The Proof Of The Pudding – A Content Marketer’s Rant

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Miguel de Cervantes

Maybe, like Cervantes’ most abiding creation, I am tilting at windmills here but indulge me please. I have taken to this forum to try and understand the “Proof of Concept” phenomenon in Content Marketing and yes, to share the pain with other content marketing agencies out there similarly afflicted.

This has happened to my agency on a couple of occasions now and I wanted to vent or alternately get better informed in case this is the vanguard of an inevitable but undesirable trend. The way the story goes in a couple of prospect discussions close to the sharp end of the sales cycle after the usual rounds of “hoop jumping” the prospect suddenly asked us to work on what they called a “proof of concept”, essentially an obligation-free exercise to create some custom content specifically for them. If this hit the mark we could hope to be engaged for more remunerative work. Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

First let me say to prospects that I understand, sort-of, where you are coming from. I know that the quality of a service is only apparent after it is consumed so prior to doing anything irreversible you are looking to re-assure yourselves that the people you are considering engaging have got what it takes. To accomplish that the advice you seem to have paid heed to is Cervantes’.

That being said, to my mind, there are so many better ways to get that assurance. In each of these instances we have happily provided several examples of content created by us already out there in the public domain, we have provided written references from clients who have used similar services from us and we have also given contact information for live references for the prospect to engage with more deeply or to address any specific concerns. Despite all that how does one justify the need for more custom content creation? Perhaps the prospect is a disciple of Thales of Miletus who said “A multitude of words is no proof of a prudent mind.”

The logic the prospect usually presents is that what they have to offer is so path-breaking or so unique that they need to first validate our capacity to understand it well enough to be able to create and promote appropriate content. Without even getting into how thin on the ground truly innovative and unique business models or offerings are, this poses a conundrum.

  1. If the offering truly is unique then before churning out any meaningful content an agency would have to put in, presumably, long hours of study and substantial research. This being the case how appropriate is it then to expect the agency to commit that kind of bandwidth before any deals are inked
  2. The alternative seems incomprehensible as superficial study will lead to shallow content – an unacceptable outcome. Presumably the objective would be to put your best foot forward so no compromise would be acceptable right?
  3. On the other hand if the prospect is looking for content that is not so specific to them or, as is entirely likely, their offering is not really so unique after-all then why go through the exercise at all? Would it not be easier and faster to check references and / or review the content already presented.

That’s a Helleresque Catch 22 for Content Marketers – doing something you would rather not do, in a manner that doesn’t satisfy you, for someone who doesn’t know really what to do with it for an unclear purpose. I’m looking for answers – from agencies that have faced and dealt with the issue or have become convinced of the value of this additional stage in the sales cycle or from prospects who have a reason for the “proof of concept” demand that may have escaped my own attentions. Till I get them though I would like to leave with an anonymous quote that pretty much sums up my own feeling on the subject “If you believe in something, no proof is necessary. If you don’t, none is sufficient.”

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