How to Use Content to Find Customers

Content Marketing 101

This is an installment in the Content Marketing 101 series.

Sure, it makes us feel warm and fuzzy to create great content. But can we actually get any customers with it?

Absolutely, but not if we take the usual blogger’s approach. Money doesn’t drop out of the sky just because we produce high-quality material. We need to put some time, thought and planning into the marketing side of the content marketing equation.

And that means we need to think strategically about how different types of content contribute to the larger persuasion cycle.

Get their attention

Earlier in this series, we talked about the fact that every bit of content needs to be a tasty cookie that rewards your audience for consuming it.

So how can you attract a new audience to come find you? You need something bigger and more exciting than a cookie.

You need a birthday cake.

In other words, a piece of content that’s exciting, that feels special, and that tastes good. (It doesn’t hurt if it also has a great headline.)

Not only that, it has to show your potential audience that you know your stuff and that you solve a worthwhile problem. Otherwise they might enjoy scarfing down your content, but they won’t bother coming back for more.

White papers, special reports, extended tutorials, manifestos and viral video all make excellent birthday cakes. (If you want more ideas, you can find lots more here.)

Contrary to popular belief, you do want marketing messages in your birthday cake content. But they have to be palatable, subtle messages. You’re not closing sales here . . . the birthday cake is just the beginning of the conversation.

Raise questions. Poke around at pain points that you can address in later content. Tell stories that resolve objections. But be subtle about it. The purpose of this content is to get your audience into a receptive state of mind before they start hearing any overt sales messages from you.

Create interest and desire for what you have to offer, but don’t talk too much (if at all) about how you’re going to solve all your audience’s problems and make their lives wonderful.

If your birthday cake is compelling enough, your audience will stick around to find those answers.

And, of course, how does your birthday cake get in front of a new audience? By being remarkable enough to share. If it’s not good enough to link to, bookmark, retweet, and email friends about, it’s not good enough. Keep working on it, or partner with a content expert who can create something exceptional for you.

Converting attention to customers

Good bloggers are fantastic at capturing attention, but sometimes we have a tough time knowing what to do with it.

The answer is to keep delivering compelling messages to our new audience, either using a blog, an email autoresponder, or both.

Here’s where you use content marketing fundamentals to start creating a commercial relationship. Obviously, you still deliver terrific quality. You teach and entertain more than you sell. You use metaphor, rhythm and vivid language to make your writing sing.

But you also use the techniques we teach at Copyblogger to create an audience of buyers, not just fans. You begin to call on your copywriting bag of tricks, adding more persuasive elements to your writing.

You’re still keeping the selling under the radar at this point, especially if you’re using a blog to deliver your content. At this phase, you’re building your case, establishing trust, and increasing the intensity of your audience’s desire.

When you’re ready to take an order, send your loyal fan to a well-crafted landing page. That page does the most explicit selling, with a killer offer and a clear, direct call to action.

There’s definitely an art to writing an effective landing page, but if you’ve primed your audience with a smart content strategy, the landing page doesn’t have nearly as much work to do.

How to be in the third tribe

If you don’t see yourself using the hard-sell, high-squeeze tactics of the traditional Internet marketing crowd, but you also don’t want to eat ramen noodles for the rest of your life as a “cool but broke” blogger, you can ignore those two tribes and join what we’re calling the third tribe.

In the third tribe, we take the best elements from hardcore Internet marketing, but we deliver them with the passion, personal voice and credibility that the best bloggers have to offer.

Content marketing is our tribe’s most important tool. In fact, it’s the tool that defines this tribe. Master it, and the game is yours.

So please join us for the rest of the Content Marketing 101 series. Coming up next week is an interview showing how one blogger took sharp, snarky content and turned it into a highly profitable business.

Read the rest of the series

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

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Reader Comments (66)

  1. says

    Excellent, Sonia. When I first started I was under the somewhat naive impression that if I built it they would come. While that might still hold true, I needed to put more articulate craftsmanship into what I was building.

