The Three Essentials of Breakthrough Content Marketing

Content Marketing 101

This is an installment in the Content Marketing 101 series.

Your business needs help, fast. Your site isn’t getting the traffic you need. You aren’t converting that traffic to sales. The tactics you used to rely on aren’t working. And the lousy economy means you won’t be able to even give up in disgust and just keep (or go get) a day job.

You want to find your own village of loyal customers, but you can’t seem to capture their attention. And when you do get it, you aren’t closing as many sales as you need to.

You need to know what works today to find customers and persuade them to buy. And the answer to that question is content marketing.

But it takes more than “content is king” to work in this tricky environment. You need to focus your attention on these three key elements to make content marketing work for you.

Give your readers a cookie

What’s the smartest way to train a puppy to sit on command? Give him a cookie and a nice pat on the head every time he does what you want.

Enough cookies and enough pats on the head and he starts to think that sitting on command was his idea. He likes you, he trusts you, and he sits when you say sit because it’s in his best interest to do that.

Your content needs to work the same way. High-quality content trains your readers and listeners to keep opening your stuff. It rewards them for doing what you want them to do.

That means that every piece of content you write has to either solve a problem your audience cares about or it has to entertain them. Preferably both.

Everything they receive from you should make them feel good. Each piece of content is a cookie that rewards your audience for consuming it.

When you do this consistently, your content becomes an appealing habit for your readers. When they see your name in their email box or a Twitter retweet, they know there will be something they like on the other side. And they’ll click through.

Fortunately for us, most people who try content marketing get this wrong. They train their readers to look away, by producing content that doesn’t benefit readers, by putting out too much irrelevant fluff, or by overselling. (More about selling in just a few minutes.)

Position yourself for success

Remember your mom telling you that you had to be a good friend to get lots of friends?

Well if you want to find more customers, you need to be someone worth doing business with.

Yes, it’s about authority, but not about being a pontificating guru who can never admit any weakness.

Some personas work much better than others for content marketing. Your audience wants a smart, cool friend who understands how stuff works. They want someone to share experiences and lead by example. They want a trustworthy person whose word means something.

When in doubt, remember Paul Newman’s axiom. Always take your work seriously; never take yourself seriously. You definitely want to show that you know your stuff, but that doesn’t mean your readers want a college lecture.

Sell smart

Remember, you’re not trying to land a sale in a single shot, like some desperate used-car dealer who wants to put you into a 1994 Pontiac Bonneville TODAY.

Instead, you’re building a content net that supports this sale and many sales after this one.

Use your content to address underlying objections that might keep someone from buying. Use it to tell interesting stories about how others have benefited from your offering. Use proven persuasion techniques to show your reader just how much she needs your product or service.

Successful salespeople will tell you that your customer needs to know, like, and trust you before she’ll buy. That’s exactly why content marketing is so effective. Great content buys you the time to build that trusting relationship. So use that time wisely.

Yes, you still want to ask for the order with a strong call to action. But keep the balance right. Use your content to build desire for your product, and to create an unshakeable relationship with your audience, then ask for the sale.

And keep reading Copyblogger—this is just the first post in a five-part series on how to use content marketing to create or grow a business. You can get free updates in an RSS reader or by email so you’ll never miss a post.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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  1. I am pretty new to content marketing, so this series should be pretty useful.


    • I am new to the term content marketing. Most people might be.

      But, if you have been marketing online, chances are you have been doing it already- without even knowing.

      Call to action is perhaps something most of us miss out on. I made this mistake in my initial days. i would write articles and just put it online expecting people to do what I wanted.

      I expected them to read my mind- big mistake.

      The point is, we need to read their mind. Then start writing the content. After that think what they would want to do after reading our article. That’s our most effective call to action.

      Positioning is almost as important as making the sale. Not everyone need to act like the guru as Sonia puts it. But you need to position yourself as a person as valuable as a guru, if not more.

      The important point I want to suggest to people taking this course is that you must be prepared to take action. If you are simply reading it because it’s on copyblogger, you’ll do better off without reading this in the first place.

      So, are you ready to take action?

  2. Way to nail what some of us are dealing with while telling us how to deal with it as you dealt with it.

    You know, there is some talk out there about whether we are marketers or news reporters. I’ve subscribed to your feed – so I’ll likely catch the additional posts in this series. But, what about pitching someone there on a series about marketing content vs. news content marketing?

