The End Of Content Marketing (And The Beginning Of Value)
Why don’t you write to me more often? you asked.
(No, not really. You didn’t ask. But I imagined that if you were paying close attention to what I’m up to, you might ask. And I have a perfectly good answer, which is why I wrote this post.)
It seems like most of the ‘successful’ people who have an online presence tend to write on a consistent basis.
And yet I do not.
The fact is, though, I write a LOT. Pretty much every day.
My computer, my journals, and about sixty-three thousand random scraps of paper are filled with my unpublished words.
I also write (or these days, edit) for private clients.
It’s just that I don’t write to YOU.
And it’s not because I don't think you're awesome. (I KNOW you are.)
Or because I don’t think what I write is ‘good enough’ for prime time.
I know I’m not, like, up for the Pulitzer Prize or anything—but I’m aware that I have a way with words. I am even comfortable accepting money for my writing (see above about client work).
So, it’s not fear of being judged or criticized that stops me.
It’s something else, and it has to do with more than just writing.
Recently, after a fair bit of introspection (read: excruciating over-analysis) I figured out what that something was.
The introspection began in earnest several weeks ago when I got an email from Pinterest that said something to the effect of:
We see that you may be using our website for business purposes; would you like to change your account to a business account?
And I thought, Sure, why not?
Seeing as I do not have the slightest clue what I am doing with my Pinterest account.
Anyway, I clicked over to the site and was presented with a list of categories into which I could plop myself, as a newly-minted Business User.
And as I scanned the list, I almost inserted myself by default into the category called Public Figure.
After all, that’s the category I was in over on The Big Blue (er, Facebook).
But as my mouse hovered over the menu of choices, I stopped to ask myself:
Wait a minute. . . AM I a public figure?
And it took ‘myself’ like zero point five seconds to answer:
Hellz to the NO! Are you kidding?!?
I mean, a public figure is someone like Oprah. Someone folks would recognize on the street.
I am definitely NOT someone who gets recognized on the street except by friends.
(And thank god for that because I really don't want to be on the cover of Us Weekly wearing my typical 'uniform' which consists of a baseball cap, t-shirt probably from Tar-zhay, and yoga pants.)
So in that moment of selecting my (accurate & realistic) Pinterest identity. . .
A part of the world I’d been living in for the past seven years began to unravel.
Now, I don’t mean unravel like a bad thing.
I mean. . . well actually, maybe I mean untangle.
Like when you have a pile of necklaces that have been engaging in an orgy in your jewelry drawer for the past three years, and one day you go to put one of them on and you’re already running late and you try to grab it, and all its partners in 18-karat depravity are clinging to it for dear life and you’re afraid you’re going to break its delicate chain but you have to get it out of that sinful gob of gold right now because I’m LATE, dammit!
Or something like that.
And it wasn’t as if this was my first go ‘round with that angry pile of co-mingled jewelry. In fact I’d sat with it on my lap, evening after evening, trying to find the source of the entanglement.
(I am speaking in metaphors here—you’re following that, right?)
So that I don’t confuse you, let me stop talking jewelry and be very plain about the entanglement of which I speak.
For the past several years I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery.
*Cue heartstring-tugging documentary track*
From the time I wrote my first blog post many years ago, I’ve been navigating this world of mostly online entrepreneurs.
And over the past year or two? I’ve noticed something really interesting.
If I were a psychologist (which I am not, so take this with a grain of salt), I’d call it. . .Entrepreneurial Narcissism.
No offense to those who are afflicted, because:
- They’re probably not even aware they have it.
- I know how it feels! I certainly thought it was The Way We Do Things Around Here at one time. (And by that I mean one really long-lasting time.)
Here’s how it manifests.
We set up a website, and in order to figure out how it should look, we visit the websites of the ‘superstars’ who have the kinds of businesses we’d like to have, so we can see what THEY are doing.
Sounds logical enough.
And what often follows is an episode of, Look at her amazing photos! Wow, she’s a good writer. She has HOW many testimonials? Damn, she’s been featured in every major news outlet on the continent.
And if we don’t fold our laptop closed, crumple over it, and proceed to short out the hard drive with a tsunami of tears. . .
We steel ourselves.
And resolve to piece together OUR version of that other entrepreneur’s site.
We make sure to include all the requisite elements necessary to create a generic (albeit lovely) version of Ms. Fancypants’s website.
