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The Limitations of Content and Conversation

June 6th, 2007 by Bob Bly

It’s trendy today to say that traditional marketing doesn’t work anymore.

The “new marketing” gurus tell us that, instead of “marketing speak” (traditional sales materials), we should use one of two things to do our selling.

One is giving away valuable free content.

The other is Web 2.0, social networking, forums, wikis, and other forms of “conversation.”

But … isn’t there some point where you have to leave the cozy world of publishing free content and chatting — and actually get down to some selling?

Don’t we have to — especially for products prospects want instead of need (e.g., nutritional supplements, investment newsletters) — tap into the prospect’s fears and desires — and get him to focus on our product as the solution?

Don’t we have to prove our product’s value … explain its benefits … demonstrate its superiority over competing offers … overcome objections … and close the order?

In other words, don’t we have to convince the consumer — with copy that sells — to buy what we are selling?

Or can we eliminate old-fashioned “sales copy” (e.g., direct mail, e-mail, and other forms of intrusion marketing) … and just educate prospects with free content — and then engage them in conversation — and get them to buy that way?

Or is marketing today really a combination of the “old” rules of marketing (ads, direct mail, trade shows, PR) and the “new” rules (content, conversation, RSS feeds, blogging)?

If it’s a combination, why do so many blogging evangelists and other social media advocates feel the need to build up what they offer by bashing conventional marketing? Why do they badmouth it in everything they write?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 6th, 2007 at 7:36 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

54 responses about “The Limitations of Content and Conversation”

  1. Mike Smock said:

    Why do they badmouth it in everything they write? Insecurity.

  2. Don Marti said:

    Why do they badmouth it in everything they write?

    Because “social” and “conventional” are fighting over the same marketing budget.

  3. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob: Knocking the “old rules” reminds me very much of how direct marketers always used to knock “image” advertising (I’ve been guilty of this myself).

    Were we right? Yes and no. The best advertising combines elements from all schools of thought. By “best” I mean most effective. David Ogilvy’s ads come to mind. He brilliantly combined image and hard sell to make people feel great about buying his clients’ products.

    Phooey on ideology. Use whatever works.

    I think that both evangelists and anti-evangelists see everything as black & white, either-or. But marketing is not a yes/no “digital” issue. The best marketing uses multiple channels to support each other.

    Innovators are prone to thinking they are creating a new world order. I’m against fanaticism of any stripe. I just see the value in being open to using new tools. I miss my old typewriter, but it just made more sense to switch to writing with a PC. Now most of my work is online. Couldn’t do that with the old Remington!

    So I say use something old, something new… and don’t forget to ask for the order!


  4. David Meerman Scott said:

    Hey Bob,

    OK, so I’m the guy who wrote “The New Rules of Marketing & PR”. But I’m not going to say what you think I might. I actually think that all forms of marketing, promotion, and PR have their rightful place in the marketplace.

    That being said, I do think that what fails to work is applying staight advertising techniques to new media. For example, submitting what is essentially an advertisement as a “comment” on a blog doesn’t work. Or spamming journalists with broadcast direct email spam does not work.

    But for the right products and markets, TV advertising, direct mail, and other “old” stuff works. Just like in the Web world, the “new rules” of creating thoughtful content that people want to consume is what works best (IMHO).

    Cheers, David

  5. Jim Logan said:

    There’s more money and website traffic saying what used to work no longer does. And people want to believe there’s a “new” way to do everything…something quicker and easier – proven or not.

  6. Katie Cummings said:

    I think it comes down to lack of research, or time, budget, and energy to do the research. I’d be interested in seeing hard core, thoroughly researched data that supports this “new replacing old” theory. I’d agree with with Morty, “Use whatever works.” But first you have to do the ongoing reasearch to find out what is and isn’t working.

  7. John Dumbrille said:

    Still, I have a sense that sifting through the meaty bits of the “markets as convesations” Cluetrain manifesto has to be done.

    Ideally, new marketing tries to make sense of new realities – for instance, in a multi channel universe and with user-controlled media elements, it can be harder to captivate attention, and it’s harder to mask internal corporate culture.

    Bob – do you differentiate between traditional marketing and push marketing? I ask this because push marketing seems to work best when people have few means or desire to push back or to choose an alternative.

  8. Susan Martin said:

    I agree Bob; we still have to use a combination of the old and new techniques.

