Teach, Don’t Sell

I seriously cannot believe that I’m still making this argument in 2017 because I thought it had been put to rest in, like, 2009, and then 2010, 2011, 2012…and well, you get my point.

If you find yourself wondering how to tie every content piece back to your product, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

Believe it or not, I still encounter the following quotes:

“I really like the article, but…hmmm…can you find a way to mention our widgets?” Or “You haven’t used enough references to our services in the article.”

And if I’m still hearing this, I’m sure many of you are hearing it, too. So this post is for those of you who need to gently, but firmly tell your bosses and/or clients that their requests canNOT be addressed in your content strategy because, well, it defeats the point.

I’m not quite clear on where and when he said it, but Seth Godin — you know that famous marketing guy — said years ago that “content marketing is the only marketing left.” What he was talking about in that bold statement is the fact that customers are very wary of advertising and have been wary for a long, long time. As people have become more and more inundated with “Buy Me!” “Buy Me!” messages, they’ve adapted to be able to tune them out.

Enter content marketing. Content marketing is not about selling — that’s the beauty of it — so customers are more open to listening to and engaging with it. It’s about being useful, relatable, and entertaining. The result is that the customer engages, you build trust, and when they are in the market for your widget, well, they think of you first. And that loyalty also extends into who they would recommend — that word of mouth thing I’ve talked about a lot.

Now content marketing — a phrase I still feel uncomfortable with — is defined many ways, but my favourite was published on the Content Marketing Institute blog under the heading, “Content Marketing — for non-believers”:

Your customers don’t care about you, your products, your services…they care about themselves, their wants and their needs. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.

So, for example, if I’m a hardware store, my customers don’t want to be inundated with me saying, “Look at me! I have hammers! You should buy my hammers!” but, they would probably be pretty interested in me talking about DIY Projects they can do around the house next weekend. And I just so happen to be using a hammer in the article or video, which will then REMIND them that I have hammers for sale if they need one to complete that project.

And I don’t want to go and ruin the trust bond we are creating by stopping the very useful video to pitch them.

What sounds better:

“Then for the next step, take the hammer and lightly tap in the finishing nails.”


“Then, for the next step, take the hammer, which we carry in our store for only 13.99, and lightly tap in the finishing nails, which we carry in our store for only 4.99 a box.”

Now, I know you really, really want to add that last part, and you think it may be better for sales, but it’s more of a turn-off than anything. The point of content marketing is to connect with people EVEN IF THEY AREN’T IN THE MARKET TO BUY at the moment. It’s not a direct sales tool. It’s a relationship building, awareness making, loyalty boosting tool. You want people to watch that DIY even if they already own a hammer and then you want them to subscribe to watch more DIY’s because one day, they may come across a project where they DO need to order something that you carry — maybe a fancy skill saw, which is BETTER than a hammer — amiright? and, guess what? They’ll think of you.

And the worst part of interjecting a sale into content is that it interrupts the experience and nobody likes being interrupted.

A recent study by Defy Media’s Acumen Research and TMI Strategy found that people are receptive to brands online — and in fact seek them out — but will stop following and block brands that interrupt and create “annoying content”.

It’s much better to provide helpful information to those seeking it out than to try to pitch everyone. Instead of plugging your product in the middle of the video, add a list of supplies with links in the description of the video and mention it at the end…like:

“All of the tools and supplies you’ll need for the project are listed in the description below.”

Then you put links for convenience right into the description! See how much sense that makes?

But what if you aren’t a hardware store and something as obvious as DIY weekend projects aren’t available? Well, you need to figure out what it is that your customers need to learn and teach it to them. I have a few videos on figuring out your audience and their interests — and I’ll link to them below.

Customers are on edge all of the time now, bobbing and weaving the pitches that are flying at them from all angles. If they see you pitching, they’ll avoid your content…and YOU. If they see you as helpful and generous, they may just stick around to find out more.

Content marketing only works when it is approached through a lens of generosity. Don’t put strings on it.