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“Content Free” Content

by Dave Brock on November 17th, 2012

I haven’t whined in a while, so pardon me for this indulgence.  We all know that content is critical in engaging prospect and customers.  Let me rephrase this, “good content is critical…..”

Clearly, organizations are getting the message about content, the problem is they are forgetting to provide the content.  A couple of examples, in cleaning out my email this morning, I’ve actually encountered several offers that I’ve found interesting.  I dutifully clicked the links to get the information the emails were enticing me with.

In the first case, I get to a beautiful landing page.  A nice picture, with nothing more than, “Enroll in the service.”  Well, I wasn’t sure what the service was.  The email was well constructed, it served its purpose by motivating me to “click” for more information.  But there was no more information.  I wanted to understand the offering before enrolling, but there were no other links, just a picture with and “Enroll” button.  I had no desire to enroll in something that I didn’t know what it did.  I started thinking, “if this is their content, then can the service be much better?”  We all know vaporware, perhaps this is nothing more than vaporware.

Did they think a pretty picture and an “Enroll” button was a minimum viable product?  (I even tried some experiments to see if I was being subjected to A/B testing–couldn’t see that I was.) Perhaps it was an experiment, perhaps they did get some valuable information with just the click.  But now my guard is up.  Future emails from them, from anyone else.  I’ll be more skeptical.  If it isn’t clear in the email, I won’t waste my time.

The content was non-existent.  There was no description, no value proposition, no press release, nothing about the company, nothing.  Just a landing site with a picture and “Enroll” button.  I’m steeling myself for the phone call on Monday.  Yes, it was a trackable link.  They now know, if they pay attention, that I clicked, and they should be calling me.  I’m not really worried about it, I know they have nothing to say, other than “Enroll.”

Another was from a software vendor.  I’ve been a long time user of this software.  I’m a big fan and have recommended it to hundreds of people.  They came out with the inevitable annual upgrade.  It was a significant repackaging and repricing (upward).  I wanted to learn more.  What were the new features, were the new capabilities worth the close to doubling in price?  Dutifully, I clicked on the link.  Again, I hit a stunning landing page.  There were some fancy graphics, a few icons with short phrases like “Enhanced Collaboration,” “Increased Productivity,” and so forth.  There was even a button to “Learn More.”  I clicked on that, the page refreshed, a new background image came up and the same icons and phrases came up.  I was confused, but saw another “Learn More” button, I clicked that and was taken back to the original landing page.

I thought, “No company can be this callous or careless in providing information about its products, it must me my error.”  I started wandering the website for more information.  I couldn’t find it.  The site was filled with stunning graphics, great icons, and phrases that would make any copyrighter proud.  But I couldn’t find more information.  the most detailed information I could find was in the press release–but that pointed readers to the website for more information.

Again, I thought,  “maybe there isn’t much to this upgrade, maybe they just hope I will blindly buy.”  Oh, I forgot, every page did have a “Buy” button.  Clicking on that meant real business.  gone were the graphics, icons, and cool phrases.  The clear intent of this form was to get my credit card and the other relevant information to capture my money.

The final category is, perhaps, the worst.  It’s content that’s actually a thinly disguised “buy mine” sales pitch.  You know the kind–you get an email about a new white paper or research on an interesting subject, you get it, and it has a couple of bullet points on generic issues, then transitions into a pitch on “why you should buy my product.”  Today’s was “New Insights In Sales Productivity.”  As you might guess, I was quite interested.  I responded, filled out the form–figured I was already on their mailing list–and download the “white paper.”  It had 3 bullets on sales productivity from distinguished research firms (CSO Insights, Forrester, and Aberdeen).  I had actually seen the referenced research reports months ago.  But after the 3 bullets, the rest of the white paper was a product data sheet with a “special discount” if I bought now.  This is content–but it was misrepresented and had the unintended effect of making me angry with the company that sent it.

These are not isolated incidents.  More and more, I’m seeing content that is content free.  I see this in all kinds of offers, but it is particularly strong with web based services enticing you with a “freemium.”  I’m sorry, I don’t have the time to enroll in and try a freemium blindly.  I don’t want to give all the enrollment information, set up an account, give you my credit card (just in case) until I know what you do and how it will help me.  I’m too busy to experiment blindly.

I’m a terrific fan of Eric Ries’ work.  His concepts of Lean Start-ups and Minimum Viable Product are powerful for learning and adapting quickly.  However, I think too many are mis-applying the concepts with their approach to minimum viable product or minimum viable content.  I know the fact that I clicked on the email link and didn’t click on the “Enroll” means something.  But it has made me more guarded about future experiments and things wasting my time.  In the ever escalating volume of clutter (disguised as experiments), I am ever so much more skeptical.

I know we are all visually oriented.  Pictures, icons, symbols and graphics can be very powerful.  I know that a picture is supposed to be worth 10,000 words.   But sometimes a few words (not 10, 000) are needed to get prospects and customers to understand, engage and buy.  Visually stunning landing pages may be cool, but if they are content free, then they server neither your prospects, customers, or you.  They just look pretty.

Right now, at least with me, these Content Free pieces of content are having an unintended a completely opposite impact.  I am not interested, I will not waste my time. I will not engage.  If you are promising to provide your prospects and customers with meaningful content, then deliver on that content.  By doing so, you will build the relationship you want.

Are you providing meaningful and impactful content to your prospects and customers?


Want to learn about the application of Lean principles to Sales and Marketing? We’ve seen them have a profound impact on the results produced by leading organizations. Learn more in our newly released Lean Sales and Marketing eBook. I’ll be glad to provide a free copy. Email me at dabrock@excellenc.com. Be sure to provide your full name, company name, and company email address.

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7 Comments
  1. Todd Youngblood permalink

    Well stated, Dave. Think first! Then create content

  2. Paul Meyer permalink

    This is whining? It might be a hot button for you, but this is not whining.

    • Thanks Paul, sometimes I worry that I may sound like I’m whining. Glad it didn’t seem that way. Regards, Dave

  3. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for pointing up the ugly side of marketing. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but when companies begin to use mindless automation to try and mimic what should be a very thought intensive communication, the content-free content you speak of is the result.

    Part of the problem is the formula they are using, borrowed from somewhere else, rather than based on actual passion and their own research. Someone somewhere told them that publishing blogs and email at x rate would produce x return. They think of sales and marketing as machines which produce outputs when supplied with the right inputs.

    The problem with all of this is that it ignores the primary success factor: customer engagement. Bots can only take things so far in engagement, and then our minds begin to recognize that the lights may be on, but no (human) body is home.

    I’m all for automation, but some things are still better left to the humans. Organizations that get that find the edges and reach a balance between technology and humanity that drives true engagement rather than mimicking it.

    Good piece!

    Don F Perkins
    http://mindmulch.net

  4. Dave,
    I think many people will agree content is critical, but even more so the right content is important. Article after article has been written on this subject and with good reason. Thanks for sharing this post and the helpful conversation with the BizSugar community!

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