Today's post is from Damien Seaman, a copywriter at Drayton Bird Associates.
In this article Damien attempts to play “peacemaker” between the two warring factions of direct marketing and content marketing. Good luck Damien!
There’s a war raging in the marketing world right now. If you’re not careful, you could lose money because of it.
Because this is a false war based on the shakiest of premises:
That you have to choose between direct marketing and content marketing – otherwise known as outbound and inbound marketing.
You could end up losing money because you’re likely to favour one of these approaches.
And it’s very easy to be suckered into the idea that if you choose one, you can’t also do the other.
But the two concepts are not mutually exclusive at all.
In fact, the best direct marketers also practice content marketing, while the best content marketers also follow direct marketing principles.
To be sure of getting the most from your marketing, you should do the same.
Let me explain.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is fashionable right now. Many marketers and business owners are focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else, for reasons I’ll go into shortly.
Simply put, content marketing is a way of proving you are an authority in your industry.
This makes you more credible, so prospects are more likely to choose you over others when they need whatever it is you sell.
It means giving people advice. Usually on the best ways of solving whatever problem your product or service happens to solve for your prospects.
This can take the form of blog posts, articles in trade magazines or on respected websites, offering white papers or ebooks or other reports on your website, and so on.
The point is to lead prospects by the nose so they conclude yours is the best of the potential solutions they could buy.
So far, so uncontroversial.
Where the spat with direct marketers comes about is in the insistence of many in the content marketing world that today’s customer is a different beast to the customer of old.
The argument runs like this.
Thanks to the internet, today’s customer is savvier, better able to shop around and better able to evaluate the best product for their needs.
As a result, they resent the hard sell approach. When they’re ready to buy, they’ll do their research and buy.
This is when they’re supposed to come upon your content – either by finding your website or your blog, or perhaps via social media – and, weighing up the pros and cons, realise you’re the best choice.
And, oh yes, thanks to the magic of the internet, content marketing is also very cost effective.
That’s bollocks-speak for “cheap”, in case you were wondering.
Although, given how much a decent email marketing system can cost – not to mention what you pay in money and time to whomever writes, edits, designs and distributes the content – it’s actually not cheap at all.
Write your content. Get it out there however you can, in as many ways as you can, and your customers will find you. Make it easy to get in touch and you’ll get inbound leads.
No need to reach out to prospects via email or letters or advertising. They’ll find you.
These assumptions send direct marketers on the warpath.
So before we go any further, let’s just go over the contrast between direct marketing and content marketing, shall we?
What is direct marketing?
Direct marketing is when you reach out to your customers, er… directly.
It means sending emails, or sales letters, or paying for ads on Google, or even running adverts with cut out coupons in newspapers and magazines.
In short, it means marketing in a form where your prospects can respond immediately.
As a result, most direct marketing focuses on getting a sale there and then…
…And this is what gets the goat of the content marketers.
The difference, for them, between the two is content marketing lets you build a rapport with prospects before they’re ready to buy.
So if prospects are not ready to buy when they get your email or letter, or see your ad, well you haven’t built up any kind of relationship. They’re less likely to buy from you at all.
But direct marketers scoff at this. For them, an effective advert, letter or email contains all the relevant points you need to make a sale.
If the ad or letter is good but prospects aren’t ready to buy, many prospects will keep hold of them until they are ready to buy.
(By the way, this does happen frequently. Direct marketers know this because they get prospects calling in to place orders sometimes months after they got the letter or saw the ad.)
So direct marketers will go on to argue much content marketing is flawed. Because it’s not focused on selling to the same extent, the content is often weaker and less compelling.
Much content could not stand on its own as a self-contained piece, and so on its own it cannot sell, whereas a lot of direct marketing does exactly that.
Many would also sneer at the idea prospects pay any attention to all the content being put out until they’re ready to buy anyway.
On that basis, the notion of having built any kind of pre-existing relationship is debatable, because prospects aren’t looking before they need to buy.
And anyway, direct marketers will say, any fool knows to build a relationship you need to build an email subscriber list you can contact on a regular basis.
Really? reply the content marketers… because, well, that’s what we recommend too. Being as it’s, you know, the most effective proven way of building a relationship.
“Content” and “direct” work better together
So, having argued themselves into a corner, “content” and “direct” retreat to lick their wounds.
Leaving you free to weigh up the alternatives.
And look at this. Here’s something on which the best content marketers and the best email marketers can agree.
You need to get yourself an email subscriber list.
Let’s look at some examples.
