Content marketing: How much information should you give away for free?



Set your knowledge and ideas free!

It’s a powerful proposition that sits at the heart of content marketing but equally it can be somewhat tricky as well.

I hear time and time again a key issue for many businesses thinking about embarking on a content marketing program is how much information should they they be giving away to the public, for free. Understandably, this is a huge stumbling block for some companies, especially those whose stock-in-trade is providing knowledge, ideas and advice in return for a fee.

Some businesses get over it, recognising the importance of having an abundance mindset in today’s social age; others however, trip over before jumping this particular hurdle, forever dooming their content marketing efforts to the scrapheap (or they never even get started).

The bottom line is this:

If you want to position your personal or business brand as a thought leader in the marketplace, if you want to be seen as a credible authority in the space in which you operate professionally, then you need to give in order to get.

And when I say give, I mean give generously without the expectation of getting anything in return. Giving of your knowledge, your ideas, your opinions and perspectives; in other words, set your knowledge and ideas free – don’t be a hoarder!

This theme reminded me of an excellent presentation by content marketing specialists Jay Baer and Joe Pulizzi way, way back at BlogWorld LA 2011.

As a sidebar, check out the photo below: There weren’t heaps of people in attendance (this was a huge conference with multiple specialist ‘tracks’ running at the same time, so to be fair, the audience was pretty splintered most of the time). Today, however, Jay and Joe are two of the biggest names in the social media and content marketing space and if they presented again, they would be a huge drawcard. Bottom line: Jay and Joe are incredible givers of their time, expertise and ideas – they are two genuine thought leaders in a world where there are many pretenders; they’re best-selling authors, top-notch speakers and both run very successful fast-growing businesses.

opening the kimono

How much do you open your kimono?

Provocative title, but alas not one I can take credit for. It was the theme of Jay and Joe’s BlogWorld presentation.

The premise of the pair’s presentation was: Does ‘thought leadership’ cannibalize your ability to monetise what you know? – and they walked us through six stages of content marketing strategy from a ‘kimono opening’ perspective. Again, this presentation was from 2011 (and some of the companies used as examples may have changed tack in the interim) but the ideas they shared are just as relevant today.

STAGE ONE – Closed Kimono

  • No real online thought leadership presence.
  • The pros for this = zero time investment; cons = limited exposure in search, reduced ability to build influence online.

STAGE TWO – What Happens in Vegas

  • Thought leadership content distributed only via micro platforms such as LinkedIn answers, Twitter news, blog comments, Quora answers etc.

STAGE THREE – Quid Pro Quo

  • Selling thought leadership in the form of ebooks, how-to packages etc.
  • The free information you give away needs to be “best of breed” otherwise people won’t pay for products.
  • Process looks something like this: (a) free newsletter to build your list, (b) create and give away free sample reports that in turn promote the newsletter and more free reports, (c) sales pitches leading to paid content i.e. a detailed ‘how-to’ report that people can buy.
  • Example given was copywriter and internet marketing strategist, Bob Bly.

STAGE FOUR – Give Me Your Number

  • Lead-gated thought leadership (i.e. people have to give details in order to access free content).
  • Enables companies to measure the impact of content creation and distribution (decentralized within the company).
  • Example given was email marketing software company ExactTarget.

STAGE FIVE – Peek-a-boo

  • Giving away what you know in the form of valuable content, but not the process.
  • Example given was Openview Venture Partners, a company where 90 per cent of employees blog; it has an in-house studio for audio and video production, employs a full-time journalist.
  • The company integrates its blog into Openview Labs, a full technology resource site.

STAGE SIX – Full Monty

  • This stage basically involves “giving it all away”, including the ‘secret sauce’.
  • Creating and distributing content that’s not only relevant to your business and industry, but also outside your core category.
  • Example given was automated lead generated services company Eloqua, whose goal it is to cast its content far and wide, all free and unencumbered by ‘lead gates’ its site.
  • According to Joe and Jay, Eloqua focuses on reaching the 85 per cent of people who don’t know the company versus the 15 per cent that do.

What about your organisation?

Are you ‘closed kimono’, ‘full Monty’, or somewhere in between?

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6 thoughts on “Content marketing: How much information should you give away for free?”

  1. Great post, Trevor.

    I’d like to think I’m a Full Monty – but, in reality, I’m probably a Peek-a-boo. There’s just one piece of gold – a unique process – that I’m clinging onto for dear life and will only share with paying customers. But I give away everything else.

    Are you a Full Monty, Trevor?

    1. Hi Darrel, I reckon I’m Peek-a-Monty (or is that the “Full Boo’?) … I give away a lot of my ideas and knowledge via articles, podcasts, video live-streams, tweets, videos etc, very much like yourself; often I allude to various elements of the process I have developed, probably most of it over the journey in bits and pieces, but the curated ‘package’ is probably what I hold back a bit.

  2. Today, however, Jay and Joe are two of the biggest names in the social media and content marketing space and if they presented again, they would be a huge drawcard. Where such information?

  3. Excellent article and entertaining read.
    I think many people forget the golden rule “you need to give in order to get”. When presenting in any situation I try to figure out quickly what my purpose is and what I can expect in return. If I’m trying to build my personal network, but I don’t see any potential business from those I’m presenting to (i.e.. lets say a chat at a university) then I’m happy to go open Kimono, but if its more of a work / client moment, I would rather leave room for people to come back to me (i.e. “hey that was an interesting point, can we discuss further”). So at least in my world there aren’t any hard and fast rules and I try to adapt where I can and need to.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Eric. Fair point you make and you’re right, generally there aren’t any hard and fast rules and often it will be case by case, whatever feels right with the individual. But if you have competitors who are prepared to give more, then you have a decision to make.

  4. Impressive article. I will definitely use these ideas to help me improve myself and my content marketing skills. I think I am a full Monty in regards with the stages of the content marketing strategy because in my marketing strategy I always put first the needs of my prospects and offer to them everything I got.

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