The Two Most Powerful Words in the World of Content Marketing Right Now

by Marcus Sheridan

contentI honestly believe 99% of businesses make content marketing much harder than it should be. They really do.

And because they do, they get weak results.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it in just about every marketing presentation I ever give from this point on, but the great philosophy to successful content marketing comes down to a willingness to address subjects—good, bad, and ugly—that no one else in your industry is willing to tackle.

This philosophy carries over to any realm, anywhere, at any time—B2B, B2C, whatever. It doesn’t matter.

But it’s also this same philosophy that paralyzes most companies.

If you’re asking yourself how this is so, just take a look at these examples:

Consumer Question: What is the average cost of [insert your industry’s product or service here]?

Bad Marketer Answer: We can’t answer that on our website.

____________________________________________________________________

Consumer Question: How would you compare your product to [insert competitor here] product?

Bad Marketer Answer: Sorry, we can’t address that on our blog.

____________________________________________________________________

Consumer question: What are some potential problems of your [insert your product or service here]?

Bad Marketer Answer: Why talk about problems when we can discuss everything that’s great with our product/service!?

Are you starting to see a trend here?

Consumers like to ask hard questions.

Businesses tend to run from frank answers.

And because consumers are smarter than they’ve ever been, they can sniff this out from a mile away and end up losing all respect and trust for said company.

It’s because of this trend I believe every business and marketing department from here to China should have a huge sign in every hall of their company that says:

Stop Ignoring, Start Answering.

But what if a question doesn’t truly have an answer? What if—take the “How much does it cost?” question into account—the answers vary from customer to customer, client to client, never having the exact same response?

Here is where the two most powerful words of content marketing come into play, which are:

“It Depends.”

Ahh yes, that’s right, “It Depends” are the two most powerful words in content marketing today.

It_Depends

The Power of “It depends”

And why are they so powerful? Simple, they denote a company’s willingness to address subjects others will not, all because there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer.

Many of you have heard me talk about this before, but for years with my swimming pool company, the very first question just about every potential customer asked sounded something like, “About how much will a fiberglass pool cost?”

Because our company decided to answer every question we had ever received from prospects and customers, this “cost” article was one of the first we wrote. And because the article ended up ranking for so many “cost” and “price” related keywords in the swimming pool industry, and because we’re able to track the leads we get off of our blog articles at River Pools, to this date that one single article has made our company over 2 million dollars in sales (and still growing). You can read more about how we know that number here, but the main point I want to make is within that article, our core answer to the question of “How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” was ridiculously simple—It Depends.

Yep, the willingness to take a question and then say “It Depends” made our company over 2 million dollars in sales—think about that for a second.

As you read this, you may be thinking, “Marcus, saying ‘It depends’ isn’t an answer, and that would just upset me as a reader.’” To which I would respond, “You’re right, which is exactly why you don’t simply say “It depends” and leave it at that.

The key in making consumers happy is helping them understand *why* it depends. For example, in the fiberglass pool cost article we give a detailed overview of the options and accessories one might consider when planning their pool. Once a reader reads these accessories and options in a well-explained manner, the phrase “It depends” makes total sense and therefore satiates their appetite for an answer—leading to more website page views, more trust engendered, and ultimately more chance they end up buying from YOU.

By explaining why the cost depends on many factors, we were able to generate amazing traffic, leads, and sales at River Pools

By explaining why the cost depends on many factors, we were able to generate amazing traffic, leads, and sales at River Pools

So that’s our simple challenge my friends. Whether your business is big or small, B2B or B2C, I’d challenge you to seek out the tough consumer questions within your industry. Don’t ignore them but rather embrace them. By so doing, you’ll establish yourself, as my friend Jay Baer would say, as a “Youtility” (get the book!!!) within your industry and amazing results will surely follow.

Your Turn:

A simple question for you my friends: Tell me about a time in your blogging/content marketing efforts you tackled a tough question with an “It depends” type of answer. What were the results? And for those of  you that have yet to do this, what the heck is holding you up??? ;-)

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Hull June 26, 2013 at

I actually used your “pools cost” post as an inspiration to answer the question “how much should a financial planner cost?” (using that exact same title). The good thing about that article was that I was able to use the same “it depends” answer to qualify the times when the range I quoted *wouldn’t* apply (e.g., you’re going to inherit all of Microsoft because you’re Bill Gates’s long-lost child) AND to differentiate how others charged way too much money by offering to “manage” (read: underperform the market) your assets for you. Within a month, it’s jumped to one of my top 10 ever read articles.