We sprinkle the header or top right corner of every page of our website with an instant plea for our bedazzled visitor to sign up for our list, like NOW.
(Because, hello? “The money is in the list.” And of course, ‘the money’ is the shiz. The end-all. The sole purpose for being in business. Like, duh.)
We write about ourselves as if we’ve discovered the cure for cancer.
(Because we’re supposed to embrace our genius and shine bright, baby! No shrinking from the spotlight.)
We attempt to connect with our visitors by saying things like:
Follow me and I will rock your world.
I’m the best thing to happen to your business since EVER.
Look at the presents I made for you.
(Bearing in mind our websites are theoretically designed to welcome visitors from around the globe who’ve never met us and—presumably—couldn’t care less about what we’ve slaved away to make for them, that they never asked for in the first place.)
(And not even touching the Barry-White-tune-playing-in-the-background awkwardness factor of some of these almost-literally-plucked-from-someone's-site taglines.)
And it doesn’t end there.
Because on Facebook, our Ms. Fancypants hero is listed as a Public Figure.
Which means that of course we must do the same.
And on Twitter, she says something witty about her relationship to peanut butter.
So naturally we have to mention our favorite food. In a quirky way.
And on Instagram, we notice that she posts like 42 selfies a week.
*Commence littering of social media accounts with self-taken photos, anywhere, anytime.*
(DISCLAIMER: I am NOT damning selfies per se; merely pointing out that an excess of them may possibly indicate a case of Entrepreneurial Narcissism. You're so adorable that I bet everyone truly WANTS to see a million selfies of you. And remember, I’m not a psychologist. Also? I sincerely don’t mean any offense, so please don’t take this personally. Keep reading while I attempt to explain more fully.)
The thing is, many of the aforementioned tactics work for our Ms. Fancypants heroine, because she:
a) Got started online a decade ago and has built up enough clout that he can get away with it.
b) Is just plain FAMOUS (see: Oprah) so people are clamoring for her love and attention.
c) Has friends in high places and doesn't necessarily need to learn classical marketing techniques to succeed.
But most of US do not fall into those categories, and we end up looking a li'l silly (and being frustrated beyond belief because I'm doing everything 'right' and still no one is buying/signing up for my shiz!).
The hard truth is this.
Your heroine can probably get away with Entrepreneurial Narcissism, but you cannot.
(And by 'you' I mean 'me'.)
So. . .
Am I just whining about the state of the Internet? Or is there a point to this little rant?
And what does it have to do with YOU, anyway?
The answer is YES. There’s a point to the rant.
And yes, it DOES have to do with you.
And not because I think you have Entrepreneurial Narcissism.
(I actually doubt that you do. 'Cause you probably would have stopped reading by now.)
Anyway, remember how I started this rant by talking about how infrequently I’ve published in this space over the years?
I’d like to reveal the reason, and then talk about what it might mean for you and your own business.
First, the reason:
I despise the concept of 'content marketing.'
Which might sound kinda weird, since I am all about marketing and even teach a marketing class online.
And in that class, I certainly encourage students to have NO shame around marketing.
I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of what she has to offer.
If you’ve got something that surprises, delights, or (even better) helps to transform someone’s life, you ought to feel PROUD to market that shit, yo.
My issue is strictly around content marketing.
(If you’re not familiar with that term, keep reading because it should be clear in a moment what it is.)
Here is the problem with content marketing as I see it.
MOST of the hair-on-fire, market-like-they-mean-it online info-product entrepreneurs who are relying on content marketing as a major component of their overall strategy. . .
Have been taught the following Internet Marketing Commandment, handed down for at least a decade:
“Give away your BEST content on your website. This will cause people to wonder—if your free stuff is so great, how awesome must the paid stuff be??”
That’s a nice rule, in theory.
But it has two inherent flaws.
Inherent Flaw #1:
Sadly, what happens more often than not is that said entrepreneur basically provides the EXACT same stuff inside her paid program that she gives away for free.
It’s simply that she (or he) has packaged up the paid content to look nice.
Worse yet, what sometimes happens is that the free stuff is actually way BETTER than the paid stuff.
(And sometimes? The dude hasn’t even bothered to make the paid stuff look nice.)
Diagnosis: "I'm sorry to inform you that you are suffering from a severe case of over-marketing, with complications stemming from under-delivering."
And why does this happen?
Because the above Internet Marketing Commandment is missing the following clause:
“And then make sure your paid content really IS way better than your free content.”
