Content marketing is selling.
To be more precise, according to the Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
A marketing technique . . . driving profitable customer action.
When done right, it's scary good. Brian Clark, CEO and founder of Copyblogger Media, puts it this way in his content certification program:
"Sixty percent of the sales process is over before anyone picks up the phone to talk to you."
Yes, content marketing is a powerful tool in the selling process.
Dr. Robert Cialdini is Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. He's also the President of Influence At Work, with clients like Google, Microsoft and NATO.
Dr. Bob knows influence and persuasion.
I have several of his books – every content marketing writer worth his or her salt will. In fact, I've got three of them in my tablet's Kindle app for quick reference. And my tablet goes with me everywhere except in the shower.
Okay, once in the shower . . . but only that one time.
The good doctor explains six categories of "weapons of influence" in his book, Influence: Science and Practice.
- Reciprocation: I owe you one.
- Consistency: My actions reflect my beliefs that influence my actions that reinforce my beliefs...
- Social proof: Everybody is (or isn't) doing it.
- Liking: You're nice. I trust you.
- Authority: Your credentials speak for you.
- Scarcity: Limited quantity available – Act Now!
The first time I read this book, I'd just returned home from a copywriter's conference in Florida. He explained some tests done with little cards in hotel rooms. The goal was to save money in laundry costs.
They tapped into visitors' social conscience, asking them to reuse their bath towels to help preserve natural resources and protect the environment. I was stunned. I had read that card…and reused my bath towels.
Wait a minute! I just realized that I'd been had!
But, in a good way. It did save them money while protecting the environment. I'm cool with that.
Let's look more closely at the first five principles of influence. The sixth one, scarcity, is used more in direct marketing CTAs than in CM. I'll briefly cover that at the end.
Content Marketing's Golden Rule
When I was growing up, we were taught the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
And it is an important way to deal with people, even in the business world.
The content marketer's rule goes like this: If you want to get from others, you need to give to them first. Dr. Cialdini calls this the "principle of reciprocation." If you give a person something of value, they feel obligated to return the favor.
And usually as soon as possible.
If your article presents the reader with some useful ideas they can put into action, they'll reciprocate. They are more likely to heed your call to action. It may be something as simple as signing up for a newsletter or submitting contact info to download a white paper. But if you want to get . . . you've got to give first.
Can you use that idea in your content marketing? Sure you can.
You owe me one.
Quietly Changing Course
In most cases, our beliefs dictate our actions.
If you want a reader to change their actions, you've got to change their beliefs first. That's not always simple and it rarely occurs overnight. Minor course-correcting actions are the key to shifting their behavior in your favor.
In his book, Dr. Cialdini cites an experiment in which homeowners in a fairly upscale neighborhood were persuaded to place a large, ugly sign – promoting safe driving – on their otherwise pristine lawns. It started with a questionnaire and a small, almost invisible placard in their window.
Emphasizing the homeowners' stated, and now, public commitment to safety, the researchers were able to make increasingly larger requests. Not everyone complied. But those who did comply did so because it was in harmony with their beliefs.
They acted consistently with their own convictions.
Small, but significant course corrections over time work better than major, abrupt changes.
Socially Proving Your Point
Now, I'm not talking social media here.
That's a huge buzzword these days and it's an effective way of getting your word out. But social proof means something altogether different.
My brother and I used it a lot while growing up. Or at least tried to, anyway. When we wanted some new, often expensive device or wanted to do something our parents weren't too keen on, we played the social proof card.
"But...Tommy's parents bought HIM one!" or "Your bridge club buddies are letting THEIR kids go!"
It didn't always work, but often it did. Pointing to shining examples as proof of concept is powerful. To show content marketing as a means of driving sales, for example, the proof is plentiful.
You don't need to look beyond Brian Clark and Copyblogger Media. From a one-man-band to a $7 million enterprise, all based on content marketing, you can't do much better than that. Find examples of your ideas in successful deployment.
Take the burden of proof from your shoulders. Put it squarely on the shoulders of other experts.
Know, Like and Trust – the Likable Expert
I'm putting the last two together because they often work in two-part harmony.
And here's another thing you need to know. Blogging is not the only form of content marketing. It may be the most "glamorous." But other forms of CM carry a lot of weight, perhaps even more than blog articles. They include:
- Case studies – the hero's journey
- White papers – problem presenters and problem solvers
- Press releases – news you can use
- Full article content – more than a post, sometimes in print publications
- Website copy – yes, even the copy is content marketing, which is why you should be a good copywriter if you want to write effective marketing content.
The "know and like" parts are fairly simple. Be mindful of your readers and understand that they've taken time out to read your work. Make sure your content repays them for time spent.
It's authority – that trust thing – that trips many writers up. If you're relatively new or unknown, it seems tough to earn that badge. Unless you're Brian Clark of Copyblogger or Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, you often need to rely on OPA to show authority and expertise.
And if you've been paying attention, you've seen it in action in this article.
OPA stands for Other People's Authority in this case. I use it all the time . . . so do the two powerhouse writers mentioned above.
Believe it or not, there are some folks who've never heard of Steve Maurer. I know . . . it shocks me too.
So I try to include other authoritative sources whenever possible. In this article, I've mentioned:
- The Content Marketing Institute and Joe Pulizzi
- Copyblogger Media and Brian Clark
- And the influence expert himself, Dr. Robert Cialdini
It was George Washington who said, "Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation…" and that certainly goes for the experts with whom you associate. Don't write in a vacuum. Until you have built your own authority, use OPA to boost your personal credentials.
Become a content marketer that people can know, like and trust – a likable expert.
I mentioned that the principle of scarcity worked more for calls to action in direct marketing. It can work when using a series of articles to lead up to a webinar or other product launch. You'd use it in the final piece.
However, be very careful. If you use the scarcity card to promote a deadline, make sure there really is a deadline. The same applies to limited quantities and such. If you promote a false sense of scarcity, you will be found out eventually.
And that will ruin all the trust and authority you've worked so hard to build.
But the first five principles are gold. Learn to write your content marketing persuasively. When you master the science of influence, your business will grow and prosper.