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Three Reasons Your Expertise May Be Killing Your Content Marketing

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How your marketing expertise could be hampering your content
  • Why non-experts can often create more engaging content

I've wondered why so many companies, particularly tech firms, have such a hard time embracing inbound or content marketing, and why so many fail to successfully implement marketing automation.

I recently discovered the answer, by accident, from two sources that couldn't be more different.

The first source was a colleague who has achieved tremendous success with her marketing efforts, but she was lamenting her inability to reach the next level by producing greater amounts of consumable content (particularly articles and videos). The reason? The chief executive officer (CEO) is the expert, and since he doesn't have time to meet with her... she can't create the content.

The second source was the author of an article that a colleague forwarded to me. In the article, Joby Blume discusses why his company failed at marketing automation. Though the article is fascinating, one of Blume's replies to a reader's comment is even more revealing.

Blume essentially cites the same issue as my colleague: insufficient bandwidth to create content. And because the company serves a "highly niche" market, it couldn't rely on an outside agency to write content.


Ouch. That hurt... and not because I work at one of those agencies that writes content for other people. It hurt because it's an awful shame to hear that great companies with a lot to offer are holding back because they're afraid to relinquish control of their content expertise.

Here are three reasons expertise may be failing you in your marketing efforts, and steps you can take to reap all the benefits of content marketing.

1. The best players usually don't make the best coaches

The point guard on the Portland Trail Blazers NBA basketball team recently hired a shooting coach to help him with his shot. The guy he hired had never played professional ball, and, as far as I know, he didn't do much in college, either.

However, he's one heck of a shooting coach, partly because he knows what it's like to lack the natural ability and gifts of the best players.

The same idea applies to content creation. Contrary to what you'd expect, the "people who know" in your company may not be the best sources for content. Despite being so good and so knowledgeable, the experts nevertheless likely lack the ability to teach what they know.

And, because great content often involves explaining the unexplainable to people who aren't as knowledgeable, your experts could be the main obstacle that keeps you from creating a steady stream of content.

An obvious solution to that problem is to ask people who are new to your company to write content, which would also help them learn more about your products and services. You'd certainly want to vet what they write, but at least you'd get some good content churned out.

2. You've got the sharpest arrow in the field, but you're missing the target

Experts in their niche are often too close to the product to understand the real reasons people buy it. Though you may assume people buy your product because of its superior technology, for example, they may be buying it because it's easier to use than competing products.

We all make assumptions about why people like us. You'd be surprised, though, by the answers you'd get if you ever took the time to ask those people. And the more enamored your people are with their own expertise, the less likely that they are in touch with the real reasons people buy from you.

The deafening silence of the vacuum chamber resulting from such assumptions and attitudes then naturally leads to the conclusion that your company has addressed all your customers' needs. Hence, a remark I've often heard: "We don't need any more content. It's all there in our FAQ section."

See, content creation isn't just you telling people what you think they need to know. Content is about engaging your prospects in a dialogue. Doing so creates the necessary emotional attachment that leads to gaining a lifelong customer.

Get your support staff to note the questions customers ask. For every question you should then produce several pieces of new content that directly address the needs of your customers and prospects.

3. Your Expert is a Klingon on a ship full of Ferengi

In my mind, here lies the crux of the problem: Your expert knows so much about your niche that he's become out of touch with those who don't have your level of expertise. That dilemma is called "the curse of knowledge" in the great book Made to Stick, and it's killed many a marketing program.

Worse, your top experts are convinced that they and their top engineers are the only people who can write intelligently about your niche. But because they lack the time to create content—and because they think it's absurd to expect anyone else to be able to do it—content isn't produced.

Your target market doesn't know as much about your niche as your experts do. That simple fact is the primary reason you should consider turning the job over to someone else—inside or outside of your company. Those who are closer to the knowledge level of your prospects may be in a better position to speak with them on their terms, in their language, and in a way that engages them in a dialogue.

Subject-matter experts don't create winning marketing campaigns, and they rarely write the most engaging content.