(So like, uh. . . your customers don't feel fleeced and stuff.)
Now, an important aspect of the content-selling business is the issue of value.
Is it worth $20?
Or somewhere in the vast space between those two? Or, even MORE?
But that’s a topic for another time.
What I mean right now is simply that there is an obscene proliferation of paid programs that are almost exact duplicates of what’s written on someone’s blog—orworse, even LESS valuable than what's offered on someone's blog.
And why does THIS happen?
Because. . .
Inherent Flaw #2:
Most 'content marketers' are more interested in making money than in changing people’s lives.
There. I said it.
Anyone who reads this and instantly becomes offended because, I think she’s talking about ME! should totally take a deep breath and just chill for a minute, because I’m not talking about anyone in particular.
(First of all.)
And secondly. . .
Of the vast throng of people doing business (or trying to) online, the phrase 'content marketers' actually applies to a very small percentage. And I seriously don't think any of them read my blog.
And third. . .
If you are REALLY proud of the amazing content you sell, and you know in your heart that it adds value in the world, then I am DEFINITELY not talking to you.
On the other hand, if you know in your heart that you’re more concerned about how much money you make than about how much value you’re adding in the world. . .
Then honestly? I’m just pointing out that you might want to rethink that strategy if you’d like to feel great about yourself on your deathbed someday.
(But again, if that's you you're probably not even reading this. Do you like how I am now writing to NO ONE?)
Anyway, my point is not to. . . er, point fingers. It's simply to illuminate (to quote Jerry Maguire) “The things we think but do not say.”
Which brings me back to the topic of Entrepreneurial Narcissism, and why I haven't written on this blog very often.
(And by the way, you may have noticed that I've written about this before. What can I say. I have a theme going.)
While I admit freely that I love a good stage, and a spotlight shining on me while on that stage. . .
I really can’t stand Entrepreneurial Narcissism, nor can I stand fakey-fake content marketing.
And I’ve had a hard time seeing until recently how I could make use of this space without participating in either of those.
I mean, I’ve had it hammered into me how important it is to show up as an ‘expert’, and my natural inclination is to be a leader to begin with.
And this space (full disclosure!) scares me a little because of the above-mentioned proclivity for a stage and a spotlight.
I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I somehow think I'm blessing the unwashed masses with my divine opinions or advice.
(Because, barf. Arrogance much?)
And at the same time, I don’t want to offer up the same kind of opinions or advice that I charge for.
Because if I did, then I would be like a (fictitious) heart surgeon who says, Hey, I’ll do this aortic valve replacement for free, but when you need your mitral valve done, I’ll have to charge you for that one. Just wait ‘til you see how much BETTER that procedure is!
In other words, it would actually cheapen the work that my customers and clients pay for.
And anyway, I could go around finding free content on other peoples’ blogs and just rewrite it here in my own voice. And by doing so trick you into thinking I’m an expert.
You see how easy it is to fool people on the Internet??
Oy, I’m sounding kind of cynical, so let me bring it back around to solutions.
In other words, What COULD we be doing instead of all this narcissism-ing?
Well obviously content isn't evil.
And I don't believe people are evil either. In fact I think the select cadre of true 'content marketers' are just so firmly entrenched in their habits that they don't see the bigger picture.
And I ALSO believe if the rest of us who are marketing online (or offline for that matter) followed 3 simple rules, we would improve the quality of the world's content like a thousandfold.
(So we could still give away free content without feeling skeezy! Is 'skeezy' a word? Anyway.)
Rule #1: Share useful content just because.
Meaning, share content you think others could benefit from, just because you think it would be cool to do so.
It could be your thoughts on a particular subject. It could be step-by-step tips for how to do something. Or it could be stories about what you or someone else has done, or learned. Whatever.
Just make it something that isn't SOLELY a lead-in to a paid offering.
Or that's SOLELY intended to grow your list so you can sell 'em something.
Or SOLELY because you are supposed to put out content on Tuesdays or whatever (y' know. . . to grow your list so you can sell 'em something.)
Make it something cool that the person could totally use to change something in her business or life, even if she never hired you, ever.
And imagine: if everyone did this, the 'internet marketing' world could become a totally fun party rather than a sleazy networking event.
And how do you know whether you're sharing content that you think would be helpful vs. sharing content for which you have an ulterior motive (i.e., you think it will drive subscribers and/or customers)?
Is this something I would share with a good friend whom I have no intention of turning into a client?
