Should you ever publish content that is less than 100 percent in alignment with your company’s product or service?
Something tells me most corporate marketers would reflexively answer “No.”
As someone who’s been planning and producing content marketing programs for a while now, I’m inclined to answer “Yes.” In fact, to paraphrase German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, I tend to believe “that content which does not kill us makes our strategies stronger.”
A Question of Credibility
The question occurred to me this week while speaking with a corporate marketer about his B-to-B content program. A planned article was intended to help readers understand pros and cons when choosing among two versions of the same product for certain industrial applications.
If reported and written straight up, with no bias, the article would have reported that, for certain applications, the widget with XYZ feature is the superior solution. For other applications, though not nearly as many, the better solution is the widget with the ABC feature.
It turns out the marketer’s company only manufactures the XYZ widget. So, the marketer approved development of the article with one caveat: “XYZ wins the battle and comes out on top.”
I explained that the article would not be credible if it were slanted to favor the XYZ. I assured the marketer his company’s widget would be the recommended version for several applications, even the majority. But that the ABC widget needed to get its due for the article to be trustworthy and truly useful for the readers.
Guess what? The planned article is going to be scratched from the content calendar.
The corporate marketer and his colleagues did not feel comfortable shining a spotlight on a product their company does not make, even though that same piece of content would have shone an even brighter spotlight on the version they do sell. In the process, the company would have been providing its B-to-B audience with useful information to make more-informed business decisions. In other words, delivering on the brand promise that underlies content marketing.
Tackle Meaty Topics — Or Tiptoe Around Them?
Don’t get me wrong. Scratching one article topic does not invalidate a thought-leadership content program. There are plenty more topics to be covered that won’t point readers toward a solution that is not provided by the company. And there are usually ways to “plan around” topics that might appear to be at cross-purposes with business objectives.
But the broader issue here is one marketers should consider when undertaking a content marketing program: Are we willing to publish content that is less than 100 percent favorable toward our product, service or solution — knowing that content will be valuable and relevant to our target audience.
- If you’re a remodeling or a plumbing contractor, are you willing to point out projects and minor fixes that consumers might attempt themselves.
- If you sell customer relationship management (CRM) software, are you helping prospects recognize when they are not good candidates for buying an expensive, enterprise-level CRM system?
- If you produce a widget that solves 70 percent of your customers’ needs for widgets, are you willing to point out scenarios where a different version of a widget is going to give them the better result?
For my money, a content program grows more credible and engaging the more it’s willing to address topics that are highly relevant and useful to the audience, regardless whether every last topic is 100 percent supportive of the marketer’s products and services.
After all, we invest trust and loyalty in those advisors — doctors, attorneys, brokers, bankers, consultants — who are willing to give us the good news and the not-so-good. When we’re confident they are being honest in the information and recommendations they provide, looking out for our best interest, not only theirs.
If you’re a corporate marketer or a content marketing agency or consultant, I’d welcome your comments on this topic. Is it too easy for me to advocate for “risky” content when it’s not my career inside the corporation that’s on the line? Or do you think marketers tend to be too cautious with their content, and therefore miss the opportunity to be fully credible and valuable to their target audiences?