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

LOVE it Jason!! Keep rocking with it my friend and thanks so much for sharing my man :-)

Marcus

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Ryan Hanley June 26, 2013 at

Marcus,

The awesome thing about “It depends,” and I know this from experience because Insurance is the ultimate, “It depends” product when it comes to cost, is that by addressing cost even though you can’t actually give your visitors a number allows you to really highlight your knowledge and expertise of your product/service.

…as well as give visitors a first hand look at how complicated the product is and why they need to YOU so badly to help them figure it out.

Awesome stuff as always buddy,

Keep killin’ it.

Hanley

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

I know you’re a master of this Ryan–especially because you’re never afraid to discuss what needs to be chatted about, whether it’s the insurance industry or marketing, you address it head on.

Stay well brother,

Marcus

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Michael - Shoplet Promos June 28, 2013 at

It “allows you to really highlight your knowledge and expertise of your product/service.” I love this. Spot on.

An article that actually takes the time to explain something complicated to the consumer tells them that they need to go to you if they have any questions. It shows them you’re an expert in the field. Addressing something like cost – normally a “sensitive” topic – demonstrates an honesty and willingness to help that most companies lack.

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Laura Click June 26, 2013 at

Totally agree with this premise, Marcus. I say “it depends” a lot in my business – not because it’s a cop out, but because that’s truly the answer for most things. Because, much like with your swimming pools, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. So much of the answers depend on what the company is looking to accomplish, what their challenges are, budget is, etc. The bottom line, as you point out, is that answer the question – even if you don’t have a concrete answer – is much better than sticking your head in the sand and avoiding it altogether.

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

“Stick-your-head-in-the-sand-marketing”—Not too effective, ehhh Laura? ;-)

Great seeing you Laura, you seem to be really kicking butt on your end :-)

Marcusc

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Nenad June 26, 2013 at

Amazing, how many things you say here and I’ve been telling prospects/clients the same (with different words). I guess it’s a common sense? I didn’t know I had it. But now. We agree, but how to persuade I’d say the majority of business owners we come in contact with this is the path for them as well. That’s where I struggle, I think.

P.S. Nice to know this post was being finished while I was waking up on the other side of the Atlantic. ;)

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

It certainly is common sense Nenad, but as they often say–”Common sense is quite uncommon.” ;-)

Marcus

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Jeremy Abel June 26, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,

Love this topic! I’ll admit to having never written the “cost” article, but I always end up saying to leads “it depends” when they ask “How much a website cost?” during the initial phone call. When you work in the digital marketing services industry (website design, SEO, and social media), there’s no denying businesses can shop around and choose a firm on the other side of the globe, let alone select the “build your own website” options that we see advertised on television.

However, if you have a strong hook (i.e. response that supports an “it depends”) there’s rarely an issue getting the lead to set-up an in-peron meeting where we can truly discover their needs and propose a custom solution. From there, the cost is a lot easier to pinpoint. More importantly, they understand the value behind the cost.

Even though disclosing the follow-up to “it depends” in-person isn’t nearly as scalable as a blog article, if done effectively (and you get the client’s business and deliver an effective website), the client will promote your services on their own. At that point, you have a new brand advocate. Talk about trust…

Of course, case studies are also an effective way to highlight the cost question.

Again, thanks for keeping this topic on the surface. Hope to see you at Inbound!

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

That’s the thing Jeremy, the “Hook” and explanation is everything to the success of this, and I know you do it well. :-)

Thanks for always adding so much value here bud.

Marcus

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Mark June 26, 2013 at

This should as a tool remove the stress off the shoulders of the company, put their content out there and let the buyer decide. If cost is an issue, more than likely as you’ve said, “they ain’t gonna be buying your “expensive” product anyway.”

Companies and Organizations need to stop being so afraid of themselves. If you have a great product, let it shine out there! If you have a service that your business can provide, get out your message! If you have a message, let them hear from you! If the phone doesn’t ring or the emails don’t come in or the orders don’t show up, then go back and re-work your plan and get it back out there.

Stay Calm and Be Not Afraid!

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

“Let the buyer decide”—-That needs to be the title of a book in my opinion Mark. :-)

Good stuff bud,

Marcus

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Andrea T.H.W. June 26, 2013 at

I’ve always thought that when someone doesn’t want to answer to a question like how much it costs there is a trick somewhere. If there isn’t anything hidden why don’t you answer me?