    (Or, just talk with me about it:


  3. I don’t remember where I heard this:

    “The money isn’t in the list, it is in the relation you have with your readers’ list.”

    The best way to make sale is, get noticed to targeted traffic, then make them subscribe to you (your newsletter), and then make your subscribers trust you. Sales will come automatically. :)

  4. Good advice. Content is only king when it’s both entertaining and informative. Anything less than this and it’s likely to get lost in the wilderness…

    People still want to buy, despite the recession, and will put their hand into their pocket, pull out a credit card and hand over a fair price for a fair deal if they like the guy or gal on the other side of the sale and if they don’t feel as though they’re being sold.

  5. So it sounds like being a good content marketer is a lot like being a good parent.

  6. Sorta, but don’t try to make anyone eat broccoli. :)

  7. I agree that building your readers trust is the best thing to keep getting constant sales.

  8. Excellent post, Sonia! I look forward to the continuation of this series.

    I also appreciate the balance that your message brings to the table — establish the relationship and build trust which will allow the door to open for a sale.

    If that car salesman would approach me that way, I just might buy that 1994 Pontiac Bonneville — just not TODAY!

  9. My problem right now seems to be that people are clicking through on ads but sales are not generated once they reach my affiliate partners websites. Not sure what much I can do about since I don’t have control of the content on their site.

  10. Great post Sonia. It’s amazing how many marketers/ companies are afraid to produce content that’s not focused on selling or promoting. It’s as if they think prospects will disappear if they don’t get a daily dose of the company’s pitch. Of course, the big irony is that companies often drive prospects away because of that hard-sell approach. I’ve opted out of countless newsletters after being bored to tears by relentless product pitches.

    If marketers would sit back and consider how they respond to content that’s aimed at them, they would probably change their tune. But for some reason, we humans often lose perspective when wrapped up in our daily work.

  11. “That means that every piece of content you write has to either solve a problem your audience cares about or it has to entertain them. Preferably both.”

    This particularly resonated with me. I’ve recognised that my blog is currently more about entertainment than problem solving and I’m about to bring the problem solving aspect into it.

    Great post Sonia. Thanks!

  12. Great post Sonia,
    Just goes to show that in this new era, content is becoming far more valuable than flashy advertising. People are looking for value for free a long way in front of ever considering an offer. For those of us serious about developing online businesses the value of our free content has to be at least as good as anything we might ever want to sell.

  13. The cool thing about content marketing is that it’s just tricky enough that your competitors won’t get it right, but not so tricky that you can’t learn to do it really well. :)

  14. @brian: What’s wrong with broccoli?

  15. Nope, it’s still the same thing. You can slip the broccoli in with the mac and cheese. We’re slipping our marketing into the content. : > )

  16. Really informative post. Learned tons. Thanks. =)

  17. Ace article, Sonia; do you ever miss?! Yesterday I committed to a $2500 scorched-earth rebuild of my website. Your advice, therefore, is propitious. Many thanks! P. :)

  18. Good luck Paul! And I always write to please myself, so even if everyone else thinks it’s annoying/obvious/lame/impenetrable/etc., I’m generally happy. :)

    @Stephanie, I agree. And my sense is that the nonstop pitchfests aren’t working as well as they used to. (Which is not to say don’t pitch. Do pitch. But pitch respectfully and thoughtfully.)

  19. I’m not sure I’m content marketing yet, but I know my content is good and authentic because I wrote very word and took every picture. I love what I do, and I believe it comes through in every vowel and pixel.

    I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

  20. Great content, Sonia (as is all thoughtful blogging)!

    Strategic efforts not only help build trust enough for the sale, but (maybe more importantly) post-purchase as well. Engaging existing customer with strategic content is relevant in every stage of the Customer Journey…and it’s always important to migrate new customers to loyalists and then to advocates. Once you got ’em, content helps keep ’em!

  21. Thanks, Sonia. It’s like I tell my readers, it’s about your customers, not you. Focus on solving their problems and make it interesting and relevant to them. Or, as you said, make it entertaining. Thanks for the advice.