Instead of being the primary source of content, they need to become a catalyst for content. Their knowledge of your products and industry are fodder for the content-creation process, which should be spearheaded by people who are closer to the knowledge and experience levels of your prospects.

You content creators can be anyone from your three-weeks-on-the-job tech support person, your engineers, and even your customers. And, maybe, if you're brave enough... an outside agency.


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Sid Smith is lead copywriter and marketing automation specialist for Albertson Performance Group. Sid has written on topics ranging from flex circuits to motherhood, but gets a real kick out of putting together the puzzle pieces of complex marketing automation strategies. Reach him via sid.smith@apg7.com.

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  • by Judy Murdoch Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    Good article. Only quibble is a better analogy would be a Vulcan on a ship full of Ferengi. Most experts I know are more like Spock: they can't understand why their brilliantly reasoned ideas don't wow everyone else. Problem is everyone is is worried about where the next customer is coming from.

  • by Joby Blume Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    Sid, thanks for the article, and the insight.

    Our challenge at my old company (and at my new one) was that we ourselves were a communication agency, specialising in visual marketing and presentations. So, to an extent, there was an expectation (we set) that our content should be visual - at least some of the time. Which was where outsourcing content creation became difficult. There's also an unhealthy reluctance to work with other agencies - maybe because of budget, or an expectation we ought to be able to handle it.

    How many agencies do you use to help with various aspects of your marketing, outside of web design?

    We did actually try using a PR agency to create content for us - but the quality wasn't right. I suspect that PR people aren't the same as content people.

    In the end we hired somebody for a marketing communications role, and she would interview various people to get content ideas. (There are only so many times one can 'restate the basics, elegantly'.) That's still work for the subject matter experts - thinking of interesting things to say, explaining those things, checking the output. Not so much work we shouldn't have prioritised it - but work none-the-less.

  • by Filipe Bernardes Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    That's a great insight. I think this problem applies also to design a good amount of designers, being or thinking of themselves as experts, sometimes fail to deliver a product that's aligned with the clients' objectives or expectations, focusing mainly on visual aspects and forgetting the overall message of the support.

  • by Sid Smith Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    @Judy - You're probably right. Vulcans are more like the typical expert, although Tuvok had his occasional emotional outburst.

    @Joby - Interesting dilemma. Perhaps the trick is to separate skills and content. The copywriters who wrote the script for the Old Spice ads didn't know a thing about video. They just said, "Guy lands on horse" and let the video experts figure out how to do it.

    PR agencies often hire copywriters (and don't pay much). However there are quite a few excellent copywriters who work independently or part of a small operation, and are not associated with any "agency." Check out AWAI (American Writers and Artists Institute).

    On the subject of content... We (me included) sometimes get trapped in the notion that all our content must be "on topic" to our core product or area of expertise. However, what if you created content that was related to, but not specific to your product or service? For example, your company specialized in visual marketing and presentations. There's no reason that you couldn't drive traffic to your website by creating content on related topics like writing video scripts, using your voice effectively, or even branching out into SEO optimization of video. Remember the long tail...

    The point is to look beyond what you know, or think you know. Good writers can research and write on most topics, and (hopefully) can be creative enough to avoid pestering the experts.

    Sid

  • by Ralph Sullivan Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    Good points. One of the recommendations we make is to have engineers/tech people take a business writing class at a local college or night school.

  • by Joby Blume Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    Sid - sage advice about creating content that's related to our core topic, but not about the core topic. I guess that's what happened when I wrote about marketing automation - and its been more as useful for BrightCarbon in gaining attention than anything I've written about presentations.

    I guess companies need both types of content - stuff that's about a wider range of topics that helps drive traffic, and high-value stuff that's on-topic and that helps to get visitors to sign-up. One thing that's been interesting is trying in trying to democratise content creation at the new company, and finding that people one never would have guessed have articles 'inside them', actually do.

  • by Sid Smith Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    Jody - I like your new buzzword, even if you didn't realize you were creating one. "The democratization of content marketing." It's a matter of getting past the fear of writing that was mistakenly instilled in many of us by well-meaning teachers. You can always fix grammar and punctuation later.