    Simply writing great content wasn’t enough. I truly believed, at least in the beginning, that if my content was powerful enough dollars would drop from the sky. That’s as ridiculous a notion in the cloud as it is with brick and mortar.

    Great content isn’t enough. Writers must be willing to be the captains of the ship, steering their audience to the shores where they wish them to disembark.

    • says

      If we do not give the readers the content that they are looking for then they will go somewhere and get it for free. And if we are doing what we love then the ideas will flow and we live have plenty to blog about. @live_alpharetta

  2. says

    great ideas, but i think that auto responders should be avoided. Some people get annoyed by so many autoresponders or even one.

  3. says

    People get annoyed by autoresponders because the content for 95% of them is terrible, hypey and overly sales-intensive.

    I think a good email autoresponder is one of the smartest things any business can set up. You can deliver a huge amount of value, create a solid relationship, and really move people smoothly along a sales process, without doing any additional work yourself. 10 prospects or 10,000, it’s the same amount of work.

    I’m talking about opt-in autoresponders here, where the person confirms that yes, they really do want to get these messages. (And not at all about things like auto-responses to following someone on Twitter, or similar tools, which are generally IMO a terrible idea.)

    At the risk of banging my own drum, if that’s not something you feel you could do well, sign up for my free class on how to do it. :)

    Autoresponders are one of my favorite sales tools.

  4. says

    I’m surprised to see only 5 comments here so far. Content marketing is a huge topic and this article really evolves the issue you posed earlier of “cool kids” vs. “internet marketers.”

    You certainly can’t succeed as an individual publisher if you have just content or just marketing — you need both.

    However I do feel that before anything — before marketing ever enters the picture — great ideas and great content must be established. Without that there is no greatness in our work.

  5. says

    I agree, Charles, don’t know where all our commenters are today!

    The only thing I might add to that is that “marketing” starts with planning, with creating a vision, with developing a promise, and with knowing what you have to offer and how you can help people. So a lot of the vision can and should be in place before you create content, ideally, so that your content can serve that vision.

    But in terms of actual tactics, I totally agree that you want to have something real to offer (content, product, etc.) along with a great vision/idea before you start asking folks for money.

  6. says

    I’m all about cake. (Though not the ones with that hurt-your-teeth-and-make-you-barf-super-sweet-sugar-spread icing. Boo.)

    But boy, I’m all about delivery, too. Give me great cake, and then light it up. Put sparklers on it. Present it to me on a platter, and make me the birthday boy in all my glory.

    What does that mean for businesses? Do a good job with your content. Go the extra mile. Toss in something you’d think I’d like, just because you like me. Deliver on time as expected, exceed my expectations and make me feel like a king.

  7. says

    I’m building an autoresponder right now and it’s challenging to strike the balance between non-pushy and “buy-the-dang-product-already.” It’s a delicate dance.

    PS – love how you referred to “hardcore internet marketing” at the end. That brought up ALL the worst connotations :-p

    Which … if you think about it … are a perfect fit for a lot of internet marketers :-)

  8. says

    Its quite ironical to know that there are a ton of people who live on content. Content being there life job :p

  9. says

    @Sonia Simone – great feedback regarding autoresponders. These are the “work while you sleep” tools everyone needs to take advantage of (as well as campaigns).

    Opt-in, as you mention, is important as is the carefully crafted message. Provide or teach a small amount and tease them with more to come. Let them “get” what they need and convert when they are ready. A little scarcity or urgency doesn’t hurt either…

  10. Jon Morrow says

    Yeah, I think a lot of this has to do with the evolution of blogs. Once upon a time, there were so few blogs that just by having one, you’d probably pick up some links. Then, as blogs became more popular, you had to write interesting posts to get links. Now, the blogosphere is so saturated with interesting posts that you need videos/free reports/product launches to be worthy of a link. It’s becoming hard to stand out without those things.

