Monday, July 7, 2008

Content: King or Crap?

Just saw this post over on Bly's blog asking this question: "is 'Content is King' a load of crap?" Bob states that author Tim Sanders brings up an interesting point: people are too busy to actually read all that information you're offering:

There’s too much information in today’s world, and our defense mechanism to sort through it all is to vote with our gut, to vote what we feel. We look for shortcuts, and those shortcuts are called brands. The reason you buy Tide detergent at the grocery store is that you don’t want to read fifty labels. You trust Tide because you already know it works.

I had a response, but after thinking it through I realized it was longer than would be useful in a simple comment--so I decided to offer it up here. I believe in information marketing. I don't think it can be your only method of marketing, but I believe it can be highly effective--even though consumers are time-starved. Here's my response.

It depends on the type of prospect you're marketing to. Stating that content is crap is way too general to make much sense, in my opinion. Maybe the time-starved mother of three will stick to Tide rather than get crazy and try Bold because she's used it before and she likes it. But what if that time-starved mom is purchasing a new car and needs to figure out which one has the best gas mileage, is the most dependable, and is the best value for the money? Then you can bet she won't be too busy to read. Similarly if you're trying to market to managers of midsize companies, you'd better have some informational material they can use to wrap their minds around your solution--making a big business purchase requires a lot of justification to shareholders, bosses, and so on.

It really does depend on your product. You need to know who's looking for information and whether your product is likely to be a buy-on-the-fly kind of thing, or whether it requires more thought. A big purchase requires a lot of thought. A low-cost everyday necessity might be able to rely more on brand.

It depends on the type of information and where you put it. Putting a lot of "useful content" on the label of a box of Tide may not be the best move--nobody wants to stand in the grocery store for an hour and read through fifty labels. I agree with that. But if a customer goes to your website for info, you'd better have that info up there--or they'll go somewhere else. Content is more effective if you offer it where and when customers want it--whether that's on your website, at your booth at the trade show, or as a giveaway report to those who send for it.

You have to convince consumers that you're trustworthy. The problem with some examples of information marketing I've seen is that it doesn't do a good enough job of presenting the company as trustworthy. Customers are naturally suspicious of information they get from a specific company, because they assume you have an ulterior motive--to get them to buy. That's why it's so important to be impartial. Give fair and balanced information. Don't be afraid to suggest other sources of information or even other products if they might be better for customers. If a company isn't getting great results through information marketing, it may be because they're not doing a good enough job at appearing impartial.

People might be "too busy to read," but they're also brand-saturated. The article states that people are too busy to read--that they want shortcuts, and that's what a well-known brand gives them. I agree that customers don't want to stop and agonize over every little purchasing decision, and brand gives some companies an edge over others. But you build brand through advertising and presenting a coherent marketing message, and consumers are definitely getting oversaturated with marketing messages. That's why information marketing is so effective--when done right, it cuts through the advertising clutter and gives information that consumers can trust.

Information marketing isn't right in every situation. It's a tool like any other marketing tool, and it has to be used in the right way, to the right people to have the best effect. Content may not be "king" in that it's the only or most effective marketing tool out there--and it's definitely not the only thing a company should concentrate on. But I believe they ignore it at their peril.


Mark Wiehenstroer said...

I believe the 'necessary' information should be on the product's label or other easy to find location (web site for example) so I can reference it if I so desire. As far as being too busy to read about the product or service or experiencing information overload, I want to make that decision for myself and not have someone else make it for me by not including information. I know from experience I can't depend on the store personnel to really know the product!

Unknown said...

Exactly, Jen. I don't think content is king or crap. I think it's more situational, as you've said.

Nice, thought-provoking post!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think this is bullshit. Content continues to be king - just not in sales. If you're selling, then no one really wants to hear content. If you're trying to persuade, convince, compel someone to make the decision, though - gods, you need good content. You need sales copy to get their attention in the first place, but content is what convinces them to make the purchase.

This is less true in things that are easily tried and never tried again, like a can of soda. Try it, hate it, you never have to buy it again. Content is rarely king for Coke - unless we're talking about the contents of the can. But for actual business decisions - buying a website, buying a car, buying a program - anything that lasts longer than five minutes relies on content to persuade that potential customer.

Man. Maybe I should do a follow-up to your post. Clearly I have opinions. :)

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Mark: I agree with you that I don't want people deciding not to give me information because they assume I'm "too busy" to read. I'm personally never too busy to read, especially if I really need info right then. I suspect most people are the same way.

@Thanks, Lori!

@Tei: If you do, let me know and I'll post up a link at the end of this post. Looking forward to seeing it!

Sarah-Jane Lehoux said...

Interesting article. I had always assumed a writer's job ended once the story was published. As I do more research, I'm discovering that authors have to do most of the leg-work. As a non-business minded person, this scares the crap out of me!

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Great insights, Jen!

I agree that 'content is key'! Like Tei mentioned, it could be the content of the can which is the deciding factor but if that bottle has no information on it we wouldn't take it off the shelf.

I think people are actually becoming more and more aware of the information available to them. Some are still sticking to tried and true while others are taking the chance to truly evaluate what they're using or buying.

One more thing to consider is that sometimes we need the facts. If a product is dangerous we need to KNOW that too.

That's where consumer-driven marketing is coming into play now on the web. Bloggers can tell you straight up if they loved or loathed a product or do the real research to find out if it's safe.

Those of us who are concerned WANT that information, that's why the web has grown the way it has.

Anonymous said...

I saw that post too and it really bothered me. I'm never too busy to read well written and relevant content. I totally agree with what you wrote and Mark said. It's up to me to decide how I want to spend my time—there's no love lost with too much information, but if information is left out or is out of context, count me out.