Marketing Outside the Cage

Marketing Outside the Cage
Photo by Andrea Lightfoot on Unsplash

What happens when you leave behind the desperation-jacking and toxic incentives of content marketing? 

Content platforms exist for you to fill with content. They will do everything possible to supply their feeds—obligatory reverse foie gras production. Just keep stuffing those ducks. You're as deprived of freedom as they are. 

The Choice

But there's one essential difference. The feeding tube keeping you in place depends on your perceptions. You can choose freedom instead. Walk away. Just choose. Use them for ancillary distribution if you like. Ignore the mindless imperatives of those saying you "have to." 

The reason for doing so is not to follow a new imperative or copycat best practice. Rather, the mentality of content compulsiveness works against the idea of engaging with decision-makers facing high-stakes choices. 

That idea is the core of B2B for large enterprises and institutions. Maybe we can call it "B2LE/I" (no, that won't catch on). Broadcasting content into a noisy feed doesn't foster conversation. It doesn't even mean anything. 

Content for Content's Sake

The "World Record Egg," posted on Instagram egg on 4 January 2019, reached over 50 million likes in two months. This phenomenon captures the emptiness of the content economy in an eggshell.

The Alternative

What's the alternative to feed thinking? Real thinking. 

  • Answer the big questions with compelling insights
    Thought leadership became an attractive alternative—before the throng caught on, at least—because it offered a new opportunity to help people make high-stakes decisions with more information and nuance. Instead of slinging brochures, it suggested you could help decision-makers reframe their decision-making process, offer them new ways to understand their challenges and help shape their understanding of what solutions are possible. Even though thought leadership has collapsed into little more than yet another content marketing trend, the underlying ethos still makes sense. In other words, take the thinking and the leadership literally, but jettison the schlocky, force-fed nonsense. 
  • Focus on dozens, not thousands
    One way out of the cage is to recognize a special advantage of working in the B2LE/I space: your audience is inherently small. If you focus on Fortune 500 or Global 2000 companies, you have 500 to 2,000 possible clients. If you want to focus on banks with at least $10 billion in assets, that's 160 (U.S. only). This number is highly manageable. You can easily focus your messaging and concentrate your efforts on getting your thinking into the hands of the few decision-makers at such enterprises and institutions in small cohorts of a dozen or so. Tens of thousands of social media impressions mean nothing compared to 12 high-stakes conversations. 
  • Place trust above engagement
    Most marketing metrics measure meaningless missions. Things like "We want to boost our social media impressions by 20%" or "we want a 15% increase in marketing qualified leads." Those are made-up numbers for illusory results. It's a harder, braver approach, but marketers can change the entire dynamic by using information on moments of trust to demonstrate value. Moments like sales realizing that a shared article elevated the quality and direction of a long-term conversation with a prospect who finally said "yes," or like being invited to join an industry working group because of the value of recently published insights. These moments mean more than metrics that fill slots on a marketing dashboard. 
  • Shift from generation to generosity
    The desire to fill bottomless content channels with more content because everyone else is also dumping their water into the same sieve comes from an artificial need manufactured by the content industry with the sole goal of perpetuating itself. Endless generation fuels the content economy. Generative AI is emerging not just because the technology is ready, but because its cultural moment makes sense after a decade and more of content for content's sake. The alternative is sharing ideas, a gift economy, where value is determined by the social bonds created through the free flow of ideas. These ideas circulate, establishing bonds of reciprocity and community.
  • Dismantle the apparatus
    One of the saddest reasons that content keeps happening is that the capital infrastructure for content creation already exists. Internal teams, external providers—all set up with more empty cages and unused feeding tubes to put to work for the sake of production. All it takes is more and more ducks to justify their existence by keeping the force-feeding going. Just keep making those fatty livers. If you have a content team or vendor, you will use them to keep making more content. The hardest choice is to take that apparatus apart once and for all. Give all the smart and hard-working people in those roles better things to do, like acting as writing partners for your top thinkers, editorial quality control, or design and distribution support. 
  • Cultivate your ideas capacity
    Generating content is a low-value activity that muddies the clarity of your brand and your position as a trustworthy B2LE/I partner. Generating and cultivating ideas, by contrast, actualizes the potential of your best leaders. Surfacing their ideas, putting them into action, and communicating them effectively all occur to the ultimate benefit of your clients, prospects, and future business growth. When you shift time and resources away from manufacturing content to cultivating ideas, you establish a capability that gives you a massive advantage in the arena of high-stakes decisions.

Three Grace Notes

"Satisfaction derives not merely from being filled but from being filled with a current that will not cease." — Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World

"On the other side of our algorithmic anxiety is a state of numbness. The dopamine rushes become inadequate, and the noise and speed of the feeds overwhelming. Our natural reaction is to seek out culture that embraces nothingness, that blankets and soothes rather than challenges or surprises, as powerful artwork is meant to do. Our capacity to be moved, or even to be interested and curious, is depleted." — Kyle Chayka, Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture

"Depression—which often culminates in burnout—follows from overexcited, overdriven, excessive self-reference that has assumed destructive traits. The exhausted, depressive achievement-subject grinds itself down, so to speak. It is tired, exhausted by itself, and at war with itself. Entirely incapable of stepping outward, of standing outside itself, of relying on the Other, on the world, it locks its jaws on itself; paradoxically, this leads the self to hollow and empty out. It wears itself out in a rat race it runs against itself." — Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society

Note: The links above are affiliate links. I'm using them in lieu of paid subscription tiers or digital tip jars. Seems like a much more graceful way to generate financial support while sharing more thinking and writing that can guide thought leadership.

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