The Big Problem with the Phrase “Add Value” in Content Marketing

by Marcus Sheridan

I wonder what would happen if, when children created art, we replied with "But does it add value?"

I wonder what would happen if, when children created art, we replied with “But does it add value?”

Recently, while in the midst of a Twitter conversation with a few folks, I was reminded of a statement that raises my blood pressure every time I hear it:

“Marcus, I understand why you’re suggesting companies should produce content, but if what they’re saying doesn’t add value to the conversation, then they shouldn’t publish it in the first place.”

Ahh yes, the “add value” debate.

Alas.

Missing the Mark

Please take a moment to give the following questions a “yes” or “no” answer as you follow along:

1. If a business owner writes a blog post today that, even though it never gets read by a single soul helped said business owner clarify in his mind how to better communicate about his service, product, or company, did the act of writing the post add value?

2. If a company writes 20 blog posts that never get read by a single soul, but after writing the articles said company morphs them together and comes up with an effective training manual for future employees, did the 20 articles add value?

3. If a business writes a blog post that never gets a single “like” or “tweet” or “share” in social media but manages to help one person solve a problem they were having, does it add value?

4. If someone in the marketing department for a company gets a better understanding of how their customers think while interviewing a sales person and then writes a blog post that never gets read, did the experience add any value?

5. If a solopreneur makes his or her first video on YouTube (therefore learning the process for future videos), does the video still add value if no one ever watches it?

6. If I write a blog post today that forces me to outline my feelings on a topic—feelings that haven’t been distilled and verbalized up to this point but will likely now find their way into a future presentation I give, have I not added value in some way even if the article is not enjoyed by anyone else?

As you might imagine, I could go on all day long with examples of how communication—or the process of distilling our thoughts via text, video, or some other manner—add extreme value, be it to our own lives, our companies, or a small group of people.

Creating Art

Those that have been engaged in any type of content marketing for some time understand exactly what I’m saying here.

Those that have not (or the ones that have missed the mark) will continue to say, “But if it doesn’t add value…”

Show me someone’s art—a creation of their mind—and I’ll show you value.

They themselves may not even realize the impact, but trust me, it’s there.

Am I saying here that things like “quality” and “effort” don’t matter? No, not at all. Of course they matter, and of course the goal is that quality of anyone’s “content” will improve over time.

But we’ve all got to start somewhere, just as children do when they pick up their first crayon.

So do yourself a favor. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Don’t pay attention to the internet police. Don’t allow your art—however you create it—to be squelched by those who feel they’ve been assigned the job of defining a phrase that simply has no tangible definition in the first place.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam Kielich March 18, 2014 at

Shhhhh…the more people who buy the idea that they shouldn’t generate content the less competition there is online for me.

I agree with your point wholeheartedly. Even if your content never shows a financial return it is hard to argue that there isn’t a value add in learning how to write effectively for your audience.

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Lauren Rader March 19, 2014 at

Interesting to compare blogs to art…. I can go with it in this case. I think good art, as with good writing, comes from the heart. That is where our humanity is and where we connect with others. There’s never a waste in making art or in writing.

Thanks for the article. Lauren

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Marcus Sheridan March 20, 2014 at

And thank you Lauren for stopping by.:-)

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Alisa Meredith March 19, 2014 at

Yes, exactly.

This is the problem I have with the “adding value” statement. To whom is it valuable? If it’s valuable to even one person, doesn’t that make it valuable? I think the better goal would be “offering value.” Meaning, it’s at least there to begin with – whether anyone finds it or not.

Once a marketer figures out how to do that, it’s time to figure out how to get others to see and benefit by it.

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Marcus Sheridan March 20, 2014 at

I really like how you phrased that Alisa!

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Alisa Meredith March 20, 2014 at

Thanks, Marcus!

PS – Silly comment box, of course lions are cool! ;)

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Kathleen Booth March 19, 2014 at

GREAT post! And I completely agree. You have to crawl before you can walk and From an agency standpoint, this is so key. I always tell clients that the first round of blogs we help them with won’t be as good as the second, which won’t be as good as the third, etc. It’s like dating and then getting engaged and then getting married. The more you produce content the better you get and the more you will know about your subject matter, the brand you are trying to portray and the best way to to get it out to the world.

The other thing that always bugs me is that people think you shouldn’t blog about boring topics that have been covered in the past. Just because someone has written about it, doesn’t mean that everybody out there has read about it. For example, I love your theory that the best blogs are about the “Big 5″: Cost/price questions
Problems/issues questions
Vs/Comparison questions
Review-based questions
Best of questions
Often time, in cluttered industries, these topics have been covered extensively. To me, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still write about it. You may have a unique point of view, or your audience may not necessarily have read about it. Plus, every person is at a different stage in the buying process, so while the more “bottom of the funnel” buyer might be bored by these topics, the “top of the funnel” buyer is still out there looking for basic info.

Like you, I could go on but suffice to say, you touched a chord!

Best,

Kathleen

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Marcus Sheridan March 20, 2014 at

Awesome comment Kathleen . Love it and appreciate you stopping by!!

Marcus

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Kevin Carney March 19, 2014 at

Here! Here!

I love your perspective. Maybe because it’s very much in sync with mine. Maybe because you tend to be on target A LOT.

As you said in a previous post, anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

How do any of us get good at anything without doing it? If at first you’re bad at it, just do it more.

