How to Avoid Accidentally Becoming a Bait-and-Switch Content Marketer

We often think of “bait-and-switch” as a legal term – something that retailers or advertisers have to watch out for. It seems like something to be addressed with terms and conditions or disclaimers, rather than content.

In reality, the practice of bait-and-switch extends beyond its legal definition. Bait-and-switch exists in content marketing. You’re probably already familiar with the techniques, even though you might not label them as such.

Think of the last time you followed a clickbait link. You had sky-high expectations set by a too-good-to-ignore title, only to be disappointed by a lackluster article behind it. It was annoying and it wasted your time, but, in the end, that link did exactly what it was supposed to do.

The idea behind bait-and-switch is to draw customers in with an attractive proposition, fail to deliver, and convert them by virtue of the fact they’re already there. Isn’t that exactly what that clickbait was aiming to do? Isn’t that exactly what’s happening when a white paper turns into a sales pitch halfway through?

Think back to that clickbait article. I’ll bet that disappointing article left a bad taste in your mouth. You felt cheated. It probably affected your opinions of the source of that link. Maybe it was enough to make you avoid them in the future. In any case, it’s not something you want your customers to feel.

Not all forms of content marketing bait-and-switch are as overt as clickbait. In fact, you could be leaving your users that same bad taste without even knowing it.

Avoiding bait-and-switch comes down to delivering expectations, through content and your offering itself.


Content that Lives Up to Your Promotion

When you distribute content, you build a reputation. If your content is well-thought-out and valuable, you cement yourself as a resource. Conversely, if your content doesn’t deliver on the quality tips and techniques that you promise, you become something to be avoided.

Flashy “Definitive Guides” and “______ is Dead” titles might help to get clicks, but they fall flat when there’s a shaky 300-word post behind them. A disruptive headline needs substance to support it. Without that, it’s just noise.

Along the same lines, you have to be reasonable with your use of gated content. Forms have an important role in content marketing. That said, when users meet a form before they ever see your content, it’s too much.

Whether you’re failing to deliver value with your content, overselling with your headlines, or gating everything in sight, it amounts to bad experiences for your users. You’re overpromising and underdelivering. It’s a bait-and-switch.


Offerings that Live up to Your Content

Content, along with your sales team, has the crucial job of setting customer expectations. The importance of appropriate customer expectations shouldn’t be understated. Appropriate expectations are the difference between a pleasant surprise and disappointment.

Products and services have strengths and weaknesses. It can be easy to get caught up in best case scenarios and potential, but, to set the right expectations, we need to look at things objectively. If you tell all your customers to expect the best case, you’ll end up with a lot of displeased customers. On the other hand, if you understand your offering and the likely outcomes, you can set the bar at a place that can be met or exceeded by the majority of your customers.

As nice as it would be if all our products and services could move mountains and cure cancer, in all likelihood, they don’t. That’s why setting these type of expectations plunges you in the realm of bait-and-switch.


The Bottom Line

Overpromising might help to get customers in the door, but it’s a bad strategy for keeping them around. When you bait-and-switch your users and customers, you create frustration and disappointment. These bad experiences have a way of adding up and coming back to bite you.



Let us know what you think:

  • What types of content marketing bait-and-switch do you run into the most?
  • Are you (or have you been) guilty of content marketing bait-and-switch?
  • How do you avoid content marketing bait-and-switch?



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