    The same thing happened in direct mail, albeit on a slower pace. Same thing happened on the radio. Same thing happened on television. Now it’s happening with the Internet. Hmm… I wonder if there’s a pattern here? :-)

    Personally, I’ve started paying less and less attention to what A list bloggers are doing and more attention to the way they do things on television. For example, it’s driven by stories and characters, premieres and finales, and ending every episode with a cliffhanger that forces you to watch the next week.

    How long is it going to take before doing this type of stuff becomes a necessity with blogs? And how many bloggers are going to go extinct before they realize their medium isn’t special?


  11. says

    Nice piece sonia (blade?). I really love the idea and concept of the birthday cake. Who doesn’t love a birthday cake?
    I am signing on right away to your newsletter. I have been looking for a way to make sales of my some information packages in my country. I have tried the blogs, but no headway. Sonia, i think you are my hero here…thanx 4 this master piece of a content.keep it coming!

  12. says

    Beaut article, Sonia! I’m getting a lot of traction by responding to every comment I get on my blog (around 17 per post). I can do it because I’m at my desk 12-15 hours a day. And it’s instructive and fun.

    My subscriber count is steadily rising, but one day I know I won’t be able to write back to everyone within five minutes of their visit. But for now, I reckon it’s well worth the effort. Best regards and keep up the ace writing! P. :)

  13. says

    @REW, yep, I would hate to be without my trusty autoresponder. It takes such good care of my audience!

    @James, yeah, that “lagniappe” thing. Give me treats. Give me extras. That’s so huge for building rapport.

    @Dave, laughing, that was actually a Brian addition, I think. We should have linked to an MP3 of some really sleazy funk music. Yeah, uh, appropriate.

    Ooh, Jon, I can sense a “What Heroes Can Teach You About Becoming an A-List Blogger” coming on. 😉

    That’s awesome Ugo! It takes some time and observation to create the system that makes these things work, but when you do, it’s a fantastic thing. I’m hugely lucky to have the chance to work with Brian & watch how it works behind the scenes. Then I go shoot my mouth off so everyone can find out about it. :)

  14. says

    Oh, I love the idea of “Birthday Cake” content.. *that* I can work with! And I think mine should have candles. And sprinkles.

    The “Third Tribe” idea still resonates with me. The concept behind it is exactly what drew me to Copyblogger way back when – and then made become a paying customer (when I’d thought I’d never pay *anyone* for Internet Marketing info!)

  15. says

    Blogs and autoresponders compliment each other nicely in some ways. They’re both interactive but a blog is much more public and community oriented.

    The autoresponder is more private and individual. When you comment on a blog, the rest of the community can read it and respond to it. But when you reply to an email, only 1 person will see it, not the entire community (unless it’s one of those discussion group mailing lists).

    In some situations, you will want that more private, one on one feel to your communications, at other times you need the group thing going on. Ideally you have both going on at the same time.

  16. says

    Cool, Tori! And yes, sprinkles. There should always be sprinkles.

    Thanks, Brian, and I agree. They complement one another really well, IMO.

  17. says

    The third tribe is definitely where I’m aiming to be. I definitely considered myself the blogger-type, because I feel bloggers are generally on the geekier side than traditional internet marketers. But the traditional internet marketers, seeing as they evolved from direct mail marketing, know how to monetize. Aiming for the middle of the road means I’ll still be proud of what I create but still afford the lifestyle I want. :-)

  18. says

    I am sorry i have to post this here, it is off the post. Sonia, i am having serious problems leaving a comment (my very first) at your blog. Maybe, you should check that out. Thanks.

  19. says

    I read the post through feeds and it seems the url is not working there.
    While the concept makes lot of sense but can you give us examples here. How you did something and it increased readership etc. I think examples are great way to put across your point. I also feel it more practical. It is also a proof of concept. Hope you would give some examples in upcoming posts.

  20. says

    Enjoyed this. I’m starting to see that marketing is about taking it slow and not spilling all the beans at once. Like you say, create an interest and build up to the bigger picture. Any more than that and it’s too much to swallow at once.

