Content Marketing

5 Reasons You Need to Give Away The Recipe For Your Secret Sauce

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Inspired by Youtility

Don’t be afraid.

Every professional services firm (marketing, business consulting, accounting, medical, law, et al) in the history of ever struggles with content marketing. Not necessarily from a tactical perspective, although “finding time” to create content is often a presumed obstacle in these organizations. But the biggest issue is fear. Companies that are paid for what they know instead of what they make are paralyzed by the thought of giving away their “proprietary processes” and “secret sauce” through a content marketing initiative.

“Why would we write a blog that explains how we do things? Then our competitors will know our what we know, or our customers won’t need to hire us,” they say. (And they DO say this. All the time. I got this question twice in the past 48 hours, at two separate events) Here’s what I tell them, and now you:

There are 5 reasons to give away the recipe to your secret sauce.

1. Your Competition Already Has the Formula

In this modern age where the truth always surfaces eventually (Lance Armstrong, Rob Ford, etc.) do you really believe that your “proprietary methodology” isn’t already known? Any smart competitor will have already posed as a customer and gotten access to your systems. And it’s entirely likely – especially in transient categories like advertising – that your competitors already employ someone that used to work for you.

2. Admit It, Your Sauce Is Just Thousand Island Dressing

I have owned or operated five marketing firms, and have consulted for dozens more (including this great group currently). Yes, they all have strengths, and specific services they provide disproportionately well. But a process, or way of doing marketing that is truly unique and unlike what anyone else does or has thought of previously? Not a chance. There are only so many ways to skin a cat, and everyone in your competitive set is carrying the same set of knives.

3. Your Prospective Customers Want Self-Serve Information

As I talk about in Youtility, customers today are kicking the information tires like crazy because online research is so much easier and faster now. Google’s ZMOT research found that consumers’ information needs when researching purchases DOUBLED from 2010 to 2011. And Sirius Decisions’ research found that in B2B, a full 70% of the purchase decision has been made before a prospect ever contacts the company. You must take what you know, turn it into bite-sized chunks, and put it out there to be consumed by prospects who, if sufficiently convinced, will then get in touch with you to take the next step in the sales process.

Give away information snacks to sell knowledge meals. (click to tweet – thanks!)

4. Free Content Filters Out the Crappy Clients

Professional services firms often worry that providing content will enable customers to DIY and prevent them from hiring the company. I have been a consultant for most of the past 25 years, and I can tell you first-hand that if a prospective customer is genuinely weighing the option of doing it themselves or hiring you, that is NOT a customer you want. If they believe they can do what you do if they just choose to do so, they undervalue your expertise and experience and it will end up being a fractious relationship. Giving away bits of what you know allows that DIY crowd to go about their business, without messing up yours.

5. Your Customers Are Being Trained to Expect the Recipe

It doesn’t matter whether other companies in your industry are giving away information snacks, being radically transparent, or embracing Youtility, because the customers of your law firm (or similar) are also customers of restaurants, retailers, e-commerce companies, car companies and the rest. It’s not as though B2B buyers ONLY buy B2B. Thus, the marketing behaviors and attitudes of noteworthy companies impact the expectations of all consumers. You see this all the time with customer service on Twitter. Many big companies do this well, and it’s driving a widespread expectation among all consumers that this is a viable customer support channel.

My favorite example of this in action is from McDonald’s Canada. That’s right, the company that invented “secret sauce” for the Big Mac. McDonald’s Canada has a remarkable program where they answer questions that consumers ask about McDonald’s food. Here’s a question they received:

What’s in the sauce that is on the Big Mac?

Did McDonald’s send back a note that says, “We’re sorry, we cannot tell you because this is a proprietary process?” No. THIS is what they did:

If the company that INVENTED secret sauce freely gives away the recipe for secret sauce, how can any company insist that the trends of self-serve information, radical transparency and Youtility do not affect them?

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  1. Chuck Kent says

    Radical transparency. Radical generosity. Radical re-imagining of what marketing is all about. Keep preaching the gospel of Youtilitarianism… which as I’ve said before is a very different business belief system, if taken to its logical conclusions… and sooner or later you’ll have a huge choir singing its praises.

  2. says

    Jay, this sounds like you’re advocating that companies disclose trade secrets.

