Most companies start blogging and creating social media content for one reason: They are ready to sell their products and services. So they create content that sells their products and services.
The problem is, most people aren’t ready to buy. So when you try to sell to someone that isn’t in the market for your product, your sales message becomes a nuisance. And by association, your brand becomes a nuisance. The reality is that your content can be amazing, but if it isn’t aimed at your customer and their specific point in the buying process, then it will not work.
Now, let’s back up and see what type of content customers find trustworthy. Research from Forrester into what type of content customers find trustworthy found that 70% of respondents found product recommendations from friends and family to be trustworthy. Only 32% found content on a company website or blog to be trustworthy. At first glance, it would be easy to understand why the average customer trusts their friends and family far more often than they trust the content from a company they don’t know. But there’s also another factor at play that greatly influences trustworthiness.
Relevance. Since your friends and family know you, they can apply that knowledge to give you more relevant information, and you are more likely to trust information that’s relevant to you. If they know I’m in the market for a used sedan, they don’t bother telling me about the great deals the local Chevy dealer has on new trucks, because they know that’s not what I’m looking for.
The bottom line is that amazing content is relevant content. Relevant content is amazing content. If you give me the content I need, in the form I need, and the precise moment I need it, that’s relevance for me.
Too many companies use content as a way to convert customers when they should be trying to create customers. You can’t convert customers until you have them, and when you push content that sells into the face of someone that isn’t ready to buy, you ensure that your content gets ignored.
For example, many companies are attracted to blogging because it can be a wonderful way to raise awareness for your business. But you have to incorporate that into your content creation. If you are trying to raise awareness for your business, then that makes you are trying to connect with new customers that don’t know who you are and don’t know why they would want to do business with you.
So if you create content that sells directly to new customers, it’s going to be a disconnect. Since new customers aren’t yet aware of your business and products, then you need to focus your content on topics that relate to your products. Here’s some examples…
If you sell athletic wear, create content focused on the activities customers would engage in while wearing your athletic wear.
If you sell cameras, create content focused on the experiences and events people would photograph with your camera. I blogged about this last week.
If you sell carseats, create content focused on how parents can be safer drivers.
Make Your Content Like the PBS Pledge Drive
But let’s say you’re stubborn, and you are determined to SELL in your content. That’s fine, you can absolutely promote your products and services in your content. In fact, if you create useful content for your readers, you SHOULD use that content to sell to your readers. Always keep in mind that if you have created useful content for your readers, then you have earned the right to promote yourself to your readers. In fact, your best content SHOULD include a call to action for your readers.
Case in point, PBS is currently in the middle of its latest pledge drive. Tonight, it will show a special concert from 1990 with The Highwaymen; Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. This is a unique and special concert that PBS usually doesn’t show. Since PBS understands that this is content that its viewers will love, it uses this concert to promote its pledge drive. During the concert, PBS will have scheduled breaks where it will ask viewers for donations by offering them the concert DVD in exchange for a donation. PBS earned the right to ask for the donation by providing excellent content that was valuable to its viewers.
As a content creator, you can do the exact same thing. Notice I did this above by inserting a banner for my Content Strategy Audit directly into the post. I didn’t do that with my previous post because it wasn’t as in-depth as this post. This post does a deeper dive into content creation, so as a result I feel more comfortable inserting a Call to Action directly into the post. But also notice that particular Call to Action is also relevant to the content of this post. A thorough post about content creation and strategy included a relevant Call to Action for my Content Strategy Audit. It’s not that you can’t sell and promote with your content, it’s that you need to do so smartly. Think about this as you are creating your content, if you’re writing a blog post that does a deep dive into a particular topic associated with your business, then it could make sense to promote your white paper that you did on a similar topic. If I’m interested in the topic of the post, I might be interested in reading your white paper about a complimentary topic.
Let’s look at a slightly different example. LawnStarter is a startup that provides lawncare services such as mowing and trimming in select cities across the US. On its blog, the Austin startup does a great job of creating posts that are focused on lawncare and travel in the cities it serves. But it’s hit upon viral sensations with its posts on the most beautiful college and high school campuses around the country. Here’s one example:
There’s two very interesting elements to note about this post. First, it’s gotten over 40,000 Likes on Facebook! The second, note that just to the right of the post, is a very clear Call to Action letting you get $10 off your lawn mowing service. What LawnStarter has done is create content that is somewhat (perhaps even loosely) related to its core business. But that content has gone viral, which means people are reading the post, and when they do, they are being exposed to a clear offer to get $10 off a lawn mowing service.
If LawnStarter had written a post just about getting $10 off its lawn mowing service, would it have gotten over 40,000 Likes on Facebook? Of course not, it wouldn’t have gotten 40 Likes without being boosted. But by changing the focus of the content away from its services (lawn mowing) onto something related to its services (beautiful landscaping and high school campuses), the post becomes far more interesting. And since LawnStarter was smart enough to marry a clever and clear Call to Action next to that post, they will benefit greatly from its popularity.
And the best part about this Call to Action? You’re letting the customer choose the content (experience) they want. If they just want to read the post and look at the cool pictures and videos, they can. But if they come read your post, then want to learn more about LawnStarter and even do business with them, that option is readily available to them as well.
The Bottom Line
Your content should only be selling IF your reader is ready to buy. If your content strategy is to use the content to build awareness for your business, then you have to take that into account when you create content. The job is to attract attention, and you do that by creating content that focuses not on your products directly, but the connections those products have to your customers’ lives.
At the same time, great content that creates value for your readers has earned the right to add a Call to Action. Think of it as the PBS pledge drive example; no one wants to sit through a 90-minute commercial for buying the concert DVD, but a lot of people are willing to watch 90 minutes of the concert, with a short 5-minute commercial for the DVD placed every 20-30 minutes.
It’s the same approach with your content. If you create content that interests your reader and truly does help build awareness for your business, then you are also building desire. By creating content that the reader finds interesting, you’ve also made your business more interesting to that reader. So you should focus on giving them valuable content, but also think about how you can include relevant Calls to Action in and around your content that gives interested readers the ability to move closer to doing business with you, if they chose to.
Robyn Wright says
Such a fantastic post, as always, Mack! You are so right. Many brands still want to treat social media like they did with traditional media and it just doesn’t translate well. Building relationships is a longer process, but also more profitable in the end
Mack Collier says
Thank you Robyn! Today you have to invest in creating better content, but that content can actually become a powerful sales tool IF you use it wisely. Unfortunately too many companies believe that launching a content strategy is the same as launching a sales strategy 🙂
Sophie Sanders says
This is a great article! Working for a company that promotes motivational speakers, we have endless areas to create content for. This is very helpful for us!
Mack Collier says
Thank you Sophie, glad you found it useful!
Chris Rice says
Great stuff Mack! I work at a digital marketing firm and find myself discussing this with just about every client.
Mack Collier says
Thanks Chris, hope they are smart enough to listen to you!