If not content marketing then what?

When it comes to promoting your company is content marketing the only trick in town? There is so much excitement about content, about ‘inbound’, about social media: does that mean that there is no other way to get your message out? Do we really all have to become avid bloggers, publishers and tweeters if our businesses are going to thrive?

This is the question that had my mind racing in the early hours this morning. It follows a heated panel debate at the Professional Copywriters’ Network conference on Friday that really got me thinking. It woke me up at 5am. It’s evidently a question that deserves serious consideration. We spent months writing a book on content marketing. Hell, we’re peddling this stuff! Are we over-hyping its importance?

Here are a few sleep-deprived thoughts on the subject.

Q: Is content marketing the only way to win business?

A: No.

  • Companies can win business without content. And they do.
  • Blogging is not the law. You don’t have to do it. You have choice.
  • Some people don’t mind being cold called, or receiving unsolicited emails.
  • Referrals will always be a great way to win more business – you can win business purely on the strength of your record and personality.

All true, but when it comes to winning business it’s a tough old world out there. When we speak to our clients and friends we don’t hear stories of people getting significant success from cold calling, or amazing ROI from advertising. It seems that even long trusted networks can’t be relied on to deliver the leads a growing business needs these days.

Whether you are a lone copywriter or a large corporate consultancy the web plays an increasingly important part in a potential buyer’s path to a sale. And the web IS content – whether that’s the information on your website, the snippets you share via social media or articles you post on other sites. Only a very lucky few can afford to ignore the importance of content when it comes to winning business these days.

Q: Does content marketing mean the end of proactive selling?

A: No.

Content marketing doesn’t replace ‘old school’ sales methods – it adds weight to them.

Your content exists to help you open doors, start conversations and build trust. Sharing valuable content across the web will help you draw in leads, but it goes wider than that. Useful content gives you/your sales team a reason to pick up the phone and speak to a potential client and is the perfect sales follow up. It makes you easier to refer. It makes a conference stand more engaging than a stand full of brochures.

Valuable content puts your inbound and outbound marketing/sales activities on a firm foundation.

Q: Is content marketing new?

A: No.

Canny marketers have always shared useful, entertaining, or thought provoking information to encourage people to buy or buy more. Think Lego magazines, Michelin guides, consultancy whitepapers.

This approach isn’t new. It’s just that it has never been easier. The Internet has given us an array of new tools to play with – content managed websites, blogs, YouTube, SlideShare, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Storify – I could go on and on.

Content marketing as it has become known is now more widely accessible and cost effective than ever before.

Q: Does the world need any more content?

A: Yes, if it’s valuable.

Low quality, cynically produced, SEO fodder – we don’t need any more of that. We’re as dubious as the next woman about the outbreak of content farms selling very cheap, poor quality stuff.  But if you’re creating something of absolute relevance, or something useful or entertaining then we urge you to keep on keeping on. There’s a clear business reason to produce it and share it. Content that genuinely answers people’s questions, or content that makes you smile, laugh, think – there’s a huge demand for that which we can’t see drying up any time soon.

Q: Is there too much hype about content marketing?

A: Yes, and no.

‘Content Marketing’ is everywhere. Your Twitter streams and LinkedIn feeds are probably clogged with tips and guides on the subject. It’s being heralded as the answer to all our marketing woes. It’s no wonder some are sick to death of it already (we’re getting pretty bored of the term ourselves!). The backlash has started.

Those of us who believe in the power of great content have to talk about it responsibly – just by chucking up a blog and sending out a few tweets you’re not going to suddenly get all the leads you’ve ever dreamed of. It has to be part of a wider system. Success takes time. It takes careful thought and planning, It takes persistence, creativity, great writing, strong leadership, great people – all of these things.

But if content marketing is done well, if it’s truly valuable, then it’s not hype. It makes perfect business sense. And we should shout from the rooftops about it.

>> How to create meaningful content in a sea of ‘meh’

It’s not the law

Valuable content is a brilliantly versatile tool in your marketing and business development tool kit. Yes, you can exist without it, but why make your life harder? Your content strategy is a way of getting you from A to B. It is possible to make a cup of tea without boiling a kettle, but why would you want to?

Business development has never been easy. We say use all the brilliant tools you have available to you today to prove your value and help you sell.

But you don’t have to. It’s your choice.

I’d really, really welcome your thoughts. It’s important. Off to get some sleep!

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  1. Heather Townsend

    Great blog Sonja.

    My view is content marketing is essential regardless of what are your main routes to market. Regardless of how you get your prospects into the sales funnel, they will now almost always check you out online before proceeding with the sales conversation. Fail to get that online footprint right and suddenly your hot-to-trot prospects may suddenly stop returning your calls.

