If the first paragraph of your article sounds more like a press release than engaging content, you’re doing it wrong.
As content marketing continues to be seen as the new trend in marketing — even though it’s been around for more than 100 years — there will continue to be marketers who don’t get it.
If you’re wondering whether or not you’re guilty of this, here are a few signs:
- You start your articles with a pitch for your services.
- Your listicles sound more like feature lists than educational content for your readers.
- Your articles have very few (if any) social shares.
The result of starting your written content with a sales pitch can be truly detrimental to your business. By being salesy in your writing, you could end up in a downward spiral that includes:
- Losing most of the readers at the top of your content funnel. Your audience isn’t ready to buy when engaging with your first piece of content, so they get turned off and leave.
- Not being able to publish anywhere but your own blog because publishers aren’t interested in your infomercial cloaked as a guest post.
- Sabotaging the success of your content marketing efforts as a whole.
So what’s the alternative? Using content where it’s most valuable. By starting a relationship with your audience, nurturing prospective customers, and staying top of mind, prospects will think of you as a trusted solution when they decide they’re ready to buy.
How to Create Engaging Content That Still Achieves Your Business Goals
By scolding promotional content, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a well-thought-out plan to achieve your business goals with your content marketing efforts. You just need to think of your audience, leverage your expertise, and strategize accordingly. To help you visualize it, here’s an example of how our team achieved this:
1. Start with a guest post that educates on a topic your audience is interested in but isn’t just highlighting your service.
We knew that most of our prospects were avid users of LinkedIn, but many didn’t fully understand the new LinkedIn publishing platform that launched last year. In an effort to educate this audience and get in front of other potential customers, John Hall, our CEO, wrote an article, “LinkedIn Opens Its Publishing Platform to Users,” on his Forbes column to feature the new update. Because we knew our audience well and understood what would be of interest to them, this article was incredibly successful and received more than 14,000 views.
2. Draw the reader in further by linking to a relevant blog post.
The article on Forbes offered a general overview without a lot of actionable tips, so we decided that, in order to draw readers down our content marketing funnel, we should create a blog post to accompany (and get linked within) the Forbes article. We wanted the article to dive deeper into the value of the publishing platform and give more unique tips to our readers, so John wrote “An Introductory Guide for Using LinkedIn” for our blog.
Because we were able to align these two articles and provide information that was valuable to our readers, rather than sell them on how we could help them publish to LinkedIn, the results were astonishing.
Of the 14,000 people who read the initial article on Forbes, over 2,550 clicked on the link to our introductory guide and read it on our blog. And this post continues to drive traffic and leads to our website since its publication a year ago.
Don’t Sell — Educate
If you’re paying attention, you’ll realize that between these two articles, what we specifically didn’t do was pitch the reader on why she should hire Influence & Co. to help her take advantage of the LinkedIn publishing platform.
Instead, we used this opportunity to share our insights on how the reader could do it on her own. Now, in an effort to be fully transparent, I will share a secret with you on why this is a great approach.
Here’s an excerpt from John’s Forbes post:
Not everyone can write like the masters, but luckily, this isn’t a place where perfect prose is required. However, you should remember that your writing is a reflection of your knowledge, expertise, and personality, so enlist the help of others if putting pen to paper isn’t a natural skill. I use our team of writers and editors to help develop and polish my content. Even the best writers should have someone who can provide constructive feedback.
Notice that we didn’t say, “Hey, hire us to help you write!” Instead, we painted the picture that it’s not easy for everyone, including our CEO, and in order to take advantage of this opportunity, the reader may need help. We then explained the problem and opened the door for the reader to come to her own conclusion that our company may be a viable solution.
We purposefully didn’t sell because we knew the most qualified leads tend to be the ones who come to this conclusion themselves and reach out to us after reading a lot of our content. Instead, our goal at this stage was to further educate these leads on everything that goes into content marketing so they could start evaluating whether they needed to utilize a firm like ours.
Why Promotional Content Is Just a Bad Sales Pitch
Going back to our LinkedIn example, after a prospective customer has read these two articles, our hope is that she’s thinking, “Okay, I can do this whole LinkedIn publishing thing, but I may need some help to do it consistently and strategically.”
Because she was already on our website when this thought came to mind, her natural next move was to read more of our blog posts or download a whitepaper from our resource library.
And many of our leads did.
From those who came from John’s Forbes article alone, the blog post resulted in 79 leads filling out a contact form somewhere on our site — including everything from a price quote request to a simple download of one or more of our resources.
Now, let’s imagine if we had done this through promotional content.
If we were one of the content marketers who still believes content should be promotional, we probably would’ve started the initial Forbes post like this:
LinkedIn is opening its publishing platform to all users. Because we can assume this means there will be a lot of noise on LinkedIn, you’ll have to create exceptional content to stand out. Creating great content on your own is difficult, so you should hire Influence & Co. to help you out. We offer services ranging from executive branding to full content marketing packages.
From this offer, we may have gotten a few people who were interested in our services right away and would click through to those service pages and fill out a contact form, but I’m positive we would not have attracted qualified leads through this initial strategy. People are now searching for more information before making a purchase decision, so you need to cater to that search with educational content — not attempt to interrupt their search with advertising.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we captured more than 100 leads from that one piece of content, you can read the whitepaper we wrote detailing the steps you should take to do the same here.