In other words, ask yourself whether there is ANY other motive for your sharing content than that you simply feel like writing something that might make a difference in someone's life.
'Cause even though the Internet has turned a few folks into vultures looking for their next prey, I still believe there are enough of us out there who have a sincere desire to create positive change in the world, that this rule is totally doable.
(Side note: including links to your paid stuff in content that is primarily meant to be helpful is, in my book, A-OK if it makes logical sense to do so. Because I'm not suggesting you HIDE what you have to offer.)
Rule #2: Let marketing be marketing.
If you're marketing something, just be about it, girl.
Forget the sneaky part where you feel you must find a way to market to someone without them really knowing it.
I mean, you realize, right, that people actually LIKE being sold to?
I myself am one of the most discerning folks I know (read: I’m a hard sell) and I STILL love being sold on something I really, really want—and something I actually feel will add value to my life.
In fact, research shows that an endorphin rush occurs at the moment we hit "Buy" or hand over our credit card at the brick-and-mortar shop.
And endorphins, if you don't already know about ‘em, are those hormone thingies that flood your system when you're making love, or exercising vigorously, or binge-watching Breaking Bad on Netflix.
So, when your customer buys from you, she is experiencing the same rush she gets when she's doing any of the above.
AND she's getting something incredibly valuable. . .
(Yes of course. Because YOU are committed to delivering value.)
Rule #3: Stop selling to people who don't want to be sold to.
One of the most pervasively annoying habits in ‘internet marketing’ has to be the tendency for some to feel that EVERY interaction is transactional.
That every single conversation is meant to lead to an eventual sale.
That every interaction you have on Facebook should include a request to 'like' your page.
That you can't just talk to someone because. . . well, because you want to talk to that person.
(To be fair, it isn't just on the internet that you find these folks. They're everywhere that 'networking' takes place across the globe.)
Here's a way to implement this 'stop selling to everyone' rule immediately.
If you find yourself waking up in the morning thinking, How can I grow my business? try an alternative question.
(And NO, there's nothing wrong with growing your business! But this question will also help you do that.)
Here it is:
How can I make a difference in others' lives?
When you ask this question no matter how much or how little you have in the bank at the time, something magical happens.
I'd heard others say this for years, and back when I still had quite a few limiting thoughts and beliefs around money, I thought it was bogus.
But now that I've lived it and seen how powerful it is in my life, I can't help but share it here.
And I have a proposition for you.
Even if you have like $0.17 in the bank (and believe me, I've been there and worse!).
Try asking yourself what you can contribute to the world regardless of the price tag associated with it.
Because, as Zig Ziglar said:
You can have everything you want in life, if you will just help enough other people get what THEY want.
And ol’ Zig enjoyed a nice, long, non-scammy life & career doing something valuable for others (i.e., teaching them how to live meaningful lives of excellence).
And if Ziglar’s words don’t mean anything to you, A Course In Miracles says:
(You know what? THAT should be tweeted. 'Cause we need more reminders to contribute rather than consume, don'tcha think?)
Anyway, the bottom line is this.
When you focus on contribution rather than worrying about how much money you’re making (or not making), miracles happen.
The Universe begins to bend in your favor, and serendipities occur.
Not to say you don’t have to take ACTION, of course.
But let that action stem from a desire for contribution, rather than the fear of running out of money (or not having enough subscribers, or fans, or love or whatever).
So now that I've thought all of this out (and written it in this epic-length blog post). . .
Am I going to write to you more often?
While the world will continue spinning on its axis whether I do or not, I'm actually feeling that YES, I will.
Because now that I've diagnosed my early-stage Entrepreneurial Narcissism and taken some medication to cure it (meaning, a strong dose of reality). . .
I realize I have a LOT to talk about. And none of it has to do with how awesome I am.
Honestly, it has more to do with how awesome YOU are.
This epic-length post is actually meant to christen the new space.
*Cue smashing of champagne bottle*
Please have a look around, because there's some new stuff I think you'll like. Especially if, like me, you're ready to break out of the 'internet marketing bubble' and move to another (dare I say more sophisticated?) level.
Anyway, if you're still reading this ("Oh my god this woman writes the LONGEST blog posts!"), then thank you for your valuable time and energy. It means a lot to me.
And I hope that there was something of value in here for you too. Even if it was just to know that someone else thinks like you do.
(Solidarity is important! Yes?)
For now, over and out.
I'll talk to you again real soon. ;)