    Trade secrets are a pillar of capitalism, like patents and tort law. I don’t see how you get around that. I mean, sure, it makes sense for a marketing agency that gets by on the wits of its people to put it all out there, but companies who have lifetimes invested in their products and services strike me as the kind of folks who’d be a bit skeptical about letting everybody peek inside their kimonos.

    • Vincent Vizachero says

      Tom, I think there are two messages about “trade secrets”:

      1) they probably aren’t secret
      2) they probably aren’t what makes you good at your trade

      • says

        Of course that’s appealing on a personal level. Lots of folks with pretty much my exact same skill set have had no luck whatsoever as a freelance writer & editor, while I’ve been quite successful at it.

        But there are real trade secrets out there, and they are secret for very good reasons that go to the core of a company’s competitiveness and profitability.

        I get that open-source, for instance, is a compelling argument for building products around freely available information. Still, you don’t have to convince me. You have to convince the skeptics who have been relying on confidential business dealings for generations.

        When people stop asking me to sign NDAs when I work with them, I’ll be a bit less skeptical on this point.

        • Allan Starr says

          The unfortunate fact – for both us as content creators and our prospective clients – is they (prospects)

          don’t appreciate the value of really good (versus merely OK) content . . . and as a result, they figure, why pay for it.

          The only answer is to keep on sharing tidbits in the hope some will actually catch on. (It’s kind of like putting a message in a bottle in the hope it will wash up on the shores of people who might really care).

  3. says

    Great job, Jay.

    There’s only one McDonald’s.

    To this day, no competitor comes even close to doing the numbers they do. McDonald’s corporate doesn’t worry about others stealing their secret sauce. that’s because no one can. No on is McDonald’s except McDonald’s.

    No one is Jay Baer except Jay Baer. No one looks at the franchise industry like The Franchise King®. No one helps would-be McDonald’s franchise owners-heck, prospective owners of any franchise learn how to protect themselves and make intelligent decisions like The Franchise King®.

    I give away my secret sauce every day.

    If someone kidnapped me, they’d get the same information I dish out now.

    I’m going to grab Youtility. I’ve been meaning to. Just been kinda busy putting my stuff out there.

    (I think I sat next to you at a dinner in Cleveland for Content Marketing World two years ago.)

    The Franchise King®

  4. Rodger says

    You know, back in 2006 when I managed communication for a financial planning and wealth management firm, I had a similar discussion with the CEO. In our marketing, I wanted to give the clients our “secret sauce,” but he would have none of it. Fact is, when I mentioned that, he almost kicked me out.

    Anyway, I don’t like the word transparent because it’s become business speak and that shit makes me barf. (I just tossed my cookies after writing the word.) A better way of looking at this kind of communication with client is through the lens of honesty and respect. By giving people information they can use, we honor them and respect them. They’re smart.

  5. says

    An interesting idea that I mostly agree with. Especially your #4.
    People always want to gate things like white papers, etc thinking they can turn someone who needs that paper into a lead. The problem is though (and I know from experience) is that most people who download that paper will barely even qualify as a lead. If we just gave it away instead we could have saved time on trying to call 1000 unqualified people while people who were qualified and ready would just reach out to us instead.
    You know that I completely agree with your ideas behind Youtility, Jay, and most of the advice you have listed above is just better ways to be helpful that will bring the real customers who want and appreciate that stuff to you.

    Sheldon, community manager for Marketwired

  6. Carlos Abler says

    Re: #4, I like what the Geek Squad founder has said about why they give away so much info on YouTube. That [paraphrasing] their target was the customer who thinks they can do it themselves, and will transition from the media to contact because they will be more likely to call the people whose logo they’ve just been staring at for the last 10 minutes.

  7. says

    This is something we’ve been doing at my company for a while now, heck giving away the secret sauce IS our secret sauce to how we’ve gotten so successful. We interview prospective clients to get to know their business, value proposition, customers and sales process, then we make a customized 20+ page marketing strategy that we give them for free. Obviously they could go off and try to implement it themselves, but 9 times out of 10 we get signed on with a retainer contract to execute it ourselves.

    This process has also helped us address #4 (filtering out the crappy clients) because it involves a 1-2 hour commitment on their part to sit down with us and answer a lot of questions about their business. So if they’re not already (mostly) sold on our process, they flake on the interview.

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