Most of us 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.
But in truth, bait-and-switch extends far beyond its legal definition. Bait-and-switch is prevalent in content marketing. You’re probably familiar with the techniques, even though you might not have considered them “bait-and-switch.”
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 annoyed you and wasted your time, but, in the end, that link did exactly what it was supposed to do. It got you to land on the page without providing you any value.
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?
Here are some stats about clickbait content:
- 17% were listicles
- 63% mentioned recent events
- 79% contained an element of shock
- 67% contained an unknown or new concept
Think back to that clickbait article. Did it contain one of those elements?
I’ll bet that disappointing article left a bad taste. You felt cheated. It probably affected your opinion of the website it was on. 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. You could be leaving your users that same bad taste without even knowing it. Providing value instead of a bait-and-switch comes down to setting and delivering expectations, both in your content and 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 a brand 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 equally earthshattering substance to support it. Without that, it’s just noise.
Be reasonable with your use of gated content. Forms have an important role in content marketing. 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
Your marketing department — 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 absolute top performing 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 most of your customers’ experiences. Set the bar at a place where you can clear every time.
It would be nice if all our products and services could move mountains and cure cancer, but most of the time, they don’t. That’s why setting unreasonably high expectations plunges you into the realm of bait-and-switch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Overpromising might help get customers in the door, but it’s a bad strategy for keeping them. When you bait-and-switch users and customers, you create frustration and disappointment. These bad experiences have a way of adding up and coming back to bite you.
This evergreen post was originally published April 5, 2016. It was updated to be more interesting and valuable in November 2020.