Content Marketing and The Best kind of sell there is

To paraphrase a friend, when all you have is a hammer, that’s the time you follow the #hammer hashtag on Twitter and feel good about being one of those super-cool hammer owners. Never mind things looking like nails — just being cool enough to own a hammer, and know how to use it, is enough to get back slaps and high fives. This is how I feel about #contentmarketing some days.

Don’t get me wrong — as someone who does it for love and money, I love the science of it. The tide of content marketing continues to ebb and flow, and each time, more washes up on shore — more case studies, listicles of tips, top ten tools posts, more noise. However, as clients start to wade themselves into the waters, it can be difficult to help them understand that good content marketing doesn’t mean slapping your sales message in every post.

Last week, at the Strategic Content Communication conference, I heard first hand from Jillian Bowen how The Naked CEO content program had delivered above expectation for CPA Australia. Among the many nuggets of hard-won wisdom she presented was the idea that the program had been successful because it hadn’t pushed to drive sales. That’s an unusual position for a brand in general, particularly one so bolstered by content marketing, and yet it holds up. The sell that the Naked CEO program makes isn’t designed to convert, or even show up in a metrics report.

They’re selling something both immeasurable and unmeasurable — transparency, trustworthiness, the joy of a hyper-engaged leadership to a very passionate community. It’s a message that inspires belief and enthusiasm (and maybe a little envy in some) and doesn’t make you want to buy anything. It makes you want to join something, which is a far more powerful and enjoyable experience.

Nobody likes being bludgeoned, and smart marketers everywhere are reigning in the instinct to include extra ‘convert’ to their content. Today’s consumers aren’t stupid — they’re the most brand-savvy, most marketed-to and most scam-aware collection of people in history. They’ll see it coming, and at best, they’ll call it out as something oleaginous, something smarmy and sleazy. And no one wants that for their brand, particularly since content marketing relies so heavily on being helpful, rather than forceful.

The best sell you can make is one they won’t remember. When you want it, when you like the people you’re buying it from, when it helps you — then it’s not a sell anymore. And that’s the best kind of sell there is.

Posted on February 24, 2016 .