The Golden Rule of Online Marketing

Multimedia Copywriting

You’re familiar with the Golden Rule, right?

Roughly translated across cultures, it boils down to:

Treat Others as You Wish to Be Treated.

Those are words to live by, even online. But the truth is, when it comes to online marketing, you’ve got to treat people better than you wish to be treated.

So the Golden Rule of Online Marketing is:

Give Something Valuable Away in Order to Sell Something Related.

Simple enough, but what does it really mean?

The Content is the Marketing

After giving it a lot of thought, I’m afraid the phrase “social media marketing” is a tragic mistake. It gives people the wrong idea.

Some people see social media as an opportunity to shove a business card in your hand with nary a “hello” first. It’s like getting bent over at a Tupperware party without a hint of verbal foreplay.

Such a waste.

The amazing thing about social media is the ability to own true media assets. To reach niche audiences on your own terms, for your own ultimate benefit.

As long as you provide the audience a benefit first, that is.

In traditional media, content producers give people something they want in the form of entertainment or information. Then they sell access to those people to advertisers who want to sell something to those people.

In social media, smart content producers understand that they play both roles. They provide people something they want and sell something… but in this case, what they sell is something extremely relevant to the content, and therefore, to the audience.

Being a new media content producer naturally creates awareness for your products or services. That’s what marketing is supposed to do, and that’s how it’s done effectively online.

An Example: How Daniel Can Sell More Art

Daniel Edlen sells really cool portraits of rock stars hand-painted in white acrylic on an actual vinyl recording from that artist. I got to know Daniel on Twitter, and now own renditions of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain portrayed on classic albums from each.

Along the way, Daniel asked me how he could sell more of his stuff.

I get this question a lot.

Daniel has an interesting marketing problem. He creates unique stuff (like he’s supposed to), but suffers from this one simple fact:

No one knows they want his stuff until they do.

No one likely searches for rock stars painted on vinyl. I certainly didn’t.

He needs an effective media vehicle to drive his sales to a whole new level. One where he converts a large number of followers into a smaller but vibrant group of customers who begin to market for him.

So the Golden Rule of Online Marketing is especially pertinent here. What can Daniel give away that has value and also stimulates desire for his art?

Daniel blogs, and I personally like reading his stuff. But it won’t work the way he wants.

Here’s what I’d do.

What do people who buy this type of art really want? What drives the desire to hang this art on one’s wall?

I’d say it’s mostly nostalgia and identification. An opportunity to gaze upon a vivid memory from the past, and to place yourself within the sphere of that sensation.

So what kind of content puts that person in the mood?

Rock trivia.

I know it sounds simple, and that’s a good thing. People want what they want, and our desire as marketers for complex answers is an insecurity, not a virtue.

Rock trivia is something huge amounts of people will opt-in to receive daily. There’s a demonstrated desire for this type of content, so you’re not forcing anything.

You now have their attention, which is critical, but there’s a lot more to it.

Facts and little-known details about rock stars and the lives they lead put people in a certain mood. If nostalgia and identification are what you’re really selling (as Daniel is), then you’ve got to put a bunch of people in the mood within one click of your solution.

This is how Daniel could sell a lot more art. It may not be the only way, but I’m betting this way works.

What Are You Really Selling?

The day you make a breakthrough is the day you understand what you’re really selling. What’s the ultimate benefit people get from you?

When you understand that, you can make media that works as marketing. Without it, you’re likely just pissing people off.

And please… until you get it, stay away from me at Tupperware parties. Yikes.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and co-founder of DIY Themes, creator of the innovative Thesis Theme for WordPress. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. In other words, you just described what Content Marketing is all about. Talk about something interesting (and hopefully useful) for your target market, you will then increase your visibility, develop relationships and increase your sales.

  2. I really like the fact that you have integrated this principle in a story. For someone who was not exposed to terms such as Content Marketing (let’s say a small business owner who has just started his DIY marketing endeavor) this kind of story explains the simple principle. For those overdosed with such terms, it slides the info in nicely.

