A Content Marketing Cautionary Tale

I’m guessing that by now, many of you know the bizarre story involving college football player Manti Te’o. If you don’t, the short (and confusing and still developing) story goes something like this: Manti Te’o plays football for Notre Dame, and became a news sensation in September when we learned his grandmother and his girlfriend (who supposedly had a car accident, and then leukemia) died on the same day, which was followed by Te’o leading his team to victory. It was a sad and inspiring story, but in the middle of January a writer from Deadspin busted the whole thing open, outing the tale of the girlfriend as a hoax perpetrated by someone on Twitter. In the aftermath people are still trying to figure out what happened. Was it a terrible prank, or was Manti Te’o involved? Why would he do such a thing? one might wonder. Well, he was gunning for the Heisman Trophy and a spot in the NFL. With all the talented athletes out there, you need a hook to get some press. Why should ESPN focus on you, what makes you special?

Have you ever noticed that competition reality shows love to feature contestants with a sob story? They have lost a loved one, a home, all of their money, only to come back and prove how great they are?

We, as the media consuming public, love a good comeback story. Mix in some tragedy and a little bit of love and we’re sold. In the heat of the moment, we don’t want talent so much as we want someone who fell out of a weepy Nicholas Sparks novel.

And herein lies the problem, perhaps for Te’o, certainly for most average people. It’s hard to get people to care unless you have one hell of a story. Because of a story, Te’o became the center of attention and gained some adoring fans along the way. Either by accident or very much on purpose (frankly, who knows which), he used a sort of content marketing to build himself up and create a brand that people would fall in love with.

Unfortunately, no matter how the lie came to be, it wasn’t worth it. And it never is.

If your business is struggling along with content marketing, going nowhere fast, it might seem easier to start “padding” a bit. Fluff up a few customer stories. Submit a fake review or two. Say you have skills you don’t. Lie.

Don’t do it, please. Truth is, if there is no value in the work that you do, nothing worth sharing, you’ve got bigger problems. Forget that everyone wants a tragic hero. This is real life, where people spend real money. If your customer service is terrible, if you don’t deliver on your promise, it will only take one transaction for people to stop caring that your house burnt down and from its smoking ashes you built your business. This is about longevity, not the story of the moment. Want customers that keep coming back, because you keep being worth it? The real talent, service, and value you provide will make that happen.

Say we never learned the truth, the dust of this football season settled, and Te’o went on to the NFL. Maybe he was great, and had a long and successful career, where people sometimes reminisced about his inspiring last year at Notre Dame. Or maybe he turned out to be terrible and got dropped from his team, because in the end he was no good at all. Even an imaginary dead girlfriend can’t save you from that. And neither will some fluff about your business.

Do what you do well. Tell people you do it well, and then deliver. Don’t lie. Repeat.

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