To Give Away the Farm, Or Not…That is the Question.

 In Content Planning, Content Strategy, Organizational Change

Last week I wrote a post (here) that encouraged you to take a behind-the-scenes look at your organization’s unique processes and technologies and find ways to turn that into content. Some of you may have read that and thought, “Brody, you’re crazy. We’re not about to give away the internal, secret sauce that sets us apart from our competitors.”

Ok. I get it. You’ve been developing and perfecting those processes and technologies for years and you’ve always kept your recipe close to the vest. But let me ask a simple question…Do you think Emeril would have ever become a household name if he hadn’t given away (and packaged) his recipes, expertise and secret sauce? BAM!

A Personal Experience with Giving Away the Farm

Back in my corporate marketing days, I worked for a company that manufactures mini, wastewater treatment plants for single-family homes and communities who have no access to centralized sewer infrastructure. Although the company had a few patents on the internal workings and components of the treatment process, there was always a big fear that competitors would knock off the design of the product.

With this fear ever-present, it was challenging for me to create marketing materials for these products, especially considering that we were often selling to engineers who are naturally curious as to how things work. To make it even harder to do business with us, we would force prospects to qualify themselves before we handed over CAD drawings that would allow them to integrate our product into their wastewater system designs. If not for personal relationships and the 40-50 tradeshows at which we exhibited each year, I’m not sure how we stayed afloat.

But the time soon came that we needed to revamp our website. An internal team of sales, marketing and customer service staff (myself included) got together and put some major pressure on our executive staff to loosen the vest and allow us to make all our CAD drawings available for download on the new site (no strings attached). They caved! At the same time, we had started to do a lot of business overseas and the language barrier was creating some major obstacles. We pitched the development of 3D animations that would dive deep into the muck and show both foreign and domestic engineers how these products really work. They said yes to that too. Evidently we picked the right day to pitch all that….

The Rationale

Despite having proprietary, even secretive, processes or technologies, your competition still has to have the resources, time and expertise to knock you off. Most don’t. And if you’ve done a good job of marketing your offering, you’ll likely be so far ahead in the game that a knock-off product or service won’t matter. If/when marketed properly, the benefits of sharing your secret sauce almost always outweighs the risks.

The Results

Bio-Microbics - Thinking BiggerWith the availability of both engineering drawings and great animations that showed all the gooey details, there were no more obstacles in the way of getting our treatment products specified into thousands of wastewater systems across the globe.

This past June (2012), my former boss traveled to Washington D.C. to accept the President’s “E” Award for outstanding achievement in exports from the U.S. Commerce Secretary, John Bryson. They were also featured on the JumboTron at Times Square in NYC. That award is one of the highest recognitions any U.S. entity can receive for exporting. In a nutshell, they’re killing it.

My Advice

Start by thinking about your buyers and get a clear understanding of how much detail they need to properly understand and evaluate your solution. If you have proprietary processes or technologies, try to find out where that “line” is located that, when crossed, raises red flags. Then create/provide content that walks right up to that line. If prospects are asking for more, they’re probably ready for a personal tour of your farm.

Have you fought this internal battle before? Were you successful? What impact did it have on the company?

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