    I also like the example you chose and your point that people don’t “look for” a series of things. Sometime because they don’t even know that exists, other times because they don’t know how to use it, and many other times just because they are busy searching for a lot of other things.

  3. Excellent post, Brian. I agree entirely with what you say.

    But I think what you are describing here is a fundamental feature of good business – online, offline, new world, old world and so on.

    I’ve written a bit more on this over at my blog, http://www.fourthirds.com/the-golden-rule-of-online-marketing-isnt-just-for-online/.

    I have always referred to this as ‘under promise, over deliver’ and ‘delight the customer’. Two simple tenets that when followed, rarely lead to disappointed customers.

  4. Thank you Brian! This is a great post for some of our clients who are challenged by that very question – how to sell more art. I’m going to share it with them right away!

    More and more I think this environment we find ourselves in (referring to social media/networking) is a space to create win-win situations – to manifest opportunities that are mutually beneficial. I appreciate the way you present practical ways to accomplish this.

  5. Oh, this is good. I give stuff away as it is, but keying in to the emotions people feel when they’re ready to buy can definitely help me choose other marketing opportunities. It seems so obvious, but it’s so powerful. Great post!

  6. maggie chicoine :

    Love it! Stories sell, and you just proved it once again. You had me right up to the TupperW comment at the end lol!

    I’ll bet that a few more nostalgia fans will be googling right after your unofficial endorsement.

    - Maggie

  7. What kind of Tupperware parties have you been going to??

    <>

  8. Good article! Social Media, if used correctly, can be a powerful tool to market your small business. But as you said, it must be used correctly.

  9. The day you make a breakthrough is the day you understand what you’re really selling. What’s the ultimate benefit people get from you?

    I do appreciate this, Brian. A very excellent central question and point.

  10. You are very right about connecting to people’s emotions. Like you said, you need to figure out what you are really selling. Why will people buy your product? What emotional connection are you making with them or benefit are you creating for them? There is always a deeper emotional reason as to why people do things and if we as marketers can figure out what it is for our product and apply it to our marketing, then we will see a much greater return on our marketing efforts.

  11. Brian, I started to disagree with you as I thought about the art I’ve got on my walls… that award winning cat painting in the living room. Not nostalgia I thought, but it captures the essence of cat for me (could be nostalgia, yes?)

    I love the story way you talk about our Unique Selling Proposition. I guess I’m selling self-worth to writers… maybe.

    Thanks

  12. Social media is a tough one for me to figure out. You helped with this article, but there is just so much stuff to go through each day, it’s hard to find the time to do justice to other people’s bites. Someone did find me on Twitter to do a live, unscripted interview in my nonfiction category, so that was great, and I’ve given voice to other people on my blog from connections on FaceBook, but I wonder if all the work keeping up with social media makes sense. I love your articles – always good substance and balanced thinking. Keep ‘em coming…you will, of course, that’s who you are. Thanks.

  13. I like the idea of moving the free line to introduce our target market to something they didn’t even know they desired. It’s not always about our primary product.

  14. Finally…

    Someone is describing the new ‘New’ use for social media:

    Social Media MERCHANDISING.

    After all, nothing happens until somebody Sells something…

  15. Brian – I happened to be writing an article on this topic for a specific industry. I was already working on the concept of “what are they really buying” – but you made me think more deeply about this. That is, it isn’t always a result the seller should be thinking about – e.g. the product or the experience that is created from that ownership. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than triggering the buying behavior that eventually creates that experience.

  16. Hmm, I don’t have much to add about marketing — this is great advice — but I think I have an idea how Daniel can make more money.
    I’d offer customized art. If he sells his standard piece for $150, offer an option to add a line of lyrics of the customer’s choice, add a small proof that this is a customized one-of-a-kind art specifically made for this customer, and charge $100 more.

