How to protect your most valuable asset

What can the British PM can teach us about content marketing transparency?

The leak of the Panama Papers did much to embarrass global leaders and captains of industry. It was revealed that millions of dollars, pounds, euros and other assorted currencies had been squirrelled away by the world’s most powerful people.

The public reaction was not favourable. Resignations followed and politicians rushed to clear their names. British prime minister David Cameron was caught up in the middle of it all. His public approval ratings tumbled as he first tried to deny any involvement and resolutely revealed nothing. Eventually he came clean with all the facts and published his tax returns in an effort to clear his name.

The fascinating thing – and what is a key to anyone creating a content marketing strategy – is that he had done nothing wrong (or at least nothing illegal). He hadn’t broken any rules. What he had done was to paint himself as whiter than white, to give the impression that he was not interested or involved in the real world of money.

That was a mistake for two reasons.

Firstly, it didn’t ring true. The public are not stupid. They can sniff out a lack of authenticity from a mile away. Cameron’s presentation of himself as an average Joe felt wrong and cost him credibility and trust.

Secondly, the truth came out in the end. It always does. But at that point the openness and honesty he was forced to display only served to highlight his previous lack of candour.

As content marketers we should learn from the Panama Papers and adopt the straightforward, transparent approach. The content we produce should be clear as to its purpose. Sure, we can benefit by being associated with it -but using it to start subtly selling is a dangerous game. Your customers will smell a rat. Trust will be eroded.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use your content channels for some hard or soft sell. Product information may be just the sort of content that your audience is seeking and audiences expect you to sing your own praises in that context.

Cisco takes this direct approach when educating potential customers about its Cloud Solutions. There’s plenty of factual information but there’s also no attempt to disguise the intention of promoting the services and the brand name is prominent throughout.

The British DIY chain B&Q offer a B2C example that B2B could learn from. Their site gives you detailed instruction on how (for example) to build a garden shed. There’s no attempt to product place or upsell: just the information that the reader will want and Google will love. A separate panel contains links to products that you may want to buy to build your shed. No muddying of the waters at all.

The golden rule is to be honest and open about what you are doing. Don’t camouflage the sales pitch in amongst the straight content. You’ll get found out, and even though you may not have done anything wrong, you’ll pay the price in that most valuable of global assets: trust.

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