Monday, July 11, 2011

Why the "Swiss Army Knife" Approach to Content Marketing Doesn't Work

Whenever I talk with prospective clients about starting a content marketing program, one of the first questions they ask is, "Why can't we create one content resource, say a white paper, that tells the whole story? It could include a description of the problems we can solve and the benefits our solution can provide, and we could include a couple of customer success stories to demonstrate that we can deliver what we promise."

At this point in the conversation, the image of a Swiss army knife always flashes in my mind.  As most of you probably know, a Swiss army knife is a tool that's about the size of a large pocket knife.  In addition to regular knife blades, it has several other attachments, such as a bottle opener, a can opener, a screwdriver, and a file.  So, a Swiss army knife is a real multi-tasking tool and a handy thing to have on a camping trip or a hike.

Many B2B marketers believe they can create one marketing content resource that will fill all (or most) of their content needs.  In essence, they want to create the marketing equivalent of a Swiss army knife. It's an appealing idea, and it would certainly simplify the job of content marketing.  Unfortunately, however, the Swiss army knife approach to content marketing doesn't work well for a number of reasons.

Diluted Relevance - When you create an "umbrella" content piece, you will inevitably include information that's not all that relevant to some potential buyers.  Suppose, for example, that you offer a technology product that must be "sold" to plant managers, IT Directors, and CFO's.  Each of these buyer types will have distinct issues, concerns, and priorities.  If you create a single content resource for all of these buyer types, you are essentially asking each potential buyer to wade through material that doesn't particularly interest him or her in order to find the information that addresses his or her primary interests and concerns.

Excessive Length - Even if the relevance problem doesn't exist, when you try to "cover all the bases" in one content resource, you are likely to end up with a very long resource - a 40-50 page white paper, for example.  The problem with long content pieces is that most potential buyers now have short attention spans.  They prefer to consume content in small doses, especially when they are in the early stages of the buying process. Most early-stage buyers simply won't be willing to invest the time it takes to read a 50 page white paper.

No Ammunition for Lead Nurturing - If you plan to have a lead nurturing program (and you should), you'll need several content resources to provide the "fuel" for the program.  Offering the same content asset over and over just won't work.

Reduced Credibility - Having only one content resource can also create a negative perception by potential buyers.  When I visit a company's website and see only one content resource, I can't help but question the company's expertise and capabilities.  Many potential buyers probably react in the same way.

The bottom line?  You need several content resources to have an effective marketing program. The good news is that creating multiple resources is not as difficult as it might appear.  The key is to repurpose your content.  For example, you can usually take one white paper and use it as the basis for two or three shorter content pieces.


  1. Couldn't agree more. There's no reason the same message cannot be relayed through several channels in unique ways. I came across a great example of this recently here they've interacted with their audience, taken the feedback, and turned it into new content. Double duty marketing. There's no reason each instance cant serve multiple purposes.

  2. Creating reader personas is probably the most overlooked part of content marketing. And also the most important, when you come to think of it.

    Super busy decision makers who experiences a spike in blood pressure every time their inbox announces another mail are never going to read content that does not address their concerns.

    And we also have to keep in mind that most of them use mobile devices. They won't bother to trudge through irrelevant stuff on smaller screens to get to the interesting bits- they will hit delete

  3. Christine,

    Thanks for your comment. Leveraging customer feedback to create new content is a great idea. Thanks for the heads-up.

  4. Bhaskar,

    Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with your view about the importance of reader personas. Before you create any content resource, you should have an "ideal reader" in mind. A persona is the best tool I've found to describe that ideal reader.