This post is one I wrote as my contribution to a fantastic resource for content marketers called the Grande Guide to B2B Content Marketing, released by Eloqua this week. The whole guide is embedded below, or you can download it for free from Eloqua here.

Sometimes, I get a little fed up with this whole “every company is a publisher” business. The truth is that some companies just don’t have the chops for it.

So, you shouldn’t even think about producing content as a cornerstone of your marketing if ...

1. You’ve uttered the sentiment “Why would they buy the cow if we’re giving the milk for free?”

Some companies worry that by creating content and sharing it freely, they are giving away their thought leadership or trade secrets. They worry that their competitors are trolling their blog and gaining valuable insights or (worse!) poaching clients from the comment threads.

In other words, a Certified Public Accountant, say, might worry that a blog post decoding some new FASB rule for the small-business owner might result in potential clients’ deciding they can handle their taxes on their own this year.

Of course, the truth is that giving away free content to your prospective clients and customers will do a few things, but none of those things will dissuade the purchase of any metaphorical milk. Rather, educating prospects about the products you sell and underscoring your own expertise actually increases your credibility and fosters trust (along with traffic). You show that you know what you’re talking about, and those who dig your stuff will become more educated and ready leads for sales.

And anyway, the kind of clients who are inclined to do their own taxes (so to speak) would never buy accounting services. Just sayin’.

2. You’re starting a blog because the CEO always wanted to be a writer.

This is a tricky one, because getting executive buy-in for a content program is critical. And a CEO blog might well be a good thing for your company, and it’s cool that the CEO is all for it.

But for the love of Mike, please don’t start with this reason. Rather, take a step back and ask some broader questions:

Why are we going to create what we want to create? What are our goals? What do we hope to accomplish?
That sounds obvious, right? But it’s a critical, fundamental step that most companies completely miss. They start a blog because the CEO wants one, or they launch a Twitter stream because their competitors are there. They jump right to tools and tactics, without any sense of the strategy behind the tactics.

So, first answer that Why question---and perhaps later incorporate the CEO’s voice in a blog that’s founded on a stronger footing, for far more compelling reasons. Doing so is going to be a handy chisel to have at your workbench when the CEO gets bored or too busy to pen posts consistently.

3. You think there’s already too much stuff out there, and creating more content is just creating more noise.

Well, that’s true. Google Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt has been quoted as saying that every two days there’s as much information created as since the dawn of civilization to 2003. That’s a lot of stuff, right?

It is. But that’s why the quality of your content is so critical. That’s where telling your story well becomes so important. As Eric points out, we are flooded with content on a regular basis. So the stuff that cuts through is the stuff that’s truly awesome. Companies that simply repost their press releases on their blogs and then wonder why they don’t get any comments aren’t the ones that are going to succeed.

Of course, content that “cuts through” isn’t content that’s “viral.” (It might be, but “viral” is serendipitous and rarely the result of strategy.) Rather, content that “cuts through” is content that (as Len Stein says) is “packed with utility, seeded with inspiration, and is honestly empathetic.” Content that meets the needs of your customers in whatever way resonates best with them. In other words: How can you help your customers and prospects with your content?

4. You own the Yellow Pages.

You’re right. Forget it.

5. You’re sick of all the blather by so-called Content Gurus about blogs and e-books and the YouTubes and blah blah blah: What, did they invent words or something?

Actually, this is a trick, because you, in fact, should be sick of all the blather by so-called Content Marketers and Content Strategists and the like who act as if content just sprouted legs and is walking upright on land for the first time ever.

As I’ve written before, content as a marketing asset is nothing new: In 1900, tire-manufacturer Michelin began producing the Michelin Guide to help drivers maintain their cars and find decent lodging and great food while touring France. Jell-O’s recipe books helped push Jell-O sales to $1 million—a fortune in 1906. Though the smartest content marketers and strategists understand that this an exciting time for content, they know that they didn’t exactly birth it. (Check out this slide show on the history of content marketing for more on that idea.)

But there are several reasons why content is suddenly new again, among them:

First, that technology thing: We now have the tools to create content platforms easily and cheaply. (Notice I didn’t say “content” but did say “content platforms”—like blogs and eBooks and tablet apps and audio and webinars and video, and the entire content kitchen sink, so to speak!)

Second, this social media thing: The rise of social media tools and platforms means that your customers and prospects are connected to each other and you in unprecedented ways.

And finally, the Google thing: Your customers are searching online for you along with the products and services you sell.

Those three things mean that a new model is emerging for brands. Brands have become media properties, certainly. But it’s more than that ... if you allow yourself to really think about it more deeply. What we have is a new model, one of the exciting and interesting opportunities that allows for true innovation.

To do what? To mine the stories from within our organizations and bring them brilliantly to light. To bond with customers in collaborative ways. To put some flesh on the bones of a company in a way that’s human and connective, rather than dry and corporate.

To have some fun. To do something unexpected. To be original. To show how our products and services live in the world ... how they solve problems, help people do their jobs better, improve their lives, or make them smarter, wittier, better-looking, taller, better networked, cooler, more enlightened, and with better backhands, tighter asses, and cuter kids.

To me, “content” doesn’t just mean stuff we create. It means creating unprecedented opportunity.

Or not. It all depends on your perspective.

Check out the Grande Guide in all its glory or view more documents from Eloqua.

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image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author who recently published Everybody Writes 2. She speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.