  21. says

    Sonia, Great article, it’s important to remember that people will be visiting your site at different stages, some may be browsing, researching, or ready to buy. It is important that your provide contextual and relevant content tied to where they are in a buying life cycle. The link above measures if your content helps or hinders the sales process, I hope you find it of value.


  22. says

    Hi Sonia.
    I have a new blog for artists designed to help them sell their art and break into galleries. A lot of my posts are interviews (with gallery curators etc). I find it very hard to keep a Blog ‘feel’ to my posts, and keep slipping back into mainstream journalism. Any advice on how I can use the information in this post but within the context of an interview post?

  23. John Sonnhalter says

    Great series. You can’t stress it enough that content directed at the user drives everything. I keep asking myself the question each time I’m writing a post to think of the reader and if I’m not answering the question “What’s in it for me” you’re not going to be effective.

  24. says

    Thanks for that post, it was enlightening. Content must never be sacrificed for the sake of traffic. Look forward to more of your posts.

  25. says

    I have been looking into setting up with Aweber this week. I have finally grown my lists to the point where the income generated will pay for the service.

    I’ going to go check out the posted about email auto responders.


  26. says

    This is a great post and deals with an issue I’ve been struggling with in marketing my new product. I know I don’t want to be a “guru” IM type, but I also don’t want to not-sell my stuff. There is definitely a fine line to walk, but as I read more about the people doing it right, finding that line becomes much easier.

  27. says

    Great analogy Sonia. Reading blogs like yours makes writing to engage potential customers slightly easier. Look forward to the next post! Thanks

  28. says

    I’m all about cake. (Though not the ones with that hurt-your-teeth-and-make-you-barf-super-sweet-sugar-spread icing. Boo.) But boy, I’m all about delivery, too. Give me great cake, and then light it up. Put sparklers on it. Present it to me on a platter, and make me the birthday boy in all my glory.

  29. says

    great ideas, but i think that auto responders should be avoided. Some people get annoyed by so many autoresponders or even one.

    • Mark says

      I think, ravi, that the best way is to use the auto responder in a way that people won’t get annoyed. Avoiding it completely will affect the relationship you could build with your audience which is absolutely necessary.

  30. says

    Fascinating stuff Sonia Simone. I have a client who would be interested in this, I’ll pass it on to them. Thanks very much for sharing.

  31. says

    This is great post. I agree the final comment that content is king or highly optimized content is king! I will wait your next content marketing 101 series


  32. says

    This is a great post and deals with an issue I’ve been struggling with in marketing my new product. I know I don’t want to be a “guru” IM type, but I also don’t want to not-sell my stuff. There is definitely a fine line to walk, but as I read more about the people doing it right, finding that line becomes much easier.

  33. says

    Riveting post. Educating, direct to the point, balanced arguement,and never want to put down.
    Sonia, I have been following your post on this topic and I must admit that you’re one kind of a writer.
    Thank you for making your kowledge available to us.

  34. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Here’s a quick freebie to find good free content.

    Go to google books/magazines. 98.6% of magazines did not renew their copy-write up until 1963. Some of the articles may have renewed…but most have not. Search through the magazines-due your copy-write research–and use the relevant articles to your niche.

    My friend Tony Laidig (public domain expert) teaches this stuff.

    Good luck,

  35. says

    Great analogy Sonia. Reading blogs like yours makes writing to engage potential customers slightly easier. Look forward to the next post! Thanks…

  36. says

    Today the new buzz word is “content marketing.” It wasn’t always called that.
    Back in 1981, Trey Ryder penned article for the American Marketing Assoc.’s magazine titled, “Education-Based Marketing.” Content marketing IS Education-Based Marketing.

    But with the internet and the hundreds of new ways to promulgate your content, Education-Based Marketing has moved to an entirely different level.

    In the end, content marketing or education-based marketing. It’s still the best method of marketing online.

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