Also it depends is a good answer in many cases, adding a bit to it though. Because almost everything in life is relative depending on how you look at things.

Great article Marcus. :)

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

Well that the big key here Andrea. “It depends” by itself has no value really. But adding a great explanation along with it can make a huge difference in the eyes of the consumer.

Thanks again bud,

Marcus

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Craig McBreen June 26, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

I completely agree and this is so inline with what Dan Pink wrote regarding information asymmetry. In the old model, the salesman knew way more than the customer and because of that could and would take advantage of that buyer. This was a “buyer beware” world.

But today it’s different, we are much closer to information parity or “seller beware” and this kind of thinking … um, your kind of thinking Marcus, is leading the way. The old model is toast. And you know how I feel about being genuine ;) Plus I’m always telling my clients, “it depends.”

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

Love the Dan Pink angle Craig. GREAT point as yes, this truly is a reflection of our need to adjust to the new consumer in the information/digital age.

Appreciate you bud,

Marcus

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nadeem June 27, 2013 at

Great work done, i agree with you completely.
these are very essential in the content marketing nowadays.

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camille June 27, 2013 at

One of the best articles I’ve ever read. Thank you!

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Headline Web June 28, 2013 at

For many weeks, I’ve been contemplating writing an article to tackle the subject of cost.

This has shown me exactly how to do it! Thanks Marcus!

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Marcus Sheridan June 28, 2013 at

Thrilled to hear it!! :-)

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Shalu June 29, 2013 at

Seems as if “it depends” type of answer is not really answering but trying to avoid answering altogether but these are for those who don’t know anything at all. It seems to have worked for you and you have put it to good use. You’re absolutely right by saying that don’t ignore them, you must be prepared to embrace it. I will take a note of this from now on.

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Chris Basgett June 30, 2013 at

I never thought of it this way. “It depends” is so true. I’m in the web design and development business. Projects almost always go the custom route so as far as cost goes …

… it depends!

Your articles has inspired me to be more sensitive to explaining the WHY the cost of a website project depends on the details of what’s needed for the business. I need to address this more clearly and openly.

Thank you!

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Debopam Banerjee June 30, 2013 at

This is an amazing post……. Its so true that we always ignore our prospective customer with wrong choice of words….. It depends really can solve the problem in many position….. Thanks for this thoughtful share…….

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Suraj July 1, 2013 at

Hello Marcus Sheridan, You have raised very important question here and answered it with best possible trick. Saying “It depends” is very important and we have to back up it with some good thoughtful ideas so that customers get satisfied. I want to share my personal experience when talking about starting a blog and making money, people ask how much time it will take to make 6 figure $s from blogging. I just say ” It depends” on ” what you blog about “. Its like selling gold and selling stones. :) Thanks suraj

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zooel July 1, 2013 at

THIS post is very effective and also helpful who are want to know about seo for their site.It is very important for any website or blog to get Google and others search engine ranking.Thanks the author who write this post.see you again for another help about this matter!

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Debora Viaggio July 1, 2013 at

Good thing that someone is trying to make the web better, if only more people followed your advices.

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Clark July 1, 2013 at

I think I’ve got it. At the risk of coming across self-promotional, how do you like this recent blog of mine …

http://www.clarkkentcreations.com/2/post/2013/06/how-much-will-my-flagstone-patio-cost-basic-hardscaping-pricing-for-delaware-county-pa.html

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Iain July 2, 2013 at

I often have to use it depends when people ask me questions about what’s the best way to study for a test.

I have to explain both aspects of doing something one way or another because there are too many ways to go about. By explaining to them why there are different ways they understand why I can’t give them one straight answer.

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Michael July 2, 2013 at

Great points, Marcus. I think you not only have to answer the tough questions, but answer the right questions. Answering the wrong questions isn’t going to get your content shared. Plus, your traffic will just stay stagnant.

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piyush001 July 3, 2013 at

this is awesome article.. i have to word to explain it..

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Ana Hoffman July 4, 2013 at

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my blogging career, it’s the fact that one size never fits all. That’s why marketing “systems” don’t work.

Great points, Marcus.

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Iain August 6, 2013 at

People constantly want to put other people into categories, so a system can be applied. But that never works when you can never apply one way to everyone.

If we do that, we are bound to run into a whole lot of problems.

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Savingland July 4, 2013 at

Great article Marcus, Thanks for shearing got helpful tips.

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cameron July 4, 2013 at

I blog frequently and I seriously thank you for your information. This article has truly peaked my interest. I’m going to take a note of your site and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.

