Content, content, content. But when do I advertise?

This is a very real question I get asked by smaller businesses who have limited budgets for marketing and are highly suspicious of the advice of multimillionaires who preach the gospel of giving value but are not very clear on how exactly they made the money they have.  Or at the least, how they jumped from giving value to an actual exchange of currency for what they do.

Where did this train of thinking come from?

First up, it’s useful to know where this movement of advertising without advertising has come from. And that’s easy; it’s the scepticism of the general public when it comes to traditional advertising. Any survey run on consumer opinions on trust in business over the last 20 years has seen trust in advertising eroding very fast. From well over 60% in the 1980s to around 12% now. Which means that nearly 90% of people in western nations don’t believe a word of what you’re saying in your ads for the simple reason of them being ads, paid for, and running to the agenda of, a business that is wanting to take their money away from them. And why wouldn’t they be sceptical? The number of ads that have lied so grossly that entire regulations and laws had to be set up because of them come to mind. And then, there’s the fact that you know that what you’re seeing on an ad has been carefully written, produced and delivered in a way that overstates it’s features and benefits in a way that you can’t help but be disappointed in the reality of that product of service when you buy it.

The arrival of native advertising

So a new form of advertising did appear, mostly on the internet, called content marketing – or more honestly, native advertising. This was basically blogs or articles written about a topic with references to a specific product or service spiced in to it. It may be an inspirational story about a single mum who managed to get her life together thanks to finding her motivation in a particular book, the link to which, is scattered through the article. Or it could be a recipe for pavlova with several of the ingredients, all linked back to Woolworths online shopping portal. Even though this wasn’t picked up on early, it didn’t take long for it to take a dark turn towards the world of Taboola and Outbrain, actual services that will create this “native advertising” content and slap it at the bottom of real news articles on newspaper websites. It’s where those “one weird trick to get rid of belly fat” and “you won’t believe what this 60s starlet looks like now” articles are. If the articles themselves aren’t smothered in page-hogging display ads, they are ads in themselves for life insurance, some new slimming potion or a product that is guaranteed to make your wrinkles appear like magic. And now that kind of content has gone the way of the TV or radio ad. There is a less than 2% trust factor in that bottom-of-page native advertising content. Because we know we’re being scammed by it now.

Credibility. Recognisability. Authority.

The most recent iteration of this native content is actually content itself. Written, not to sell a product or service, but to share knowledge. But apart from the ability to sell some books, what benefit is there to a business by simply sharing their knowledge of what they do? The answer has a few parts to it. Credibility. Recognisability. Authority. When you know enough about your stuff to actually publish what you know to a book, a blog, a podcast, a video stream or even speaking about it at a conference, then you have instant credibility in your space. Even if you’re not the best at what you do – or even in the top 50% of the best, the fact that you are the one who is putting the information out there means that you are, to the person watching who doesn’t know much about what you actually do, the most knowledgeable person they know of in that field. Which then also makes you easily recognisable and remembered when it comes time to them actually needing what it is you do or sell. And when you have both the credibility and you are known and recognised, then you gain authority in your field. Kind of like a TV handyman, or a radio gardening expert. Even if you’re only a few steps in front of the reader, listener or viewer, you’re still the expert, and that means you hold authority in what you do. You’re the go-to woman in your field. And if you’re the go-to person in your particular line of work, then you’re often the first person that gets called on to provide a quote or estimate, or you’re the one that is picked for the job well ahead of anyone else. Because a customer may already know who you are, you’re already in the list of people being considered for the work. This whole “providing value” thing is basically another description of “branding.” But instead of being known for your choice of high heels, work boots, banging body or flawless selfies, you’re known for your expertise.

Advertising, by not actually advertising

So the answer to your question of when you actually get to advertise in amongst all this giving of value, is that you actually don’t. Because after a while, you don’t need to. You are already known. Now you just need be found. Which, considering all the work you’ve been doing to build a following means, it can’t be very hard to find you now.

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