    Regarding selling professional services, there’s no doubt in my mind: The new techniques help position us as experts, help prospects to find us when they are searching for solutions, and remind them we’re there on a consistent basis so that when they’re ready to buy, they will know who to call.

    But most of these sales don’t close by themselves, even when they’re ready.

    Without explaining what our products or services are, pushing their buttons, showing them how we can alleviate their pain, demonstrating value, benefits and why they should buy from us rather than the competition, then asking for the business, the sale doesn’t close.

  9. Susan Getgood said:

    Two thoughts. First, not *everyone* who recommends social media tactics bashes the traditional ones. You have to match the outreach to the audience. For some audiences, the old ways are still the best ways, and just about every target population benefits from a combination of tactics. The old and the new are NOT mutually exclusive.

    Second, those that bash, on both sides, may lack confidence that they can play in the other arena. Fear and insecurity lead to bashing that which we do not know.

  10. Bob Bly said:

    To make an analogy between marketing and art, blogging is abstract art — and direct response copywriting is traditional oil painting. Both types of art can be beautiful. Both types of marketing can be effective.

    But anyone can do an abstract painting or write a blog. On the other hand, it takes a great deal of talent to paint a realistic landscape in oils … or to write a profitable, control-beating direct mail package. And very few people can do either.

  11. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    Short answer: You can do ALL of the above.

    Longer answer: Free content (like white papers) is the lure to get people you do NOT know to start following you.

    Hang out a white paper in exchange for a newsletter signup, for example.

    As part of the plan, you can then begin offering relevant content for sale.

    Example: I give away a free chapter of my book on my blog if folks signup for my newsletter.

    At the end of the chapter, I give them an incentive to buy the book now.

    In my newsletter, I give more valuable content AND offer them access to teleclasses.


  12. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob–Monet also did abstract paintings. But they were qualitatively different from anyone else’s abstract paintings.

    If Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut or Stephen King would write an online interactive weblog, it would be different from anyone else’s… even if it were a “blog.”

    Your blog proves the point. You offer useful information and thought provoking questions. It’s more than just “content.”

    That’s why you get the traffic you do. And even if you can’t track the numbers and even if you don’t sell from the page… you are increasing your considerable influence with your blog.

    Can you do that with conventional media? Of course. Are articles in key publications more important. No doubt! But you already do that. What your blog does is extend your reach: through the ideas you write, and through making yourself available for interaction with your clients, colleagues and fans.

    Just because someone writes a book doesn?t make it literature. Just because someone writes a blog doesn’t make it junk.


  13. Mary Ellen Merrigan said:

    People have had it with push. They are chucking bombardment and opting instead to think. This requires time and consideration and in the process, conversation begins.

    Authenticity is at stake here. Authentic conversatons. Combining traditional and new marketing methods allows buyers to sift through the possibilities and make choices that matter. It feels different. It requires more transparency on the part of the seller as well.

  14. Steven Mazur said:

    It’s a busy noisy world. It’s also becoming transparent whether marketers like it or not. From my perspective, first it’s necessary to have a brand positioning (foundation) that is both true and relevant. Then to consistently support and communicate that brand position in every medium and communication used. And of course use the medium that will connect.

    What does this mean? DR copy needs to convince, white papers need to educate, social networks need to create collaborative environments but in a way, they all need to sell the brand’s “relevant values” to it’s target and be delivered where and how they will listen.

    Bottom line. To get to the bottom line you may need to use them all… not to fool but the engage, influence, convince and yes sell.

  15. Bob Bly said:

    Mary Ellen: if people have “had it” with push (e.g., direct marketing), why does L.L. Bean still mail catalogs? Why does Publishers Clearinghouse send out millions of direct mail pieces every year? Why does KFC run TV commercials?

  16. Darren said:

    I have to agree with Bob’s challenge to Mary Ellen. In today’s “busy noisy world,” (credit to Steven), I find that people want to think less. They seem to want FEWER choices. They want someone else to tell them what they need and what they should purchase because, darn it, they just don’t have time to think about it. But they also need to feel confident about the choices they DO make and maybe that’s where the mixture of push vs dialog marketing comes into play.

  17. The Limitations of Content and Conversation : My Netrepreneur said:

    […] The Limitations of Content and Conversation It’s trendy today to say that traditional marketing doesn’t work anymore. The “new marketing” gurus tell us that, instead of “marketing speak” (traditional sales materials), we should use one of two things to do our selling. One is giving away valuable free content. The other is Web 2.0, social networking, forums, wikis, and other forms of “conversation.” But … […] […]

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