As content marketing goes mainstream in B2B, it’s becoming something of a religion. And like all religions, a lot of it is based on articles of faith that are handed down, tweet by tweet, until they’re considered gospel.

To question them is to risk being denounced as a heretic and made to do any of those horrible things religions do to their heretics (many involving fire or flaying or feathers).

I’m not in the market for a flaying or a feathering but there’s one article of faith that I’d like to challenge here.

The one that says, “Content marketing is not about you, it’s about your customers. Great content marketing is as far from old-school, interruption-based, broadcast-style marketing as Jamon Iberico is to Pepperami”.

Let’s pick that one apart…

First, a disclaimer.

At Velocity, we were evangelising content marketing back when the dot in dotcom was actually made of wood. And a big part of that evangelism is focused on tearing B2B marketers away from their brochures and data sheets and get them talking about issues their prospects actually care about.

So we understand the need for the above statement. The only problem is: it’s not true.

Today’s content marketers act as if there are two kinds of content: the holy stuff that suppresses its ugly sales agenda; and the dirty stuff that comes right out and talks about actual products (gasp!) and benefits (cover your ears!) and reasons to buy (dial 999!).

I understand why this purism came about. We pioneers of the new era of content marketing have been fighting centuries of old-school, interruption-based, broadcast-style marketing (we could pick apart this trinity of pejoritives that’s always connected to bad old marketing, but that’s for another post).

So to win some space to create issues-led thought leadership, we had to completely reject the promotional stuff. As if this kind of content is a whole different species.

But it isn’t a whole different species. Content is content. Every piece falls somewhere along the Promotional/Altruistic spectrum, but it’s still one spectrum. To your prospects, it’s all just content, stuff you want to say to them. So the ‘article of faith’ is counter-productive and based on lies.

The big lie behind it is that ‘pure’ content marketing is all about the prospect and not the marketer. Bullshit. We’re here to sell something.

Good content marketing recognises that we don’t have to close the sale every time we talk to a prospect, but selling is still the not-so-hidden agenda. And the reader/buyer is totally aware of that.

They may appreciate that we’re suppressing the urge to sell in order to explore an issue but they still know that, in this scenario, we’re the marketing predators and they’re the wildebeest.

Now let’s zoom to the other end of the Promotional/Altruistic spectrum: overtly promotional content. If content marketing is about using your expertise to help your prospects to do their jobs (as good a definition as any I’ve seen), then your data sheets qualify too.

If you really believe that the products you sell play a valuable role and will truly help your customers succeed, then a well-written data sheet summarising your features and benefits is valuable content.

If you don’t believe that your products are worthwhile, then you’ve got much more important problems than the purity of your content marketing. Stop reading this and go find a better job.

So non-promotional copy is actually promotion in sheep’s clothing and crass promotion is actually useful content. (Break out the fire and the feathers).

That doesn’t mean that all content is the exact same thing. Different kinds of content are suitable for different stages of the ‘purchase journey’ (why do I hate that particular bit of jargon so much? Maybe because it implies we’re all packing lunches and skipping along the road to a new ERP system).(Anyhoo:)

  • Issue-led thought leadership is better for the earlier stages. It encourages the reader to lower her anti-marketing barriers, then whispers your propaganda into her ears.
  • Promotional material is good for the later stages. When you’ve got your prospects to accept your world view; you’ve earned the right to tell them about yourself. So tell!

Why is it important to unite all of your content into one strategy?

Three reasons:

  1. Because it brings your more promotional content into service in your content marketing strategy – instead of velcro-ing it to the naughty step.
  2. Because it connects your thought leadership content to your sales funnel – instead of letting it float out there in the land of the fairies.
  3. Because it’s more honest – selling and marketing aren’t dirty. They’re what we do. Our prospects know it and they don’t mind — as long as our products are worth their time.

When we do a first content audit for a new client, we always include all the promotional content in it. This raises eyebrows. But a sound content marketing strategy has to be built on all of your content and cover the entire Promotional/Altruistic spectrum.

Content marketing no longer has to fight for budget in most B2B companies. It’s as mainstream as websites. But that means the pendulum is starting to swing back a bit.

Ironically, we’re seeing more old-school, interruption-based, broadcast-style marketing — only now it’s being used to promote content instead of products. It’s a good thing.

Pendulum swings are often corrections. Content is content. Embrace your data sheets (just don’t thrown them in the faces of people who know nothing about you).

The B2B Content Marketing Best Practice Guide provides a framework for evaluating your current content marketing process and will help you make the most of your content in the future.