    From some of our clients’ experiences, the lack of content (they are going to get around to it) is impacting their ability to close a sale and overcome clients’ objections to using their services.

  2. Tom Albrighton

    Sonja, this is a great post but I also thought you did an excellent job of making these points on the panel.

    You argued, cogently and convincingly, for content marketing as one channel among several. Not some sort of Swiss Army knife that fixes everything, but a valuable tool nonetheless.

    As you say, it’s not either/or. As Andy Maslen argued during his talk, it’s all about what works – improving what helps and discarding what doesn’t.

    From my own experience, I *know* my blog builds credibility and converts prospects. It’s the first thing clients say when they ring up. The other day, someone said she and her colleagues had spent the whole day on my blog!

    Regarding names, we all have our crosses to bear. Andy’s work is called ‘junk mail’, as he admitted. If you write for the web, you have to deal with the problem of low-grade/SEO content expectations. But as long as people are using a particular phrase to describe what you do, there’s little point in trying to swim against the tide.

    Faddish terms are customers’ doorway to our services, but they don’t have to define or limit the tasks or expertise that we actually give them.

  3. Hamish Riddoch

    For me content marketing is, probably always has been, about positioning and building your value brand. It’s just a question of how you then use your content to generate and convert leads.

    If your content is strong enough and visible enough to attract clients on it’s own, that’s great. But for many, as you say, you’ll need to use it proactively to support other lead generation and selling approaches.

    I think the issue is that for business owners, who aren’t experts in marketing, the (passive) content marketing message is very persuasive. Many are already uncomfortable with the thought of having to get out there and approach potential clients directly. The danger is they are persuaded to adopt a passive content/email marketing approach even if this isn’t the best for them.

  4. Sonja Jefferson

    Thanks all of you for the intelligent comment.

    Heather – I’ve seen this too. Having a website and getting the content right is SO important today. A business priority. It is the first port of call however someone becomes aware of you.

    Thanks Tom. It was a good if heated debate at PCN on Friday (and an excellent conference – nice work!) ‘Content marketing’ and ‘direct mail’ are not great terms for what we do but as you say, we’re stuck with them. So let’s claim them but give them some meaning.

    Hamish – that is an excellent point. Well said.

  5. Andrea Howe

    Sonja (and others): I think you’ve nailed it. This is a very thoughtful blog post on the value of content marketing as one very important tool in all our toolkits.

    A few other benefits that might be worth underscoring follow. They’re much more insular, tho I think they do ultimately impact client relationships:

    – Creating content gives me a way to get clear about my own point of view (as I imagine was true for you, Sonja, in writing this very blog). My point of view is an important part of my value proposition.

    – Creating content builds my confidence in what I know and believe in. That’s not to say I’m always right. It is to say that me being personally grounded in my own expertise affects how I show up (in a very good way) with clients and prospective clients.

    – Creating the content that I give away for free keeps me in the modes of helping and being generous. I believe these are (paradoxically) very important modes to be in if we want to sell effectively.

    Those are my thoughts at the very reasonable hour of 1PM ET. 🙂

  6. Sonja Jefferson

    Hello Andrea. Very worthwhile points and I’d agree with them all. Thanks for taking the conversation up a level. Sonja

  7. Ryan James

    Great to see a content marketeer with a sense of realism about it all, that’s one of the reasons I respect you so much Sonja.
    What I can’t figure out though is why people have so quickly overlooked the value and power of ‘referral marketing’. The power of real people connecting with other real people, building lasting relationships built on trust and friendships that yeild countless new opportunities far more likely to materialise than any other lead generated through other means, content marketing included.
    Don’t get me wrong, content can play a vital role in developing successful referral marketing relationship, which certainly helps me but its almost as if people have been opting for social media as a means of substituting the need to build real interpersonal relationships.
    But they’re not the same. One takes constant management and feeding. The other just takes time, trust and thoughtfulness, but is far easier to maintain, far more fulfilling, far more successful than any other kind of marketing and far more likely to yeild a constancy of profitable opportunities time and time again.
    Yes content marketing is invaluable but referral marketing seems like the long forgotten next step that people too easily overlook…
    I can feel a series of blogs burning to be told, complementing your content marketing message and helping people understand the simplicity of ‘referral marketing!
    But that’s what I don’t get… Referral marketing is SO SIMPLE, and such a natural progression from content marketing I really don’t get why more people don’t embrace it! Odd indeed.

  8. Sonja Jefferson

    Hi Ryan. Great point – referrals will always be key and you are the master of that! They should absolutely not be shoved aside by ‘newer’ lead generation methods. I really look forward to those blog articles. Often referrals alone cannot be relied on to drive business growth. In my experience success comes from using an array of techniques and tools, as part of a wider system.



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