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Marcus Sheridan March 20, 2014 at

Amen to that Kevin :)

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Cy Khormaee March 19, 2014 at

Great distinction. There are far too many people out there just spewing out content in the hopes of a selfish result. When you focus on your craft the results speak for themselves.

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Jeremy Abel March 19, 2014 at

Hi Marcus,

Love the position you take on this topic as it reinforces the belief that something positive can be gleaned from nearly anything we do in life.

Back in college I spent several years researching consumer behavior, and for some studies we found that our hypotheses were just not supported by the study’s data. Although the data from said study was not “statistically significant,” the insights from our research provided tremendous value by helping us learn more about how and why consumers behave the way they behave. It sounds like a paradox, but insignificant is still significant.

You have an excellent perspective on this Marcus- one for which I’m hopeful others will be quick to adopt so as to see the abundance of value life has to offer (whether looking forward to new opportunities or reflecting on past experiences).

Keep changing lives brother,

Jeremy

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Laura Dambrosio March 19, 2014 at

I like that you bring this up, and on top of that I would love to see the phrase “add value” fade away. It feels very vague and jargon-y to begin with. We have plenty of more specific, measurable goals to use if we want something quantifiable — and yes, sometimes it’s just not the right question to be asking when creating something new.

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Marcus Sheridan March 20, 2014 at

Good point Laura. With all the metrics we now have, “value” practically has no bounds.

Thanks again,

Marcus

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JA March 19, 2014 at

Genius.

Marcus – your insight is constantly spot-on.

Every time I push myself to write a new post (or a multi-part series of posts which I get a lot of traction with) I find I’m teaching MYSELF. This process helps me communicate better with clients which helps them get more value from my services.

The journey of creating “blog art” is truly difficult for me – but the results manifest themselves in so many ways (confidence, clarity, communication, more publications, and on and on).

Thank you for bringing up this great concept and helping me re-sell myself on the value of creating my own blog art :)

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Marcus Sheridan March 20, 2014 at

Love it JA!!! :-)

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Craig McBreen March 20, 2014 at

Marcus,

What’s interesting, is your basic formula of asking your potential customer’s top questions … converting those into blog posts and coming up with long-tail keywords, etc. … will end up doing so much more for an organization or company than just a simple series of blog posts.

It enriches the culture, helps them find out more about their own company (yep), involves people who would otherwise be left on the sidelines, etc.

It also helps me help companies with what I do best … develop branding strategies. When they shift their thinking, creative rollouts of any sort are so much easier.

Over the past year, my design business has made a major shift and the more I read your stuff the more ready I am to covert the strange looks I used to get –when mentioning content marketing – to nods.

Nods are good ;)

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Laura Click March 21, 2014 at

As you well know, Marcus, this comes up a lot in marketing circles. We criticize people for not “elevating the conversation” and sneer at those still writing about the basics.

But here’s the thing, my peers are not my audience. Even though plenty of marketing folks read my blog, my blog is intended for my customers and prospects. So, for me, adding value means being a guiding light for those companies who are still trying to figure this stuff out.

If, however, your goal is to be a thought leader or write a blog for your industry, then that is a different conversation. But, I think this all comes back to the question “who is your audience?”. Answering that helps you figure out how to best add value.

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Lelle Szörf March 21, 2014 at

We have some value content and also some valeu pictures.

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Kathleen O'Malley March 21, 2014 at

I loved this. You make a really good point about not turning this into a meaningless buzzword. We featured you on our weekly wrap up: http://blog.thecenterforsalesstrategy.com/weekly-wrap-up-posts-from-around-the-web-spring-edition

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Marcus Sheridan March 26, 2014 at

Glad you liked it Kathleen :)

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Robb Gorringe March 21, 2014 at

The hypothetical business, who’s writing these posts… and “no one’s reading them” situation— sure the entrepreneurial world would balk at the idea of him actually “adding value”. BUT… we’d be missing the mark to think in such shallow terms.

When I build myself up, it’s never in vain.

[great post] Robb

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Jordan J. Caron March 22, 2014 at

Love it Marcus. There’s hidden value in everything we can do.

I wanted to create a training kit of local SEO but didn’t want to write one. I looked back at all the posts I had done over the last two years. What do ya know, I had almost enough content right there. A couple of chapters of added writing was all I needed to finish it up.

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Marcus Sheridan March 26, 2014 at

And that,my friend, is what it’s all about! Hope the training kit goes well for you bud :)

Marcus

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Shony Cyriac March 24, 2014 at

Hmm…this is something i have in mind too.While doing researches i had also found some quality articles which never gets noticed.I think with upcoming updates Google would do something to sort such issues.

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Katrin Brandstetter April 1, 2014 at

Awesome post Marcus! I completely agree with you that content is about helping others and not only gaining financial profit. Just because it is not valuable for one person it does not mean it isn’t valuable for anyone.

Thanks!

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cool guys April 2, 2014 at

I liked your article so much, im going to help help further your cause,
by tweeting this on twitter, keep em coming and ill keep reading.

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Parvati Singh April 9, 2014 at

Thank you for writing this Marcus!

It is extremely frustrating for me when people throw around the term ‘add value’ because there are no guidelines attached to the statement. As you said, if my employees are learning while they create content, how is that not adding value? If we are learning how to successfully run a blog, how is that not adding value? Add value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder surely?

I feel re-energised for my journey of learning and teaching. Thank you Marcus!

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