  22. Great advice, I have been sold into many products because of the quality of the free content.
    I guess it’s a mindset thing where we fear if we give away too much then there will be nothing left for us to sell.
    Great post

    • Great post! I am currently torn between giving away one of my four steps in my ‘4 steps to speak a new language’. As I plan to sell my live workshop, I am wondering if the 3 steps left might be not enough content for my workshop. It really causes me a headache, could someone help me, please.

  23. Sonia,
    Great post. This is exactly what I was trying to say in my blog yesterday…but you said it much better. I agree with you that when you can demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in understanding your customer’s world, issues and what keeps them up at night, marketing can bring in the leads sales craves. It does not work as well when the system is set up the other way around.


  24. I really enjoyed this post, you made some valid points. I think it is easy to become so swept up in the process of writing that you sometimes forget the reason you are writing in the first place. Sometimes (especially when inspiration is thin) it is easy to write just because it’s what you do everyday.

    It is vital to engage with the reader, to give them something that will make them come back for more. I loved the cookie analogy, although you are fortunate you’re readers don’t take offence being compared to a puppy :)

  25. quality content definitely trumps more content. in the struggle to keep blogs fresh, it definitely is tempting to put in filler. a lot of good coffees have been ruined that way too :)

  26. It amazes me how quality content has been overlooked by so many websites and blogs for so long! It seems that it would be obvious that in order to maintain followers to your website that you would have to offer them quality information. Thank you for your post that helped bring this to the attention of more people.

  27. Its really an informative article hope to see more from your side.

  28. “Successful salespeople will tell you that your customer needs to know, trust and like you before she’ll buy. That’s exactly why content marketing is so effective. Great content buys you the time to build that trusting relationship.”

    I like to eat copyblogger cookies!!! yum yum yum :)

    Then buy Thesis, Teaching Sells, and read outsourcing conspiracy.

  29. Good advice. Content is only king when it’s both entertaining and informative. Anything less than this and it’s likely to get lost in the wilderness…

    People still want to buy, despite the recession, and will put their hand into their pocket, pull out a credit card and hand over a fair price for a fair deal if they like the guy or gal on the other side of the sale and if they don’t feel as though they’re being sold.

  30. Thanks for a great article. Too often we lose sight of the importance of building a relationship with our customers.

  31. On the internet content is king and am absolutely fascinated to have found this content here at thanks to Sonia.


  32. Pretty Damn helpful, been doing it for a while but found some great tips to take it further…

  33. Nice Post Sonia
    Everything you said is right on. But let me add another idea to the mix. When you market yourself you need to target a specific audience. That means real people. Too often Bloogers are trying to escape the world and avoid contact with real people. So they hope their Blog will do all the work for them. And the money will come in on auto pilot. So a good test to see if your content is any good, is to call your client base and ask them what they thought of your last article. It gives you an excuse to call your past clients and it gives you real world feedback. Your content needs to be good enough to talk about in person. That is a good acid test. People will tell you if they thought it was just O.K. The question is, do you have the courage to learn the truth?

  34. One thing I love about Copyblogger is that while tips are always focused on selling and conversions, they still hold loyalty marketing in high regard!

    Here’s a post I just wrote showing how a B2C service-oriented business can give away free content as a marketing tool.

  35. “every piece of content you write has to either solve a problem your audience cares about or it has to entertain them” – VERY well said.

    Another way to put it is Psychology 101 – it’s positive reinforcement. Now every time I write a post I ask myself what I’m reinforcing.

    And I thought that Psych degree wouldn’t be helpful! hehe…

  36. Pretty good points. I am not even marketing anything now and concentrating on building my readership base and a reputation as the go-to guy in my chosen field. Need to keep what you say in mind if I don’t want to become another Kumbaya blogger.

    On a completely unrelated note I noticed that your permalink structure is /%postname%/. WP says that starting permalinks with text fields might slow down processing, but then I guess using the Thesis theme offsets that time-lag.

  37. Great post well interpreted getting to grips very slowly with the whole content marketing approach thanks.

  38. Thanks for posting this. It made me realize that I need to give more cookies :)

  39. Thank you. Since info and Internet is changing so quickly, what do you anticipate is next after content marketing to maintain either an edge or advantage over “the competition”?

  40. I love this post! I believe that giving high quality content post after post trains your reader to look to you as an authority.