    Ralph - I'd be very interested in hearing how the classes are working out for your tech people. I was saved from a forever hatred of writing by a creative writing teacher who gave me my first taste of stream of consciousness writing.

  • by nadav Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    good artical
    thanks

  • by Colleen O'Donnell Pierce Wed Mar 21, 2012 via mobile

    Great article - it's always very helpful to have something like this handy to back me up when I broach topics like this with clients. I think just about everyone has at least one Vulcan or Klingon client. ;)

  • by Judy Murdoch Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    @Sid

    Spock did too - you know having a human mother and all.

    But I don't think that would have helped him with the Ferengi.

  • by Andrea Edwards Wed Mar 21, 2012 via web

    This is a good article, thanks. One of the problems I always see is people in customer facing roles, who know the customer and what they care about, have heads full of great information - but as you say, these people rarely have time to write or they can't write, and of course, they can be too close to it. However, they should be the digital champions of an organisation and if the company hired smart content people - internally or externally - that were respected and were given the time to get that great knowledge into any form of content, then it is going to be very powerful indeed. A great content partner will have the skills to take the exec back and help them find the real juicy information that is valid, thus tackling the "too close" issue. I think it's about making this a priority and rewarding customer facing execs if they build their profile digitally - and other's can do it on their behalf! In Asia Pacific in particular, it still doesn't seem to be a priority, and companies still don't understand what being customer focused is really all about. I like the suggestion of addressing content to FAQs - what a perfect place to start. I don't think this is hard, it's about changing priorities and how it's always been done. Companies that work this out are really going to fly!

  • by Alana Vedan Fri Mar 23, 2012 via web

    Great article and good point! I might 'accidentally" leave a copy of this article around for a particular client.

  • by Thorsten Strauss Sat Mar 24, 2012 via web

    @ sid

    My English prof. would have said : "too constructed, faulty in logic and repetitive in argument ( part 2 and 1st parag. part 3) - Please re-write"

    Logic is incorrect in 1) while A is true (great players do not guarantee being great coaches) it does not make B true (non players are great coaches). Sorry, read "good to great", read "tipping point" , read McKinsey quarterly, the proof is out there: insiders outperform outsiders any day. It does takes exposure and practice to be great.

    My proposal to you, focus on these points :

    - Not everybody is a great writer (go into why it is so )
    - Not every expert is a great teacher (what makes a good teacher)
    - Not every expert can jump back into the mindset of a non experts
    - Those who can write and have the knowledge might not have the time
    or (attention new argument to your article) are overpaid to be content writers.

    Those are the real issues.

    I think you meant to say it, but got caught up with trying to be too cool in your article. Well, leave out NBA and StarTrek and you would have done better.

    Good luck
    Thorsten

  • by Sean Cheang Sun Mar 25, 2012 via web

    Great article!

    I am not that great of a writer and my content always comes across as too technical. I have struggled to find a copy writer who could parse down a lot of the lengthy materials we have into more manageable chunks. Would love to hear some suggestion on where to contact some.

  • by Sid Smith Sun Mar 25, 2012 via web

    Hi Sean,

    Well, there's me for one. It's what I do.

    Also, AWAI (American Writers and Artists) trains people to be copywriters. They have a group that's focused on B2B copy, and many of these writers come from a technical background. They have a Jobs board where companies can post job assignments and get writers to submit proposals. You can also post a small assignment, ask writers to submit a "spec." It's your choice from there. Contact me if you need more info on AWAI.

  • by Gary Andrew Mon Mar 26, 2012 via web

    This is one of the very reason why outsourcing boomed, correct?

  • by Sid Smith Tue Mar 27, 2012 via web

    Gary - Freelance copywriting has been around for many years, and it's always been up and down, but in my experience doesn't follow other outsourcing trends. Sometimes, companies pour money into marketing and so hire people to do the work. Even then, they may find that the people they hire have experience with marketing, but aren't writers. Plus, sometimes they want a fresh perspective.

    Many agencies hire copywriters, and these are the people hired by many Fortune 100 companies to supplement their marcom teams. It's easier to deal with one agency than handling many freelancers. Writing is certainly a niche within the whole marketing field.

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