Two of my New England social media friends had a bit of a debate about content marketing yesterday. Chris Brogan strongly argued that your writing needs to contain an “ask” to be marketing and CC Chapman just as forcefully disagreed.
First, let’s take a look at the actual argument. Then we can explore the more fundamental question about the role that content plays with both sales and marketing.
And Never Waste Content Without Offering an ‘Ask’ of Some Kind
If you’re not putting some kind of potential hook to future business into your efforts, you’re not content marketing. You’re writing. And that’s great. But it’s not going to help your business, as such.
One of the rules that I share with audiences and clients all the time is to “share or solve, don’t shill.” Having an ask in every piece of content would become shilling in a rapid fashion and that is going to turn people off. But, if you share useful information, peeks behind the curtain or answer questions that are being asked you are going to be more attractive to the audience you desire.
Chris knows this. For years he has been creating content that isn’t full of shilling and yet today he is telling his flock to do exactly that.
In the simplest possible terms, I agree with CC on this issue. However, I think much of it comes down to understanding the difference between sales and marketing. What Chris says certainly applies if you are looking at a piece of content as a sales tool. However, sales and marketing are different, albeit related, animals.
Sales requires a clear call to action because it drives directly to a specific decision. Marketing, on the other hand, can be successful in building awareness and reminding potential buyers and influencers about the value you have to offer. Half of the battle for many businesses in simply being in the mind of a buyer when it comes time for them to make a purchasing decision. As a consultant, I know most of my prospects don’t need my services when I first talk to them — or at least may not be prepared to commit. Some of my marketing efforts, then, are designed simply to keep my name in front of them so when they have that “aha!” moment, they will remember to ask me for a proposal.
Let’s look at some real world examples of content that may have marketing value without including an explicit ask:
- When an artist performs the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, is that marketing or just singing?
- When Richard Blanco read his poem at President Obama’s second inauguration, was that marketing or just reading?
- When an inventor gets interviewed on 60 Minutes, is that marketing or just talking?
- When the head of an advocacy group gets an op-ed placed in the New York Times, is that marketing or just writing?
- When a fundraiser sends a congratulatory note to a potential donor, is that marketing or just scribbling?
Of course, the argument isn’t nearly this simple — otherwise CC and Chris wouldn’t be having a disagreement. There’s absolutely value in introducing sales into your marketing efforts from time to time. That’s where Chris’s demand for a strong call to action plays a role. But you need not ask for something every time.
In the era of content marketing and social media, so much of what we do is about building relationships. Those relationships require trust and mutual benefit. That’s where CC’s admonition to “share or solve, don’t shill” comes in.
Writing might be just writing if you put it in your journal, but once you distribute it to potential buyers or influencers, it usually becomes marketing. When you add an “ask,” now you have sales.