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Content marketing is not king of trust

Content marketing is very useful, but rarely for establishing trust and clinching a sale.

“Content is king.” Who could have guessed that those prophetic words by Bill Gates would today be such a well-worn phrase as to be taken for Gospel truth by pretty much everyone in 2014?

And who could have guessed that those same words would have taken on the misguided meaning that content marketing is king, with the 2014 gold rush to anything that can be labeled “content marketing”.

Content marketing can draw customers inDon’t get me wrong – content marketing is a very powerful tool for many businesses in a number of different circumstances. But the mass migration to the “content marketing” buzzword in 2014 will undoubtedly lead many, many businesses to take up something that is of little value to them, and use it for the wring reasons with predictably unsatisfactory results.

The context for the content marketing craze is the realization that authority is what people and now search engines are looking for.

Well, yes, that is true. It always has been. Google always measured website authority and trust; that’s what PageRank was (still is?) all about, as well as numerous measures of topical relevance, the longevity of a domain and how trustworthy are the websites that link to it. The difference now is that Google seems to have come up with a means of measuring an individual’s authority and trust.

Of course, the expertise of an individual is important when judging the value of his or her advice. However, no algorithm can do anything but make a rough guess on that point.

How does “authority” translate into marketing your business? Is content the marketing king? I recently found myself in a discussion with someone who insisted that content marketing is crucial because you have to build trust to make a sale, and expertise is the basis for trust.

The premise of his argument is that:

A) People read articles as part of the sales process.
B) People follow writers until eventually deciding to buy.

I disagreed, at least for most businesses.

Before going any further, let’s agree – and I think we can – that there are many types of businesses and there are many types of customers. One size does not fit all. The question for each business to determine is what methods fit its sales process and target market.

Let’s also put aside the usefulness of content marketing in the funnel, and content that is actually part of the buying process (demos, product descriptions, etc.), well expressed by Tom Shivers. Those are fairly widely useful, and not at all about building a reputation in the hopes that eventually readers will buy.

When you are the product, such as if you are a consultant or a writer or a designer, your expertise is crucial – no question about that. Trust in you as an individual and in your expertise (authority?) is your main selling point.

When the product is ball bearings or sandals, nobody cares about you as an individual. Yes, trust is crucial, but authority is not. What do they care about?

1. The manufacturer of a product – that the product is made well.
2. The retailer – that money handed over will result in the product being delivered.

Read Also: Make a Winning eCommerce Shopping Experience

In Part II of this discussion (next blog post) we will look at how to build the trust and confidence for a product (hint, it’s not by writing articles or designing Infographics) and for a retailer, too.  For now, let’s look at when the product is you – when authority can be part of the trust equation.

Nobody chooses a web designer for their articles.The number of purchases people make that are in fact expertise purchases is substantial. Consider the following services:

  • Legal help.
  • Accounting.
  • Web design.
  • Marketing.
  • Pest control.
  • Real estate agent.
  • Financial adviser.
  • Healthcare practitioner.
  • Trainer or educator.
  • Pet groomer.
  • Home renovator.

In all these cases, the individual’s expertise is crucial to the value one gets from buying, so authority on a subject matter could have a direct link to consumer trust.

One of the premises of the importance of content marketing as a means of building trust and using expertise to make sales is that people will follow you (and perhaps several competitors) for a while before deciding that you are the person to hire.

This might be the case with financial advisers, marketing help and web design. And maybe if you are planning a move in advance, you would do the same thing for a real estate agent. These are services that you might know about well in advance and might start shopping around before you are ready to make the purchase. And you might very well read their articles to get an idea of what their approach is, if you feel qualified to make some kind of judgment.

Or you might just read their sales pages and look at other trust indicators - ones that take less time and attention that reading through articles – that we’ll be discussing in my follow-up post, and maybe fill in a query form and engage in a few questions.

