Is there a place for “canned” content in your firm’s marketing?
23rd, Feb 2015
Are you using canned content? On one level, I’m surprised how often I see professional services firms relying heavily on content from third party providers for their content marketing. I understand why firms choose to use this content. They appreciate the value of providing regular information to their clients and prospects, but they don’t feel they can do that work themselves. As a content marketer, I try to convince them they can and should produce their own original content. However, is canned content all bad?
The first issue is defining canned content. The term itself has a negative connotation, but encompasses a wide-range of information from different quality sources. This is content created by various publishing, website and marketing companies to be licensed for firms to use on their websites and in newsletters. These companies often focus on providing content to specialized and regulated professions. The material is not custom content developed for a particular client and it is not licensed content republished from premium publications (think NY Times, Reuters, etc.).
What are the pros and cons of using this content?
1. Regularly delivered, solid information. It’s important to stay top of mind with clients and prospects and constantly sending them promotional material will just annoy them. These services allow you to provide some useful information on a regular basis. Assuming your source is top-notch, the content should be well-written and accurate.
2. Specialized content may be available. As mentioned above, you can often find providers who specialize in content for your profession or subject area, such as accounting, finance, tax or employment law. In the case of some regulated industries, like the financial industry, the material may even meet strict compliance requirements and be pre-approved for use.
3. Less investment. It takes less time, money and staff to license third party content, than to create it yourself. However, pricing does vary greatly.
4. Copyright is not a concern. If you want to republish all or substantial portions of third party content, then licensing is the ways to go. You don’t have to worry about fair use, getting permissions or other rights issues. The information can also reside on your own website so you’re not linking off to other sites and sending readers elsewhere.
5. Other benefits. Some of these services provide everything from design templates, to email platforms and tracking.
1. Generic content. By its nature, canned content is meant to appeal to a wide-range of people. Therefore it tends to be very generalized, providing information that is more of an overview for a broad audience. It’s less likely to be targeted or relevant to your audience’s needs and wants. So it will be less interesting and thus, probably not very effective as a tool to attract and retain business.
2. Impersonal. Since the material is written by someone else, it won’t have your “voice.” It also won’t reflect your unique message and help build your personal brand. Most likely your audience will recognize your content as canned and wonder why you sent it. People are inundated with too much information as it is. Providing them with something they could get elsewhere and you didn’t put any personal effort into, won’t make them feel you really want to engage with them.
3. Not a differentiator. Since the content is generic and impersonal, it won’t differentiate you from your competitors. Some of those competitors may even have the identical content on their site. Worse, they may have great content and yours is canned. You will miss an opportunity to stand out and position yourself as a true expert, thought leader and trusted advisor.
4. No SEO benefit. This is duplicate content that appears on multiple sites so it won’t help you be found online by search engines. Google rewards sites with original content and penalizes low quality sites with duplicate content.
5. Limited rights. It’s likely you have restricted rights to edit or modify the content. This means you can’t repurpose and leverage the material in different ways to get more value out it.
Is there a role for canned content?
I believe firms that use such content realize there is value to content marketing, but need to fully appreciate how important it is to be different when there is already an overwhelming amount of information available to people.
If you want to use some canned content to help get your content marketing off the ground, then use it selectively and in combination with your own material. First, look closely at what your vendor is providing to you. Make sure the material has some value for your particular audience and then consider how you can make it more useful. Is it basic introductory content? Then organize and label it that way so those who are interested can easily find it. Then look at ways to enhance it. Write up your own commentary and takeaways. Provide related checklists, tips and case studies. Use the canned content as inspiration for writing your own pieces that take the subject matter to a new level. Think about how it applies to your specific audience and your own expertise.
The point is you can start small. You can bring in original, personal and targeted content a little at a time while you phase out the use of canned content. In the end, you’ll do a much better job of differentiating yourself and building stronger relationships with your audience. And that will drive your business success.