The True Benefits of "Non-proprietary" Articles

The latest e-newsletter from American School & Hospital Facility has an article titled "The True Benefits of Cleaning "Green"".
Cleaning institutional buildings poses many challenges for facility managers. In education and health care buildings, mangers must find safe and effective cleaning solutions, sensitive to the volatile health of their occupants. At the forefront of most managers’ cleaning agendas are needs to improve indoor air quality (IAQ), improve the health of buildings and the people who visit them, and reduce the negative impact to the environment both in the building and beyond. These are demanding objectives for any facility manager and are especially tough today for many who are faced with shrinking budgets. In these unique environments, managers must be armed with cleaners that are:

• Affordable and meet their budget requirements;
• Effective at removing a multitude of stains and dirt;
• Agreeable to their building’s IAQ and the environment.
Good start; sounds promising. Especially since the newsletter itself opened by talking about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). As I read further, the article quickly came to focus on green cleaning as it applies to carpets. All the specific examples pointed to carpets. The case study discussed carpets. Even the section on reducing injuries discussed only injuries obtained by cleaning and changing carpets.

Looking at the end of the article, I was not surprised to see the piece was written by someone from a carpet cleaner manufacturer, XL North.

Let me be clear: I have no problem with this. Some people are distrustful of what they see as "insider articles", but I find them to be useful, as long as any potential author bias is made clear. Consider: cleaning carpets in an environmentally conscious way is an important issue. I would assume someone who produces carpet cleaning products can speak on the issue with expertise. I see no reason to doubt his facts and figures (although one study mentioned without citation seems a bit too good to be true). Important topic, expert writer, good information; sounds like a good article to me!

So this article is helpful to me as a reader, but how is it good for the company sponsoring it? Several reasons:

1. Viral marketing. They wrote an article, it got emailed to thousands of readers, I reposted the link, exposing it to new readers. Soon it will go onto my Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles, get listed on Digg and Readit, and if even one person likes my article enough to repost it, the whole cycle starts again, bringing a whole new set of eyes to the magazine, the article, and the company. Meanwhile, all these links, mentions of the company name, etc. help raise the company's SEO score.

2. Expertise. A large part of successful marketing in the communication age is convincing prospects you are the one that can help them solve their problems. The internet has brought that to a personal level as well, which is why so many CEO's have their own blogs and Twitter accounts. Placing non-proprietary articles in respected periodicals demonstrates how much you and your company know about the topic.

3. Setting the Terms of Debate. This is an important but often overlooked benefit. Non-proprietary articles allow me to define the important issues in the way that is most beneficial to my company and my products. Done well, this means you determine the questions prospects ask your competitor.

I do have one qualm with this article; it is important that a non-proprietary article provides what it promises, and I think the title and introduction promise more than the article provides. If this were a seminar at a trade show, I would be disappointed by the exclusive focus on carpets when what I wanted was IAQ. This would be a stronger article if the title used the word "carpet". It would still be useful and interesting, but I would not walk away feeling something was missing.