In a landmark article for the Harvard Business Review, Michael E. Porter wrote that the essence of business strategy is choosing to perform business activities differently - or to perform different activities - than competitors. Porter also argued that a powerful strategy always involves trade-offs. If you design and arrange your activities to excel a delivering a specific value proposition, you will be less able to effectively and efficiently deliver other types of value. Therefore, strategy is about deciding both what to do and what not to do.
A variation of Porter's principle applies to content marketing. To be highly effective, each content resource you develop must be designed to address the concerns and interests of a specific target audience. And when a content resource is truly designed for a specific target audience, that resource will inevitably be less appealing to other audiences, some of which may be important to your company. It can be tempting to design content resources that will appeal to multiple audiences, but this is usually a mistake. The title of a recent blog post by Joe Pulizzi makes the point clearly: "If Your Content Marketing is for Everybody, It's for Nobody."
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 or an e-book, 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 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 Swill army knife is a real multi-tasking tool and a handy thing to have on a camping trip or a hike.
Some B2B marketers believe they can create one content resource that will appeal to all of their target audiences and fill all (or most) of their content needs. In essence, they want to create the content marketing equivalent of a Swill army knife. Unfortunately, however, the Swiss army knife approach to content marketing doesn't work well. Here are two of the primary reasons.
Diluted Relevance - When you create a content resource that's designed for multiple audiences, it will inevitably include information that's not very relevant or interesting to some of those audiences. 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 concerns and priorities. If you create one 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 concerns.
Excessive Length - Even if the relevance problem didn'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. The problem with long content resources is that most potential buyers now have short attention spans. They usually 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 or e-book.
The bottom line is that developing good marketing content always requires you to make trade-offs. When you develop a content resource for a specific target audience, it probably won't be appropriate of other audiences. For an effective content marketing program, you'll need distinct resources for most of your primary audiences.