Why Adam Smith Invented Content Marketing

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Neil Stoneman

21. 03. 2012 | 3 min read

Why Adam Smith Invented Content Marketing

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I’ve just finished ‘The Rational Optimist’ by Matt Ridley.

Read it and you’ll struggle to contain the urge to stop all the “irrational pessimists” in the street, give them a brusque slap, and remind them that’s its never been less likely to happen.

If books had theme tunes then this one would come with Professor Brian Cox* belting out “Things Can Only Get Better”.

Ridley’s a big advocate of Adam Smith’s theories of trade and specialism; the idea that everybody’s life improves – more pleasure, less misery – if you stick to doing what you do best. And then trade it.

The argument says helping others is helping yourself; fuses the interest of producers and consumers; turns strangers with shared interests into friends; and blurs the distinction between altruism and selfishness.

Not everyone agrees. “Das Adam Smith Problem” is a famous philosophical conundrum that, putting it simply, says you can’t give and take at the same time.

Adam Smith Marketing
If they’re looking for a bit of back up, Smith fans should take a close look at how content marketing has become a prime example of enlightened self-interest: it’s the ultimate quid pro quo.

It works because it’s:

The best content is created by genuine experts. As the famous old quote goes, you can learn a lot from somebody who’s made every conceivable mistake in a narrow field.

Helpful to Others
The first goal of content marketing is to help others. If your audience doesn’t go away a bit wiser, happier, wealthier…then why should they (or you) bother?

Helpful for You
The second goal of content marketing is to help yourself. You need to be the name on your audience’s lips when they want to be even wiser, happier and wealthier.

Links Producers and Consumers
This one works on two levels: 1) producing and consuming great content go hand in hand and 2) producing content brings in the business that turns us into consumers.

Turns Strangers into Friends
If content is your fuel, then social media is your wings. How many warm relationships have been formed by people who know almost nothing about their associates beyond a shared interest in (reading or producing) content? I can’t count that high either.

Blurs Motivation Lines
Does it matter if the person who just helped you impress the boss is working with your interests at heart or their own? It’s hard to argue with any outcome that kicks zero-sum games into touch and turns everyone into a winner.

Unenlightened Self-Interest
Adam Smith would have loved content marketing. But he would have been well aware of a group of people who will be out to spoil it: there’s nothing enlightened about the trolls, the self-publicists, the black hats, the zero-summers, the spammers…

All it takes for the death of this industry is for good content marketers to say nothing. Here’s to 350 years more of enlightened, self-interested content marketing where everyone’s a winner.


*If you’re not from the UK, then he’s a brainy dude on TV who used to be in a dodgy dance band.

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  • B2B Content Marketing

  • b2b-marketing

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