Give, and you shall receive: it’s a concept that’s been around for millennia. Yet as many times as we’ve heard that mantra, we’ve also heard this one: nothing’s ever free.Marketers have spent decades devising clever ways to make consumers believe they’re getting the best deal ever, while the business makes gobs of money.
While those kinds of quick-payoff tricks still work for some kinds of products, customers have grown exponentially savvier — and also aware that they’re in control. Expectations are higher: consumers want superior products, but often products are all the same. It’s the value that wins the day, and that can come in many forms: relationships, service and knowledge.
The value of knowledge is the reason content has become the new hot commodity. The idea behind marketing with content is that brands can use content to demonstrate superior thinking so customers will choose them over the competition. It’s also an extra “something” that businesses can offer, that icing on the cake that gives them the edge.
Tit for tat has gone old-school
But as the business world is wont to do, companies often treat content as a true commodity. It’s just another thing to trade in brands’ enduring quest to close deals and make money. Brands have started thinking of content as “offers,” something customers will pay valuable currency — in the form of information, registrations or even money — to access.
This kind of cash-for-gold mentality is increasingly transparent, and even distasteful, to customers. As content marketing becomes a more popular way to build awareness and attract leads, we’re seeing more blatantly self-serving tactics aimed at trying to get to the quick payoff for knowledge and information.
A New York Times Magazine article recently discussed the long-term rewards of giving selflessly. The subject of the article, Adam Grant, is an author and Wharton business school professor who spends exorbitant amounts of time helping others: writing recommendations, answering questions at office hours, taking phone calls to give advice. He credits his professional success to this generosity and never questions the time he spends to give his knowledge, time and advice to people who need his help.
The karma of generous content
Companies need to think the same way about the knowledge and information they share in their content. Rather than creating a piece of content that can be used as barter — in an ad campaign, as a download on a website — marketers need to think selflessly, putting customers first. What content can we create to help our customers? What do we know that they need to know? How can we help them succeed?
“The leap of faith is to ‘give away for free’ that which you usually charge for in the hope it comes back to you in people wanting you to help them do it properly,” says recruiting specialist Liam Ovenden, quoted in the book World Wide Rave.
When you take the road of generosity, you’re in it for the long haul. To executives focused on sales numbers, it’s a strategy that isn’t concretely measurable, and the payoff isn’t immediately clear. But customers can spot genuine generosity from miles away — and they’ll reward you for it in the end.