? Are you ready to make this kind of investment? Do you have any idea what good content really is, or what it costs to produce? I think CMOs have an awful lot to learn about the differences between ad copy and content. I'm not sure many have the stomach for the investment and the patience required to implement a long-term content strategy.
Do you? Let’s talk about it on the discussion forum.