The Pitfalls of Content Marketing

Content marketing has caused much mirth among some copywriters and solemn head-scratching among others. I was among the amused. It seems I have been writing content all my life but never knew it.

Anyhow a lady called Chris Marlow runs a group of 700 copywriters who have been debating all this. Seven hundred copywriters? What a daunting thought. Imagine all the needless exclamation marks to be removed.

"Should there be a perceived difference between 'content writer' and 'direct response copywriter'?" Chris asked her horde. They concluded that a direct response copywriter gets leads and sales while a content writer writes content that supports the path to becoming a lead or a sale.

I think that is a good definition. One kind of writer makes you money; the other almost makes you money.

Why not ask for a sale?

But wouldn't anyone with any sense prefer the first to the second? Why move people towards a sale when you could get one? Any decent direct response writer should be able to write content. Actually, any decent writer of any kind should be able to.

Aldous Huxley remarked that it was harder to write a good advertisement than a good sonnet.

One great weakness I often see is that people don't ask often enough or with sufficient urgency for a sale. I have often seen messages which do nothing else than ask for a sale do very well. No doubt now that content has become a fashionable word, corporate idiots will be willing to pay more for people who offer it, rather than people who will get the money that pays their wages.

Content marketing - a wishy-washy definition

People buy for emotional reasons - the more emotion the better. Pile it on!

But what does the Content Marketing Institute tell you? That if you just keep sending out helpful material that will do the trick.

They say it is "the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent."

But what does the Content Marketing Institute do? Go look them up. They sell. "Find out more" is their cry.

Here are some home truths, learned with my money - and God alone knows how many millions of my clients'.

People are not thinking when they read

Just sending out information without asking people to buy is like running ads that don't ask for a response. Bloody stupid.

If you don't interrupt they don't pay attention.

People are not thinking when they get your stuff. Even if they are intelligent - which many aren't in the first place.

The entire premise of content marketing is that people don't like being sold to. In research they say they prefer articles and white papers and that stuff.

What they prefer and what they do have nothing to do with each other.

What works and what people like are two different things.

What they need and what they think they want are two different things.

A new name for an old, old idea

Of course, in some ways content marketing is nothing new. The Canadian marketer Daniel Levis says this about it:

"We called it lead generation, free information, bait - designed to draw prospects into the sales process: white papers, booklets, free CD's, workshops, videos, webinars...

"I make fun of the term content marketing because a lot of folks forget or they don't realise that content marketing without selling is like sex without the climax. It's not the complete self-contained marketing system they think it is, but rather a component in the overall profit strategy."

So, as Daniel says, if you offer content to draw people into the sales process, it can work - but you have to remember to sell. Don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

Resist the charms of snake oil salesmen and you will do better.


The Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton Bird one of the 50 individuals who have shaped todays marketing. The late David Ogilvy said he knows more about direct marketing than anyone in the world. Drayton's Commonsense Direct and Interactive Marketing, now in its fifth edition and out in 17 languages, is a world-wide best-selling work on the subject. He has worked in 52 countries for many of the worlds leading brands, major advertising agency groups, business schools, universities and m...

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