BY STEVE TOBAK
Content marketing is, without a doubt, the most over-hyped and least-understood marketing tool for entrepreneurs, soloproeneurs and small businesses owners. And it’s certainly not the panacea it’s been made out to be.
The interactive web -- social media, blogs, videos, etc. -- has made content marketing relatively easy and inexpensive. And therein lies the rub. As with entrepreneurship, everyone is doing it. The competition is enormous, and so is the level of noise you have to get over just to be seen and heard by potential customers.
There must be terabytes of content telling you how to make your content marketing count, but nearly all of it is click-bate generated by those struggling to make a name for themselves on media sites selling ads. In other words, most blogs and articles on content marketing are, ironically, nothing more than worthless content marketing.
What do you say we cut through all that BS and get into a little truth about content marketing from an actual former senior marketing executive of the high-tech industry who doesn’t have skin in this game -- or his hand in your pocket.
1. There’s content and there’s CONTENT.
There’s an old saying -- you get what you pay for. The vast majority of content is generated for peanuts, and that’s exactly what it’s worth. The fact that it’s cheap and easy is why everyone does it, and that’s also why it’s worthless. As marketing goes, it’s lousy and its return on investment even worse.
2. Everyone’s an expert. Well, not really.
Know why John Grisham is a best-selling author? He was a successful trial attorney for years and years before putting pen to paper. Everyone seems to understand that, if it’s not expert content, it’s of no value to customers, but that doesn’t seem to stop the “fake it ‘til you make it” crowd from generating enormous amounts of worthless tripe.
3. It’s all about strategy.
If you look at the way big companies do marketing, they have senior executives and top agencies working to develop their marketing and communication strategy, and let me tell you, that ain’t cheap or easy. Content marketing is simply an execution tool and, without the strategy part, it’s undifferentiated and essentially worthless.
4. Product and personal branding are worlds apart.
When it comes to personal branding, this generation has been sold a bill of goods. Without a distinct competitive advantage -- a value proposition that truly sets you apart from competitors -- all you’ve got is a difference without a distinction. You may look or come across different, but in the customer’s eyes, your product is not differentiated.
5. A billion people make a lot of noise.
I once read this tweet by serial entrepreneur Naval Ravikant: "1999 - $5M to launch a product, 30M serious computer users. 2014 - $5K to launch, 3B serious phone users. Leverage / $ is up 100,000x." He’s right, except for one factor: competition. It’s so cheap and easy that a billion people are generating online content via WordPress, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. You’d have a better chance of being heard across the stadium at a Denver Broncos game.
6. It’s a lousy time to have a service business.
Commodity products like paper clips and jellybeans are nearly impossible to differentiate -- unless they’re made by Apple, of course -- but in general, it’s a lot easier to market a proprietary product than a service business like coaching, Web design, or, ironically, content marketing. Like it or not, most service businesses are like paper clips and jellybeans.
7. Originate, don’t regurgitate.
Most web content is either complete nonsense or regurgitated riffs on original content by real experts, journalists or writers. Neither type is worth what content generators are paid to write it -- which isn’t saying much. Google’s algorithms know the difference between the cheap and easy stuff and quality content and, more importantly, so do customers.
Speaking of which, I recently came upon a post by a twenty-something content marketer called, Leaders Must be Readers. Yes and no. Real executives and business leaders do generally read a lot, but they’re usually far too busy working to waste their time reading what she was referring to -- the kind of fluff most content marketers generate.
For more on what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur and an exceptional leaders in today's highly competitive business world, get Steve’s new book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur, and check out his blog at stevetobak.com.