In fact, for web design, marketing and so many other services, a visual gallery of past projects is more likely what customers want to look at. They don’t usually have the patience to read through reams of words that they know they are unqualified to judge. But most people do feel comfortable looking at pictures and deciding if that looks professional and trustworthy.

I am not saying that articles on a website are useless. I am saying to think carefully about what a prospective customer will look for, on what basis they will decide that you have the expertise to deliver, and create the content that will be most effective – and often it is not articles or Infographics.

Who chooses a real estate agent for their articles?What about a lawyer? Chances are that you won’t even look for a lawyer until suddenly you need to hire one. You won’t read their articles for months before deciding to hire one. The same thing with accounting. And with pest control. People will not read tons of articles to decide if you are trustworthy; they will make a very quick decision – they need to find help fast!

In fact, I’ll take this argument one step further. Even if you are a financial planner or a real estate agent or a marketing consultant, what percentage of your prospects do research months in advance, and what percentage wait until the last minute, search on Google or Bing (maybe comparing a few websites), ask friends for recommendations and make a flash decision whom to contact and most likely end up hiring?

Of course, if you are shopping for car parts, clothing, gadgets, etc, no individual’s expertise will factor into the buying process.

The reality is that for the vast majority of businesses – even those based upon the expertise of an individual – informative articles on a topic will not be a major factor in converting visitors into customers.  There are more effective ways to establish trust, as we will discuss in the follow-up article.

That does not mean articles are useless, just not a priority in establishing trust within the sales conversion process.

Nor does that mean that article marketing, video marketing and Infographics are useless, just not as a means of establishing trust with visitors to most websites.

What content marketing does very well is to draw in people who are not yet shopping, people who are gathering information and might not yet know that they need your services – top of the funnel. They seek information, in so doing they find your article, they read, they learn, they realize that maybe they need professional help, they visit your website…and then hopefully you can make the sale.

In my next post I will discuss what, rather than articles and “content marketing”, will establish trust with potential customers once they are on your website.

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6 Responses to “Content marketing is not king of trust”

  1. Tom Shivers (11 comments) Says:

    Excellent points David! Most people don’t realize the difference between content marketing and content strategy. You bring up some good questions about how a prospect actually comes to trust a professional vs a company selling widgets and whether articles or expertise is really part of the trust equation or not.

  2. Charles Terrence Harper (1 comments) Says:

    David, I get you. I am actually beginning to move away from using the word “content”, because the very phrase implies a one sided view of a dialogue. Content becomes all about what we put in. It doesn’t create the right mindset for whether or not it will be helpful to the reader…or better yet, if it will cause them to take action. I have my own little quiet revolt over this, and have been using my own pet phrases instead of “content”.

    And this idea is what makes you so right. Putting effort into creating good “content” takes us away from the objective: clients taking action. At the end of the day, search engine results are meaningless if site visitors say “ho-hum” and don’t take action. In that respect, even social sharing can fool us. At the end of the day, a client or our own business is either making money or isnt.

  3. Steph Riggs (1 comments) Says:

    In majority cases people just copy contents and spin it then they use the same content for their purposes. In this case you can say that content is not king of trust but if you see value of contents overall then you’ll consider contents as the key of success as well as king.

  4. Lynne (8 comments) Says:

    Interesting read. You have some real good points about content marketing and strategy that I agree on.

  5. Alex Yong (1 comments) Says:

    Cliffhanger! Looking forward to your next blog post!

  6. Ann Mullen (2 comments) Says:

    David, my experiences in the last 3 years as a content writer/social media manager line up with what you are saying. It didn’t make a bit of difference how well written the articles were, how great the visuals were, how much or little social media efforts were. In the end both of the clients I worked for did not get any new clients. I was not the sales person, they were. I was not in the area where the clients worked, they were. I was not out there drumming up business, they weren’t. So when they lost their clients without having more in the wings, it was all my fault. What? Great content or not, that was not what the clients were looking for.

    I am really rethinking my career decisions. Thanks for the insight.

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