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Why Giving Away Your Secrets Is a Good Content Strategy


magic-trick-cardsBack in the day, companies guarded their trade secrets fiercely. So fiercely, in fact, that urban legends sprung up around the practice – including the one I heard as a kid about how the Neiman Marcus people charged some lady $250 for their chocolate chip cookie recipe and then she got even by posting it online.

Reader, it’s all a lie. Some version of that story has been around for decades (thanks, Snopes!). 

But what the persistence of that story tells us is both that expertise is valuable and that being greedy about sharing your expertise will ultimately hurt you.

But why??? (You may be asking.) You didn’t go to [insert field here] school for [insert number here] years to give your expertise away for free!

Of course you didn’t. But if you’d like to run a content marketing program as part of your business (or, honestly, a PR program, but we’ll get to that at a later date), giving away your secrets is one of the surest paths to success.

Here’s a look at why that’s true and why taking a tell-all approach in your content won’t hurt (and will actually help) your bottom line.

1: The Numbers Check Out

The folks at Quicksprout offer an excellent breakdown of the value of giving away free content. It’s worth a read on its own, but at a high level, the math works like this:

  • About half of people view five pieces of a company’s content before they’ll reach out to a salesperson. Translation: people want to get to know you before they’ll think about buying from you. Let them do that by publishing content.
  • About half of people note that they’re relying on content to do business research more than they did a year ago.
  • If you leave your content un-gated, you’ll get about 10 times as many views (and therefore potential leads) as if you gate it.

So content that lets site visitors get to know you and your company will play a crucial role in your sales process. And what better way to get to know people than sharing secrets?

All of this comes with the caveat that content marketing is a long-term strategy. Giving away your secrets works, but only if you commit to doing it for the long haul.

2: It Lets You Establish Your Expertise

There’s a lot of content out there today.

When I come across a website I’ve never heard of, my first thought is, “Who are these ding dongs?” And then, if their content is interesting and thought-provoking, I say, “Okay. They’re legit. They know their stuff.”

And I start to trust them.

That’s happening all around the internet as people go to Google with their many problems and questions. If you want your website to be the one to answer some of those questions, you’ve got to put content on it.

If you want this person to come away from the interaction trusting you, you’ve got to actually offer something useful in that content. You know, like a bit of your expertise.

Winning that trust is huge: we buy from people we know, like, and trust. Don’t underestimate the value of being a trusted source.

3: It’s Sustainable

I mentioned above that content marketing is a long-term strategy. That means both that it takes a little while to see results and that you have to stick with it to sustain those results.

In practice, that looks like creating content consistently and regularly. Every week, say. Whether you’re publishing a blog or a podcast or a newsletter or a comic, that can (sometimes) feel like a grind.

To maximize the odds that you stick with it so you can see the payoff, it makes sense to create content about what you already know. Then, the work is just about translating your knowledge into a medium other people can consume, rather than doing a bunch of original research.

4: Your Secrets ≠ Your Work

This is maybe the most important point of all.

If giving away your secrets meant that people would never need your services, we’d all be perfectly fit and employed at our dream jobs. Think about it: free advice – and even free good advice – is everywhere. 

With a few quick searches, I can read how-to guides for just about every area of my life.

But does that mean I’m going to actually stop buying white bread and switch my IRA to a no-fees platform and remember to put sunscreen on my ears?

Reader, it does not.

Because remember: it’s easy to consume information, but it’s much harder to put it into practice.

The work you do is hard. That’s why people pay you to do it. And even if you tell people exactly how to do what you do, most of them won’t be able to get the results you’re capable of.

But here’s the thing: in the early stages of a project, people are naturally wary about spending money. They want a proof of concept before they’re willing to invest.

Take my husband: when he decided to get back into running a couple years ago, he started out with the grubby old sneakers he’d had for years. He wasn’t sure he’d stick with it, so he didn’t want to plunk down $120 for shoes that would sit in the closet.

But he liked the way running helped him sleep better. He liked the way it made him feel. And after a while, he started having pain in all the places you’d expect if you’re running around in worn-out shoes. So he bought some new sneakers and is doing great.

And if you serve startups, as we do, this is doubly true: almost everything will be DIY at the beginning, when money’s tight

But if you happen to be the thought leader who guided a startup through the DIY phase of its content marketing or PR or data analytics or sales, there’s a good chance they’ll talk to you first when they’re ready to pay for these services.

Remember: We Are Not Magicians

There’s a famous saying in the world of magic that true magicians never give away their secrets. 

Great! But we’re not magicians. As one magic blogger puts it, “The whole point of magic is to have the effect be a surprise, something wondrous that cannot be created on a daily basis.” I.e., something that is the opposite of whatever work you get paid to do.

So ditch the smoke and mirrors. Explain what you're doing. Create value for people hoping to understand and learn. And when they realize how difficult and time-consuming it is to do what you do – and do it well – you’ll be right at the top of their mind as they try to pay someone to take it off their plate.