    Brian, would you like a Janis Joplin vinyl art with your favorite line of hers on it, and tell everyone this is one special art in the world?

  17. “What are you really selling” is, really, the key question. It goes back to knowing the difference between how you can describe the physical thing, and what service that thing provides for those who buy it. No matter what it is, people aren’t shellin gout cold, hard cash for a thing, but for what it represents to them.

  18. Boy is your friend Daniel lucky – I bet he sells more art now! ;)

    Very helpful post – thank you!

  19. I like Akemi’s idea about adding a line of music to the artwork and charging more. If he has enough room he could also have customers send in a picture of themselves and add them along side the artist and really personalize it and make it special and charge much more.

    I liked his idea, I added a link to his website for my friends on facebook.

  20. Brian,

    Daniel Edlen could use your idea, package the albums in nice boxes (if he doesn’t already) and put various music trivia about the artist all over the box. He could even have the trivia text laser-engraved in the wooden boxes. Would make more great conversation pieces (I’m sure people are already conversating about the amazing album art itself).

  21. Brian;

    I’m not sure I agree with you on this one. You’re obviously the ideal person to buy his art work. You love rock-n-roll and you have disposible income (the proof is in the pudding – you actually bought something). Would you really subscribe to a rock-n-roll triva email and actually read it? I’m guessing you’re even busier than I am and I spend like 99.99% of my online time working or doing work related stuff – reading this blog is about as far as I stray from actual work.

    I’m not sure I have a better idea for him but it seems to me that people who are interested and willing to read daily rock trivia may not be willing to spend $175 on one of his pieces of art work.

    I looked at his site and I actually might buy one as a present for my wife. Maybe that’s a better plan – get featured on popular blogs like this since people who read this blog are probably closer to his audience. But again, I’m not sure people who read this blog would spend their valuable time reading rock trivia.

    One thing I’ve noticed recently while trying to promote an independent film is that if I send people a free copy they’re more than happy to review it on their blog. What if he emailed a few blogs like this one (where the audience has disposible income and are of an age that they would remember and appreciate vinyl albums) and gave away a free piece of art work on it. Then in return maybe he can give the blogger some information about his business and they can write a blog post much like you’ve done that targets their audience but also relates to the specific topic of the blog.

    The bottom line is I can’t help but think that what ever he did with you isn’t his best source of leads. I bet he makes a few sales from your mention of him.

    Just my two cents.

  22. Harold Tamayo :

    Bravo Briant, all content for business

  23. Anne, I didn’t say all art is driven by nostalgia and identification. I said Daniel’s art is. Be careful not to generalize one thing to another, even if closely related… too many people make that mistake and get lost.

    Ashley, yes… I would do the rock trivia thing. Because it’s quick and meaningful to my life. I’d probably not read Copyblogger though. :)

  24. This “struck a chord”;

    The day you make a breakthrough is the day you understand what you’re really selling. What’s the ultimate benefit people get from you?

    I don’t think I have a good enough handle on this. Very pertinent question I will need to ponder more. Thanks.

  25. Great post Brian. I spent the weekend persuading a couple of clients of mine to give more away. Their argument is that if they give everything away, why would anyone want to actually buy something. After providing several examples, including a couple articles from Copyblogger, they finally began to see how giving more of their expertise away is the best way to get more prospects interested in their services and ultimately increase their sales.

    In fact, because of our conversation, I actually had an epiphany of how to do a better job of giving more value up front myself and have outlined a new content creation strategy that has gotten great feedback from other clients and motivated me to spend more time putting our content together.

    Thanks again Brian!

  26. Great blog post! (Being the child of an Avon & Tupperware saleswoman, the Tupperware party metaphor was particularly entertaining!) I was just at Balticon this weekend, and we were discussing marketing in similar ways – particularly with authors giving away free bits of fiction to their audience and how, overall, it has invited more people to pay for more from those authors. Similar things have been: podcasts (about fandom, books, and the culture of the target audience), as well as book reviews and even running Twitter events that invite a bunch of fans/people of similar interest to get together for a discussion. :)

  27. Nice one, Brian! This giving away of things is a vexed issue for me.

    For years I gave away two decades of hard-won job ad writing expertise in a four-page PDF. All I got was a few email addresses, fewer thank yous and silence when I cheerfully followed up.