FREE Content Curation Software, Download NOW!

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iGoByDoc July 4, 2013 at

Dig this post Marcus. Have heard you talk about it often. Love the “it depends” take.

Personally I think when a business does not show prices, or at minimum the “it depends” info, it shows a lack of transparency, and also leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Why do so many feel the need to hide it?

Great info as always!

Hope to meet you in person at Inbound13!

Doc

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Carmen Rane Hudson July 6, 2013 at

Yeah, I have to agree. If I can’t get some idea of the price I actually often just assume that the service or product is out of my price range and move on. I don’t deal in “unknowns” very well, so I appreciate a business that will at least give me a range to work with.

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Marcus Sheridan July 8, 2013 at

Exactly Carmen. We all hate the unknown in an age where “the answer” is often just a click away.

Appreciate you stopping by,

Marrcus

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Marcus Sheridan July 8, 2013 at

Doc, we’ll have a sit-down at Inbound, I promise. ;-)

Best,

Marcus

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iGoByDoc July 8, 2013 at

Looking forward to it Marcus!

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Wigan Web July 4, 2013 at

Marcus… please forgive me for leaving another comment. BUT I had to share this with you. It’s my IT DEPENDS article. Hope you enjoy it! http://headlineweb.co.uk/how-much-does-a-website-cost.html

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Marcus Sheridan July 8, 2013 at

Ahhh yes, very nicely done!

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John Moore July 5, 2013 at

Those things are very important to an online marketer. So that every freelancer should like this post very much.

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Victoria Mudraya July 5, 2013 at

I think its actually cool when company understands that question needs an answer and starts with it depends – because only standart goods and services can always have fixed price, but at the same time a customer always wants to know the price. There are different decisions, but from our experience online price calculator is one of the greatest – even if the prces are not exact, they give the customer some approximate understanding of what to expect

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Marcus Sheridan July 8, 2013 at

Victoria, great point about online price calculators. Those tools are extremely successful and not utilized nearly enough by businesses.

Appreciate you stopping by,

Marcus

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Jennifer July 5, 2013 at

Excellent point. As a business you want to be straightforward with your potential clients and customers. As I was reading your post I was thinking, “in many situations the price isn’t set.” But you’ve hit it on the head. The answer is sometimes simply that “It depends” If you’re able to clearly explain why it depends and what some of the factors are your customers will appreciate the openness.

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Marcus Sheridan July 8, 2013 at

That’s exactly it Jennifer….so have you got that pricing page up yet? ;-)

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Matthew July 8, 2013 at

I really admire your site and your content! I also got into Internet marketing after achieving a lot of success online for a party rental company I started in 2008. Now I spend almost 100% of my time working with my Internet marketing clients. Thanks for sharing and have a great week!

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Preethi July 10, 2013 at

Actually i do not know very much about content writing. But this is interesting so, this article is also very much helpful for understanding this.

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Mark July 10, 2013 at

very useful information, as SEO manager for a international company i think i will provide this formation to our social media manager. thanks.

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Sani July 16, 2013 at

Great post, I definitely agree that “it depends” are very important words in our industry, nothing is set in stone. Thanks for sharing!

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Serges LaRiviere July 17, 2013 at

A few months ago I read a post by you about how ridiculous it is for businesses not to list the prices of their products or services on their websites.
It made me think about how I use the internet, I do a search for whatever and the first thing I look for is “how much”. If I don’t see prices listed I move on.
I then did a search in my area for business’s that did computer repair to see if anyone listed their prices, to my utter amazement I only found one.
I immediately added a “Price” page to my site and listed all of our services.
Last week I actually had a customer come to my store with computer in hand and told me she choose us for the simple reason we listed our prices and the other website did not.
She said she did have time to call a repair shop and have to listen to a long sales pitch, she just wanted to know “How much is it going to cost”!
She was so happy with this that she is going to recommend us to friends, like us on Facebook and give a recommendation on Yelp.
All that just for posting what a consumer needs to know anyways.
Thanks Marcus, I love your blog.

Serges

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Marcus Sheridan July 21, 2013 at

GREAT story Serges!!!

Keep blazing your own transparency trail my friend!

Marcus

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Nishant Srivastava July 22, 2013 at

Hi Marcus Sheridan,

“it depends” Works really well to avoid the pain of saying no, you should never use the work “No”, no is always consider as negative so better say no in different ways you can use as per your situation but never use NO!

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