If content doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t worth anything

An image of a heart to represent the cost of content

One day I was in an Acting Fundamentals class at drama school and I was struggling to emotionally connect during an intense scene.

See, if you’re an actor with an emotional scene, you’ve got two options: You can either pretend you’re emotional (bad acting), or you can find a way to actually reach the emotion (good acting).

But actually connecting (especially night after night) is hard. It’s embarrassing. You can’t do it without exposing a part of yourself.

My teacher looked me dead in the eye and said a sentence that I’ll never forget:

‘If it doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t worth anything.’

Cue tears. So. Many. Tears.

And as cringey as it is, it’s totally true.

What’s more, it’s just as true in content marketing as it is in acting.

Content without content is worthless.

It’s like a sausage roll with no sausage.

A hot air balloon with no balloon.

In order to produce content that is actually valuable to your audience, you have to give away a little of something precious.

Your content has to cost you something.

The cost of content

Now, that cost will be different for everyone.

Sometimes it’ll be about rolling your sleeves up and putting in the hours.

Other times it’ll be about putting your money where your mouth is. Invest in that research. Commission that infographic. Think that e-book should really be a video? Ante up.

For some it’ll be about taking a risk. In order for content to truly resonate with some people, it’s probably going to alienate others. Disruptors disrupt. If everyone likes you at the end of it, you’ve not disrupted anything – it hasn’t cost you anything.

And sometimes (fair warning, this one will sting) it’s about giving away hard-won industry secrets or practices.

I know, you slogged to get where you are and now you have to give away the secrets for free?

Here’s the thing: If hitting ‘publish’ doesn’t feel exposing, it’s probably not going to make much of a splash out there in the real world.

Because I can guarantee whatever subject you’re writing about there’s a veritable boatload of crap out there already.

If your content doesn’t contain anything new, anything valuable, anything risky, why is anyone going to read it, share it, like it?

Think about it from a prospect’s point of view.

Would you read: ‘How to achieve success’?

Probably not. I certainly wouldn’t.

It’d be a vague waste of my time. And if I want to vaguely waste my time, there are much more enjoyable ways to do that.

Now how about: ‘Pixar’s 5 rules of success’?

Yeah. Sign me up.

Because a company that has achieved that kind of success is going to tell me how they did it.

End credits

When you watch a film or play where the actors are faking it, you feel cheated.

If you read a blog post or an e-book with no actual, hard-earned insights in it (no cost to the company that made it), same deal.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you tell all your secrets any time you write a blog post.

But it does mean that every piece of content should cost you something.

That’s right.

Every.

Single.

Piece.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and if you’re putting out content that doesn’t cost you anything, you’re trying to get a free lunch.

So next time you go to publish a piece of content, stop, take a look at it, and ask yourself:

What did this cost me?

Comments

Nice post, Andrew, and I agree with you.

But I have to ask… what did it cost you to write it?

Hi Simon,

Thanks!

You’ll be glad to hear I gave that question a fair amount of thought before hitting ‘publish’.

For me, the cost of this post is all about risk.

In order to make the analogy I have to expose that I’m not a B2B content marketer born-and-bred. I used to (shock horror) be an actor.

Without exposing something that makes me vulnerable as an advice-giver, the piece has no, well, heart.

Cheers for the comment.

Andrew

This is definitely a different but great way to look at the quality of what people put out there in any form of marketing or content.

I’ve found out that the majority reason for this isn’t because people don’t KNOW that they should create quality content.

But rather, most mentors, coaches, etc, don’t actually TEACH and SHOW how to create quality content.
And of course it relies upon the people who do listen to those who truly do teach how to create quality, to actually take ACTION and follow the instructions precisely.

Great post my friend,
Jonny

Andrew – Good post. Two thoughts – Oftentimes the cost must be borne by the company or client rather than the content creator per se, no? (or maybe ‘in addition to,’ if you’re saying a good writer, like a good actor, must put something of him or herself out there.)

The other point implied is that cost is often tied to integrity – being truthful rather than dissembling (there’s no value to the reader/target in something that’s not true). If, as Jonny says above, “cost” isn’t taught, does that go back to the nature of the purpose? First and second things – is the priority to “get sales” or is it to describe/inform/instruct etc. about something of value so that sales are the outcome? (Bigger discussion here!)

Cheers.

Hi Jonny,

Thanks for your comment!

It raises an interesting question: Do you need a good teacher in order to become good at something?

I’m obviously very lucky in that I’m learning from some of the best, but I’d like to think that as long as someone’s got good enough taste, they can know good content when they see it. Which means they’ll also know when the content they’re creating isn’t good enough.

Thanks again,
Andrew

Hi Rob,

Cheers for your comment.

On the subject of dissembling: for my two cents if your marketing is driving revenue through dissembling, then you’re not truly serving your customer. And that isn’t going to end well for anyone.

But to the question of content that doesn’t directly drive sales, the whole ‘brand as publisher’ idea is very interesting, and one that I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought recently.

Thanks again,
Andrew

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