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Is content marketing—the marketing methodology that entails disseminating free special reports, white papers, e-books, blog posts, and other useful content to potential customers—overrated?

Sales expert Robert Minskoff seems to think so. He says, “Go ahead and blog, tweet, and post. But be very aware that there is still a large segment of the buying population that places very little importance on that type of content.”

So what does work in getting the order? “Selling is a human interaction,” Robert says. “Be human.”

I am the first to stand up and say content marketing—which in the good old days, we simply called “free information offers”—can work well.

As early as the 1930s, John Caples offered free booklets in his print ads. I have been an active practitioner of content marketing since the early 1980s.

But content marketing has its limits.

Offering free content is great for generating inquiries—people love to get free stuff.

It also educates the consumer on how to buy your type of product.

For instance, say you offer a free report “7 Things to Look for When Hiring a Roofer.”

Naturally, your roofing service precisely meets all 7 requirements spelled out in the report.

So after reading the report, homeowners will be more likely to hire you than your competitors who do not closely match the requirements you listed.

However, if all you do is give away free content, you are not going to close many sales.

Content marketers need to be reminded that we are in the business of selling, not giving away free stuff.

The prospect is there not merely to be educated. You also have to sell him on why he should buy your product vs. other alternatives, including doing nothing. And that’s not content marketing. That’s copywriting.

To close the sale, at some point the prospect must receive a communication containing copy that (1) highlights your product’s unique advantages over the competition, (2) overcomes his objections, (3) proves that your product is a superior solution to his problems, and (4) convinces him you are a trusted, reliable supplier.

You may also need professional salespeople who know how to establish relationships with prospects, diagnose their needs, and convince them your company is the best equipped to meet those needs.

Not to be mean-spirited, but I think part of the reason so many marketers jumped on the content marketing bandwagon so readily is that writing content is a lot easier—and less threatening—than either writing copy that sells or selling in person.

It’s a relatively easy and pleasant task to write a short blog post or online article on a thought, idea, tip, or factoid that caught your fancy.

It’s quite another to convince a terrific prospect to retain your firm when he is objecting that your price is too high, or he thinks your competitor is just as good as you are.

That kind of situation causes your average content marketer to run for the hills, but copywriters and salespeople alike relish such selling challenges. It’s what we’re paid for.

The bottom line: content marketing is fine as far as it goes. But nothing really happens until somebody sells something.

Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.

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