Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop. Why You Should Stop Selling In Your Content Marketing

Michael Brenner on Aug 26, 2015 in Content Marketing

We often get asked by our customers to help them create content that is more promotional, or that has a direct product tie-in.

Or as I’ve heard some executives huff: “we are in the business of selling stuff ya’ know.”

Stop promoting products in your content marketing for these reasons:

  1. Content marketing must help the buyer. And in doing so, you help the business.
  2. Brands need to think and act like publishers. This means creating content people actually want. Then promote your brand and product “on the edges.”
  3. Promotional content simply doesn’t work. We ignore it and have become amazing filters of any content that is trying to sell us something.
  4. Customer-focused content attracts readers who read and share the content providing increased reach, conversion and ROI.

What is content marketing?

The definition we use for content marketing is the overlap between what brands want to say and what buyers are really interested in. There’s a large amount of content that brands create that no one actually wants. And of course, there is a large amount of content that consumers are reading and sharing from their friends and publishers.

Today, brands pump out a ton of promotional material. And yet, when we are ready to buy, we seek out the information we need. This consumer-directed search means brands have to work harder to create more effective consumer-focused content.

Content today must compete with pictures of babies and kittens. If you want your content to be seen, read and shared, it has to be helpful, educational, or entertaining content.

The biggest mistake in content marketing is making the content all about you. We love to quote one of the earliest leaders in content marketing, Ann Handley, who said that in content marketing you need to take your brand (or product) out of the story and “make your customers the hero of your stories.

Effective content marketing seeks to help the buyer. In doing so, you gain their attention, their respect, and ultimately their trust. This trust is what leads to sales.

But try to add a product pitch or promotional tie-in directly to your content, and the readers start to run for the door.

Don’t Believe Me? Test It!

Back in 2007, I joined SAP to run an online lead generation program. The aim was to get more high-quality leads for sales. The natural instinct of the business was to push product brochures, thinking this would provide a smaller number of more highly-qualified leads.

My instinct was to get new leads through thought leadership content, research reports and white papers focused on the buyers in our space.

So we tested this approach through publisher pay-per-lead programs. We gave publishers the content. They gave us the names and contact information of those who downloaded it. At one point we were testing more than 200 pieces of content across a dozen or so publishers. And the results were clear.

Product-based, promotional content drove almost zero response and no qualified leads. While customer-focused content drove, not just a higher volume, but also higher quality leads.

The responders of non-promotional content converted at a higher rate to new business that we could count as closed deals and cash revenue.

We also found out something else that was interesting: targeted content didn’t deliver more leads in the targeted audience.

What does this mean?

When we wanted leads in the retail industry, and pushed content specifically “for retailers,” even helpful thought leadership content, we received just as many leads in the retail industry as more generic, topic-based content such as “how to deliver amazing customer experiences.”

But these topics also drove high-converting leads in other industries as well.

The lesson? You must understand the topics that are interesting for your buyers. Then publish content that seeks to help them answer their biggest questions, challenges and concerns. You topic will likely be broader than you might initially think. And your content will be much more basic than you might think. (such as “What is content marketing?“)

The bottom line: if you want content that works – that truly drives leads and sales – create helpful, non-promotional content.

If you want content that gets ignored, try to promote your business or sell your products.

The promise of content marketing is to attract an audience vs. buying it. 

This is why leading brands like Kraft, GE and Red Bull have said that content marketing delivers a significantly higher ROI than their traditional, promotional marketing efforts.

Because when you earn your audience through effective content, you earn their trust. And when they are ready to buy and looking for information about the products you sell, they will come to you before they go to the competition.

So How Do We Promote Our Products?

The best way to promote your products is on your website.

We help more than 200 brands all over the world, in every industry, to create branded content marketing hubs that attract early-stage buyers.

We advise our customers to create and license publisher-quality, helpful content that their audience wants to read and share.

Then we work with them on driving conversion in a couple of ways:
1. Your website’s main navigation. When your content marketing hub is part of your website’s main navigation, you will bring in visitors to your site that never came before. Some of them may read a helpful article and decide to check out the products you sell in the main navigation of your website.

2. Middle-stage offers. Promote a “middle-stage” offer on the right hand side of your content, or at the bottom of the article. This is called “promoting on the edges” and constitutes the main way publishers make money today. If you look at NewsCred’s blog, you will see we are always offering “Ultimate Guides.” These are longer and deeper resources that middle-stage buyers are interested in. They require a name and email address, but are still customer-focused.

3. Subscribers. If the goal of content marketing is to attract an audience, then the most important measure of success is the number of readers who subscribe to your content. But the added benefit here is you are building a database of names to nurture and convert deeper into the funnel.

At SAP, we had just one rule for our content marketing efforts: no promotional content or product tie-ins allowed.

We put this in place because 99.9% of our website traffic came from branded searches. This means only late-stage prospects who entered our company or product name into a web browser were visiting our site. Most of them had already completed their buyer journey and were just looking to validate the information they had already gathered themselves.

But the audience of people searching for unbranded terms in our product categories was 1,000 to 3,000 times bigger than this. And we weren’t reaching any of them.

By creating a branded content marketing hub that sought to help our buyers and not promote the business, we attracted early-stage prospects. We measured our success based on the number of subscribers who opted-in to our content. And we converted a ton of leads that we would have never seen.

We ranked in the top position for the kind of web searches we knew our prospects were conducting. And in doing so, we delivered new leads and new paying customers for the business.

So stop trying to promote your product in your content marketing. It doesn’t work. That’s what your website is for.

Helpful content attracts an audience of prospects you would have never seen.

Do you need help educating your executive team on how to create content people actually want? We can help!

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.