How Risky Is Content Marketing?

At Content Marketing World this year, I had the pleasure of meeting a director of marketing at a large healthcare company. As our conversation turned to how she was using content in her strategy, she told me about how her supervisors still consider content marketing too risky. I laughed. She nodded. To those of us who get the business value of getting the right content to the right people in the right way at the right time, that fear of risk may seem ridiculous. At the same time, it’s worth asking the question: How risky is content marketing?

As innovators and change agents in our business, we often deal with the perception of risk. Resistance often comes in the form of euphemistic questions: “What’s the ROI?” or “Can we scale it?” or “What value are we adding?” or “Have we done the due diligence?”

The question behind all those questions is “What’s going to go wrong?”

The funny thing about risk is that we automatically associate it with pain, loss, or failure. You never hear anybody say, “What’s the risk of me winning the lottery?” (although nearly a third of lottery winners end up in worse shape than before they won).

We humans are horrible at assessing risk. We don’t assess risk based on the facts. We assess risk based on what we feel about the facts.

This gap and the things that affect it are what psychologists call risk perception factors. One of the biggest is what’s called “the dread factor,” where the perceived potential of pain and suffering within the outcome determines how we feel about the risk. Even at the smallest levels we can see this. For example, if you’re afraid of voicing an idea at a meeting of executives but have no problem throwing the same idea anonymously into an idea box, that’s the dread factor. While your idea probably has a better chance of surviving when shared in person, the fear of embarrassment or rejection in that meeting is so dreadful that remaining anonymous seems less risky.

In that scenario, the idea itself wasn’t the most scary thing. It was the outcome. We’re afraid of what will happen if the risk-creating idea fails.

This happens with our content marketing as well. We play it safe (or seemingly safe). We decide that creating hundreds of blog posts a year is less risky than putting our efforts into a white paper. We spread our strategy out over twenty creative ideas instead of focusing on one. It’s not the big idea we’re afraid of; it’s what will happen to me if I’m wrong.

Ultimately, that’s what my new friend at Content Marketing World is up against. Her superiors don’t believe that content marketing is too risky. They just haven’t explored what they’re afraid of.

An exercise I find helpful is listing possible consequences (good and bad) of taking an action that feels risky. You ask yourself, consequence by consequence, what you’re afraid of. When you put your fears into words and look straight at them, like so many monsters brought out of the closet, a weird thing happens. The monsters lose their monsterness. You see the risk for what it is. Usually, it’s not all that risky.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
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Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.