You seem like a real go-getter — someone who meets the morning with not just a can-do outlook but a will-do attitude.
And whatever it is you do do, every endeavor starts with the one tool all visionaries carry: a Pen.
But not just any pen — THIS pen: sleekly designed with an ergonomic grip, perfect for writing quick notes or long manuscripts.
In average hands, there's only ink in this pen. But in your hands, there's a tool for recording your ideas — maybe even “the next big thing”.
“But I prefer typing.” Sure, computers are cool. But they’re not always around when you need to capture a spontaneous idea on the fly.
“Well, I always have my smartphone on me...” Sure, rely on the thing that distracts you every other minute of your day. A pen and a pad leaves you alone with your ideas — the ultimate distraction-free writing experience.
“Well, how about this pencil…” Pencils are for folks who are afraid to make mistakes — this Pen is only for those who measure their every action.
So, what do you say? Ready to buy?
Are you sold yet?
I hope not. Because that was my best impression of poor salesmanship using the “sell me this pen” approach, popularized by Leonardo DiCaprio's character's Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.
“Sell me this pen” is a great exercise in the art of persuasion and sales, a fun way to gauge how someone sells to a completely cold prospect:
- Do they ask questions to identify their prospect’s needs and “what keeps them up at night”?
- Do they anticipate, uncover, and overcome objections?
- Do they understand how to demonstrate value or do they describe features?
- Ultimately, do they know how to make the conversation about the prospect rather than themselves?
And some would argue that “sell me this pen” is just an archaic exercise that has no relevance anymore. But if you’ve ever seen the scene below you’ll know that even a room full of people can fail at it.
Why most people fail to "sell the pen"
The fact is people are self-interested — our customers are self-interested. We need to be interested in them too, and do our best to talk about the things they care about in the same terms they already use.
And, according to Jordan Belfort (the Wolf of Wall Street himself), that’s the real answer to the “sell me this pen” challenge: Do you start pitching product from the get-go, or do you figure out who you’re selling to first?
Content marketing fails for a similar reason. It sometimes forgets how to straddle the line between audience-centric and company-centric content. And it’s a shame.
Content marketing, while not always a fit for every kind of business, is a strategy that’s more than just at home in today’s world of information addiction, self-education, and social connectivity.
Consider this: 67% of the buyer’s journey now happens digitally—more and more people seek out content for professional development, and we spend much of our time on our phones, on social media, and plugged into the goings-on of the rest of the world.
It's no surprise then that, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s recent report, 86% of B2B organizations are now invested in content marketing. And yet 60% still identify “creating engaging content” as their #1 challenge — and this seems to be a recurring obstacle in content marketing.
That’s because, in large part, we struggle with one specific part of the definition of content marketing:
Content Marketing (noun):
A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Not knowing who we’re selling to — or, in this instance creating for — is the real reason we fail the “sell me this pen” challenge.
Who is your content speaking to?
The best content marketing advice I’ve ever read comes from Joe Pulizzi:
“If your content marketing is for everybody, then it’s for nobody.”
We often refer to our “buyer personas” when it comes to keeping our content marketing focused. But a problem arises when we get too attached to what’s on paper rather than the people themselves.
It’s one thing for me to know what Marketing Mary (one of the buyer personas we’ve defined) does day-to-day as a content manager. It’s another thing to talk to real Marketing Marys about the stress that results from inefficient processes due to IT bottlenecks, juggling deadlines, and the desire to prove their value to their organization.
From there we can generate ideas for content around productivity, measuring content ROI, and improving processes — all of which are still relevant to our product and help us push the right kind of brand awareness.
Most of the content we create — especially at the top of the funnel — should be for our audience and around our product, not the other way around.
I like to use this example from Booker, one of our customers, who designed their Content Hub's menu to speak directly to two service-based verticals that would benefit from their platform: Salons & Spas and Pet Services.
Defining your audience often means disqualifying several. But it's the only way to show your audience that you get them. From there, content not only lets you attract the right audience but turn them into an engaged community that serves as the best kind of social proof for your brand.
Are you building a relationship on trust?
There’s an old saying when it comes to sales and marketing that people would rather buy from someone they trust.
Establishing that trust is content marketing’s job #1 and it boils down to a few things:
- Are you knowledgeable? Do you enrich their lives through teaching?
- Are you likable and relatable? Is there a human element to your content marketing?
- Are you in your customer’s corner? If yes, they'll be in yours via user-generated reviews, case studies, and social media mentions.
That third point is one we don't often consider — content as a way to build and demonstrate social proof. User-generated content, whether it's a review, an Instagram post under your hashtag or a positive mention on Twitter, shows off your community.
Content marketing presents a unique opportunity for brands to achieve longer lasting mindshare — you’re building your presence through publishing, after all. But to do this you need a "voice" that stands out.
What “Voice” are you using to connect with your audience?
There’s no shortage of great B2C examples of content marketing that has a well-defined “voice”. Take Dollar Shave Club, a subscription service that delivers quality shaving razors to your address, and the funny, down-to-earth, sometimes raunchy brand they project in their content:
You can tell at a glance who they’re trying to speak to. And if that’s you, you’ll immediately identify with their content and might even get lost in it. Not every piece is about shaving, but all of it is about their defined audience.
The real challenge seems to be defining a "voice" in B2B content marketing, because organizations may feel compelled to cater to more than one decision maker — more than one audience. “Voice” often takes a backseat because it’s hard to pick one when you’re speaking to so many.
But at the very top of the funnel, where awareness is your goal, your voice is one of your biggest assets. It’s the key differentiator that might compel someone to enjoy YOUR content more than your competitor’s.
Your company culture is a good place to start. It’s one of the most unique things about your organization, after all, and helps to add a certain authenticity that no one else can imitate. What’s more important than going out of your way to cater to your audience in terms of “Voice”, is defining something human and being consistent in the personality you project.
Sell me this pen with content
Writers need pens. Doctors need pens. Everyone could potentially use one. But you're not marketing to everybody. Whatever audience you choose to target, you need to create content that speaks to them and wins them over at all stages of the buyer journey.
Before you sell the pen, understand the people who will be using it. Work backwards from there.
There's no prescription for content marketing success. There's a lot of trial and error. But unlike creators in the past, we have more far more telling metrics to go on than just the volume of our audience's applause.
We can make this work, if only we invest the time and care, and pay closer attention to the people we're trying to reach.