I built an 8-figure business based on free content, but I have to admit… “I Hate Content Marketers!” Yeah, I know, but seriously, can’t we just ban them all?

I’m absolutely sick of the word content.

More specifically by so-called content marketers and what they do in the name of ‘content marketing’.

I know that’s a bit rich coming from me…

After all, I’ve championed sharing genuinely valuable free content with prospects and customers for the last 16 years.

I keep urging you to use it.

In fact, these days it seems everyone tells you to use it. Almost every internet marketer and industry expert will say this something like this:

“If you don’t regularly update your website, email database and social media feeds with timely, interesting and useful information you won’t get ranked on Google… you won’t build a following… and you won’t get noticed by new customers.”

And you know what? It’s true.

Ignore this strategy and your website will sit in cyberspace like a tiny speck in a galaxy full of shining stars, unnoticed and unvisited.

So why do I hate today’s content marketing?

Because it’s been twisted, poisoned and cheapened by people who see it as just the latest marketing trend.

And what tipped me over the edge was something I did on Twitter.

This email made me angry and it shouldn’t have…

I have a personal Twitter account where I post my distorted iPhone images and articles about art, cult films and walking in London.

A while back I tweeted a link to a Kickstarter campaign for an anthology called The Unreliable Guide to London.

It’s designed to look like a regular guide book, but it’s an ANTI-guide book full of misdirection and half-truths.

I shared the link because I loved the idea (cliché-busting and controversial) and I personally knew a couple of the authors in it.

Anyway, the other day I received this email:

Hi Nick,

I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you. I noticed you shared one of our favourite Kickstarter articles on Twitter, An Unreliable Guide to London.

It’s funny, we’ve literally just created a similar piece of content entitled “The Complete Guide to Fulham, London” which I think you might be interested in.

On the surface, this seems reasonable.

But do you notice anything weird about this email?

First off, Kickstarter is a crowd-sourced funding site for publishers, authors and filmmakers to get their projects off the ground.

So what kind of person has a ‘favourite article’ on Kickstarter?

They’re not really articles, they’re a combination of videos, images, author bios and a pitch for investment.

Surely a normal human being would have written something like this:

“I noticed you shared a link to The Unreliable Guide to London, a project/book that we also loved.”

But there was something else…

The email includes the line: “… we’ve literally just created a similar piece of content…”

Aha. Now the cracks show.

What kind of normal human being describes an anthology of fiction as “a piece of content”? And who would refer to their own guide book as “a piece of content”?

Think of it this way…

If you wrote a book about your favourite subject, would you show it to a friend and say:

“Hey, I’ve written some content, want to read it?”

Or when you recommend a film or music to a friend, do you ever say:

“This is great content, check it out.”

So why did this stranger write to me in this supposedly friendly and personal tone… and yet used the word ‘content’ in a way no friend ever would?

I wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid if she’d said: “We’ve just written a similar kind of book/guide.”

But what this email screamed out was this:


I am using a template that I send to anyone who’s tweeted something with ‘Guide’ and ‘London’ in it.

I don’t care about you or your content.

All I want is your names…

In fact I think you are so dumb that you will gladly take my thinly veiled marketing brochure and send it out to your best customers and I’ll then get brilliant leads for free!

And hey presto, at the bottom of the email, I could see that this email came from the publicity agent for an estate agency in Fulham.

The link she sent me was to their website where they have posted a guide to Fulham.

Effectively, their guide to Fulham is a piece of content marketing designed to draw people into the site who are interested in Fulham, with the hope that they’re on a house hunt.

Now at this point you might reasonably say…

“What’s wrong with THAT, Nick? You’re constantly telling me that building an online business is all about posting useful free content to pull in website visitors.”

And you’re right.

There is nothing wrong with this…

It’s a good idea for an estate agent to make their site useful, informative and focused precisely on what their target reader is interested in.

Whatever business you’re in, you should consider creating a guide, manual, handbook, video or webinar that helps your ideal customer for free – no strings attached.

Make yourself genuinely useful and you’ll establish a bond of trust.

It’s also good idea for their marketing agency to scan Twitter looking for people who tweet passionately about London, Fulham, guide books and other related topics.

This strategy is called ‘social media listening’.

It is where you track and monitor certain terms related to your area of interest or field of business.

The idea is you can find fans and influencers in your subject area, then get in touch and ask them for interviews, offer guest posts for their site, recommend your products and request help suggesting joint venture projects.

There are a number of tools to help you do this, but Hootsuite is pretty good – it’s something I have already recommended on the Digital Upstart website for scheduling your social media posts.

But here’s where this particular agency got it wrong.

The approach was cynical, lazy and obviously put together by someone who never thought about the audience.

If they had just spent a few minutes checking out what I had tweeted they could have made a little joke or better realised that there was no chance I’d retweet their ‘content’.

And if you’re going to write a friendly, chatty email to an individual asking them to look at your content…

For goodness sake don’t call it ‘content’!

The word ‘content’ is am academic term that marketers use to teach people about marketing.

Agencies use it.

Business trainers use it.

Yes, and I even use it when writing to you as shorthand for what I refer to by content, namely… “blog posts, email newsletters, videos, webinars, eBooks, white papers and podcasts”.

However, content is not the word ordinary people use when they talk to each other.

It’s not a term that friends use in everyday conversation. It’s not how we describe books, films, music or even our favourite adverts.

So when you’re talking to your subscribers, website visitors, email readers and potential clients always talk like a friend.

Ditch the jargon.

Avoid technical terms, obscure acronyms, clichés and robotic business patter.

All it does is make you look like a sly operator, online scammer or mercenary marketer.

The Internet is overflowing with spambots, autoresponders, fraudsters and marketing sharks.  More than ever, people are wary when they are online.

They want to communicate with other human beings who share their passions and experiences.

They don’t want to be conned or hoodwinked.

If you want to establish trust, don’t be a marketer, or speak like one.

Be you. Be human.