Serial entrepreneur Neil Patel is something of a content marketing “guru”. He owns three blogs, with more than 100,000 subscribers to each.
But when you visit his blogs, the first thing you’re asked to do is give away your email address in return from some content. This might be a course or a special report. The principle’s the same.
In return for something useful, you have to give up your email so he can keep marketing to you.
One of Neil’s mantras?
“Don’t forget the marketing in content marketing.”
And what about some other content marketers…
Mari Smith markets herself as a Facebook “guru”.
Yet when you visit her site, she doesn’t ask you to like or follow her on Facebook.
No, instead she asks you to sign up for her email updates.
And it’s the same with noted Pinterest “guru” Melanie Duncan.
Go to her site, and you have to navigate three pop up boxes, each of them asking for your email address in return for something, before you can actually access her site.
If even bloggers and social media mavens want to use email to get to you, what does that tell you?
Similarly, direct marketing legend Drayton Bird has been in the business for 54 years. Yet as he says:
“I’ve used emails to generate business for my agency and our clients very successfully since 2007.
“Getting people to subscribe to your regular updates is a tried and tested method of increasing sales. Subscribers have opted in to receive your news and advice, so they are more likely to read the content.”
This is a man who takes umbrage with the Content Marketing Institute when it says “content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.”
Yet here he is, using exactly the same technique as all these content marketers you’ve just read about. Or are they using the same technique as him?
The lines are blurred on this one. Content marketers might insist this use of email is content marketing, whereas direct marketers might assert it’s actually a kind of direct marketing.
One thing’s for sure though: it works.
Direct marketing is dead, long live… direct marketing?
You see, from the perspective of direct marketers, very little of what’s good about content marketing is new.
As the successful Canadian direct marketer Daniel Levis has said, “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.
Now doesn’t that sound like something Neil Patel might have said?
What direct marketers object to most is probably the notion that all of this content marketing stuff is new.
And, by extension, everything that’s gone before should be consigned to the dustbin.
Thus last month saw content marketing agency Hubspot publish a report on the worst practices of direct mail.
Within a week this had drawn a stinging rebuke from the famous American copywriter Bob Bly in an article in Target Marketing Magazine.
Bob’s piece argued every single one of the six practices mentioned by Hubspot still work successfully for direct mail – and most of them also work well for online marketing too.
Given that Bob makes around three quarters of a million dollars a year from his copywriting, he probably has a pretty fair idea of what he’s talking about.
So what does all this mean for you?
As you’ve worked out by now, this false war is largely one of words.
But you do have to question the assumptions being made by many content marketers out there. An awful lot of these assumptions are just plain wrong, as with Hubspot regarding direct mail.
Now, I should come clean. This article is not dispassionate. If I had to choose, I’d go with direct marketing every time.
You see, I’ve worked in-house for IT companies, mostly writing “content” for their content marketing.
I’ve also been working as a copywriter at Drayton Bird’s agency for the last 10 months, writing direct marketing copy almost exclusively.
In my experience, good direct marketing makes more money than content does.
This is just my experience, of course. Ian – who’s been kind enough to host this article – now gets most of his new business from inbound leads he generates from his content marketing.
So for him, content works just fine. Though, as you know, he also uses email to keep in touch regularly.
I’ve even written some content marketing-style content for Drayton. And so far it’s working pretty well.
Hell, working with Drayton I’ve managed to make several thousand pounds for the agency just by using Linked In – and in less than three months.
(I can’t tell you exactly how much because Drayton might not want me to – but the point is, this is something many content marketers insist can’t be done.)
How have we done it?
By using content, of course. While applying direct marketing principles to it.
So clearly, both can work. And each works better when combined with the other.
Just don’t forget, when you’re considering what will work for your business, not to rule either one out.
Otherwise you’re just going to come off poorer for it in the long run.
About the author:
Damien Seaman is a copywriter at Drayton Bird Associates, where he specialises in writing direct marketing copy for IT, insurance, investments and online marketing. (He also writes content, if you ask nicely.)
You can reach him via Linked In or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was inspired by a late night conversation Damien and I had about how good content marketing always has a lot of strong direct marketing in it and vice versa. For me, a great example of how to do content well are the “house ads” run by Ogilvy and Mather to promote their own services in the 60s and 70s. You can read some of them here. They give immensely useful information (for free, in an advert no less) but all end with a strong call to action. For example to contact them to get more useful material or get a trial of their new model for product launches. Well worth studying.
Image by Horia Varlan