Mickey Spillane did not suffer from delusions of grandeur.
He didn’t expect his novels — featuring private eye Mike Hammer — to be regarded as great works of literature.
What he wanted was for them to sell.
I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends. – Mickey Spillane
His books have sold more than 225 million copies, so this approach served him well.
As we build an online presence with our content marketing, we have to answer this essential question:
Should we develop fans or customers?
The answer isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
Why develop fans?
Your content marketing may have fans — people who love everything you write, contribute ideas in your comment section on a regular basis, and support your business by participating in any free offer you make.
Not all fans become customers, but some fans may become second customers.
Second customers are people who help you spread the word about your business. They faithfully share all the content you create.
They may not give you money, but they give you something equally valuable: referrals that bring you more customers over time.
Fans are important, and fans who become second customers are critical for your business.
Second customers help your business expand across the web. They do some of your promotional heavy lifting for you, so spend time cultivating them.
How to cultivate second customers
The most valuable second customers have large audiences — every share from them causes your traffic to spike.
To give your second customers the type of content they love to share, spend time thinking about how your content can meet their needs.
What is it about your content that they find useful? Does it:
- Appeal to their audience?
- Teach something they want their readers to learn?
- Expand on a topic they already cover, but show it in a new light or explain it in greater depth?
If you can, try to have a short conversation with a few of your most valuable second customers to find out why they enjoy sharing your content.
Their answers will help you create more of the type of content they find useful — which will result in more shares for you.
Customers start out as fans
As a Copyblogger reader, content marketing is probably the primary technique you use to promote your business.
If that’s the case, most customers will start out as fans and readers. As you continue to deliver useful, interesting information to them over time, a percentage of your fans will become customers — those people Mickey Spillane refers to as friends.
I’m 82 years old, wherever I go everybody knows me, but here’s why … I’m a merchandiser. I’m not just a writer. I stay in every avenue you can think of. – Mickey Spillane
Content marketing helps develop and maintain healthy relationships with your customers, both before and after the sale.
Before the sale, you’ll deliver:
- Information that helps them understand your business better
- Content that allows them to become smart consumers of your product or service
- Tutorials that show them how to purchase your service or product
After the sale, you’ll deliver:
- Onboarding (first-time customer) content so they can make the most of their purchase
- How-to information so they can maximize the value of the item or service they bought
- Content that helps them move toward a repeat purchase or an upsell to the next logical product or service
How can you create content to serve both fans and customers?
Can you imagine a piece of content that is a unique and entertaining take on your area of expertise combined with an upsell to the next logical product or service?
The content you create with the goal of getting your fans and second customers to help you spread it and the content you create for existing customers is different. There’s no need to shoehorn one into the other.
You serve no one when you wedge fan content and existing customer information into one monster-like creation — and you might even scare people away.
This is where the serial nature of content marketing shines.
Here’s the thing:
It makes the most sense to think about content marketing as a verb, not a noun.
Content marketing happens over time. No single post must meet the needs of every fan and customer you want to reach.
Appeal to fans or customers, one piece of content at a time
If you’ve been trying to make every piece of content meet the needs of every potential reader, stop.
Take a step back and refocus your individual content pieces so they appeal to specific slices of your readers: fans, second customers, customers, repeat customers.
Doing this will allow you to relax and target each piece of content toward a particular group. It takes the pressure off of any individual piece of content to do everything you need for your business.
Individual pieces of content will resonate with the particular group you want to reach. You can speak directly to them, and they’ll identify with the content. They’ll think, ‘It’s like this was written for me!’
So, should you write for fans or customers?
The answer is “yes.”