How much should you give away in content marketing? Part 2 of 2

In the last post, we discussed a basic tactic for determining what you should and shouldn’t give away in your content marketing strategy. Let’s look at a more advanced strategy that’s derived from the old ninja clans of ancient Japan.

In the lore of the ninja, one of the most prized items held by the headmaster of the clan was the densho, or scrolls of martial techniques. These densho held descriptions of the clan’s secret fighting techniques, along with illustrations of how to perform the techniques, construct the tools, etc.

Winchendon Martial Arts Center

Their value was priceless and could mean the difference between literal life and death for the practitioners of that clan’s martial arts. As such, the techniques were closely guarded secrets, and were encoded in a very special way. Each technique was encoded in such a way that an uninitiated practitioner would read the technique and if they attempted it, as written, they’d end up getting themselves killed. The way the techniques were written was wrong.

Only those initiated by the clan’s master teachers were told exactly how the techniques were written down wrong, so that they knew what to adapt, ignore, or adjust to make them work. Sometimes it was enough to simply know that a technique should be on the reverse side; other times, the name of the technique gave a hint as to what it should feel like, rather than the written description.

We can take this technique and adapt it to our content marketing in a less harmful way. What can you safely give away? Give away the basic techniques, tactics, and methods, but make your content incomplete. Anyone who doesn’t work for your company or brand gets value, but doesn’t get the whole picture. For example, take a look at this simple recipe for cake. Ignore that there are no proportions; they’re unimportant for this example.

Eggs
Milk
Sugar
Flour
Cocoa
Yeast

If you were to bake up a cake with this basic recipe, you’d get a decent chocolate cake. However, there are two ingredients missing that could turn this average cake into a great cake – vanilla extract and salt. A pinch of salt drastically alters how our taste buds perceive flavor, and the vanilla adds a lot of depth to the flavors.

If I were working for a company that made cakes, I’d publish the basic recipe, while holding onto the “secret ingredients” for my company’s cakes that made them superior. The cake you baked with our recipe would still be good enough for when you just wanted some cake, but if you had a special occasion, you’d know that there was always something a little extra from a cake bought from our store.

No matter what your product, service, or company, there are likely basic and advanced recipes. Take a look at what recipes you have, determine what you can omit and still deliver a passable result, and use that as the basis for your content marketing. You can even tier your content marketing; a while back, I wrote a blog post about benchmarking in Google Analytics, but only premium subscribers to my newsletter got the advanced recipe.

Try this method of content marketing strategy to deliver value to your audiences without giving away everything!

…Of course, that does make you wonder what I left out of this post, doesn’t it?


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How much should you give away in content marketing? Part 1 of 2

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At the recent Entrepreneur Magazine Winning Strategies in Business conference, I had the opportunity to answer a question that’s one of my favorites: “How much should you give away for free in content marketing?”

We’ll answer this in two parts, a common answer today and a ninja answer tomorrow.

First, when it comes to your business, the concern about giving away too much knowledge is absolutely valid. Although I firmly believe in Jay Baer’s quote, “Having the recipe does not make you a chef”, there are indeed cases where the intellectual property of your business shouldn’t be given away.

There are fundamentally two kinds of businesses when it comes to intellectual property. There are businesses where the intellectual property is the value; you’re not differentiating on the execution of methods, but the knowledge of the methods themselves.

There are other businesses where the recipe is commonly known, but your execution of it is the secret sauce.

If your business is the latter, an exceptional executor of commodity knowledge, then give away as much as you want about the knowledge itself.

If your business is the former, then you have to look at what you specialize in. There are two broad categories of intellectual property: how and what. “How” businesses have a special set of tactics, a special set of recipes that set them apart from competitors. KFC has its special spices. McDonald’s has a Big Mac with special sauce. Coca Cola has its mysterious formula.

“What” businesses have a special set of strategies that set them apart from competitors. They may employ commonly known tactics and methods, but in a unique way. Consulting firms like BCG and KPMG take commonly known tactics and remix them into special strategies. Disney’s brands are strategic in nature; they don’t do anything special to market the brand, but they do a whole lot special in the creation of content and value, from a strategic perspective. Their secret is in the what, not the how.

When it comes to answering the question of how much you can give away, the obvious answer is to give away the non-relevant part. If you’re a “how” company, you can give away all the “what” you want. Coca-cola does this exceptionally – they create experiences around their brand, giving away tons of content, encouraging community around it. If you’re a “what” company, you can give away the “how” endlessly while not giving away the knowledge of what you do that makes those tactics give you different, better results.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a very ninja answer that goes above and beyond how and what.


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Avoiding being blindsided in marketing

When it comes to things that are going to impede your ability to be an effective marketer, there are three broad categories, made most famous by Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (hat tip to Tom Webster for continued reminders of the quote):

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“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Despite winning the dubious Foot in Mouth award from the Plain English Campaign, Rumsfeld’s quote is actually useful, particularly for marketers who are worried about the future.

You know what you know. You know the things that are going to affect your marketing, such as Google SEO algorithms, email open rates, etc.

You know what you don’t know. If Google’s newest algorithm has hit the Internet, you may not know its impact, but you can read up on it and learn what you don’t know.

It’s the last category of things you don’t know and aren’t aware of that are the problem, because this creates a massive blind spot. Think about something as primal as the martial arts. If you step into a boxing ring, you know what you know, your skills. You know what you don’t know, which is what the opponent is going to do, but you have ways of handling that. Finally, there isn’t a whole lot that you don’t know and you aren’t aware of. It’s unlikely that there will be a sniper in the stands or that the opponent has secretly put lead shot in his gloves. Thus, you have an environment which is predictable. On the other hand, if those other things could happen, and you didn’t know that the rules had changed, you’d have a very short boxing match.

In marketing the danger isn’t competitors per se. They are known for the most part. The danger is what we don’t know. We didn’t know how mobile would change behavior, but more importantly we didn’t know that we didn’t know mobile was going to fundamentally change human behavior. We just thought mobile was a miniature desktop computer.

So the next question is how to learn what we don’t know that we don’t know. What is it and where do we go to even start learning about it?

For me, that begins with having a strong social network that is highly diverse. People from all kinds of social and economic backgrounds, people all across the technological adoption curve are going to be the sources from which you’ll first catch wind of something new. Your network will naturally surface new trends if you listen carefully. If you don’t have that network, you won’t have the advanced notice you need to prevent being blindsided.


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