    I’ve now decided to sell that same document for $10. But for all I know, I’d be better off pricing it at $1000. We’re talking the distillation of an entire career here.

    This approach seems to be trial and error in its purest form. Is there an alternative? Or is that just the nature of Web 2.0? Best regards, P. :)

  28. I agree with Sami.

    The part that made my head spin and the part I added to my swipe file was, “The day you make a breakthrough is the day you understand what you’re really selling.”

    Thanks for that money maker. ;-)

  29. Hi Brian,
    My 3-year old blog aims to help visual artists sell more art. Since selling prints allows them to create continuous cash flow from one original output, I focus on it for them.

    Daniel is unique to a degree. His work appeals to a crossover audience where the loyalty and interest is deep. Witness your many musical pick contributions on blip.fm, and that of many others myself included.

    When an artist’s work visualizes another’s special interest whether it be motorcycles, pets, orchids, horses, poker et cetera, then it is easier to grab the attention of their potential clientele. Understanding that connection and leveraging it is what you are talking about.

    Your notion of rock trivia is novel twist. Certainly not what mosts artists would conjure up, and would no doubt generate attention. To make matters easier, and keep the subject matter closer to home. I suggest giving away Art Cards. There already is an active vibrant collectible market for ACEOs, (Art Cards, Editions, Originals) http://www.art-cards.org.

    Why not giveaway an Art Card as part of a promotion to win a full-size print? The contest could be to see who can submit the most unique way the Art Card is displayed. That would be fun and inviting. Done right, I know it would also generate invaluable publicity if properly handled.

    The point is to get of one’s own way and create different points of inflection to reach and influence a target audience. The more an artist controls their own promotion and distribution, the better off they will be in every way.

  30. Going back to the original golden rule “Treat others as you wish to be treated” – it holds true especially when what you’re trying to sell is not neccessarily material, ie, in the case of bloggers who are trying to ‘sell’ their blog posts and push their ideas, even if its given away for free.

  31. I write about how to create exceptional health and get into great shape along the way – a massive area when it comes to competition online. I’ve been trying to market myself through a bit of keyword use, but mainly writing really useful ‘what to do’ content, and the readers I do have say they love it.

    But I find it tough to draw new readers in .. after reading this article I’m now thinking my strategy needs to be more allowing the reader to see that I can relate to their weight loss/health struggles because I’ve been there. So, shared stories, the ups and downs of motivation. As well as all the how to stuff of course!

    Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this!

  32. Great Post. This is really insightful and using Daniel as an example really got your point across. It is always easier to understand when someone gives a scenario rather than just explaining. Think we will all take some tips from this, thanks!

  33. Brilliant concrete example of “selling the sizzle, not the steak”! Most of us understand that, when we buy big-brand-name whatzits, what we’re actually “buying into” is the image or lifestyle or emotion or whatever… but we do seem to struggle with applying that concept to our own products and services. Yes, of course, now that you point it out, it’s perfectly clear: what Daniel is really selling is nostalgia to rock fans. It just happens to be packaged as paint on vintage vinyl.

  34. Great article. I think the key that got a brief mention is selling the benefits not the features. And as Rebecca says a great example of “selling the sizzle, not the steak”.

    Who was it that said that again?

    Pat Bloomfield
    Wedding Photographer in Ipswich

  35. Great article! What I got out of reading it is that you must create an interest for your product or service, and that’s done through incentives (i.e. rock trivia, newsletters, etc…); it gets the attention of the customer and in turn, the customer returns to your site with a desire to buy or use your service.

  36. Social media is a good way to promote your business but you need to have something besides that. Relying only on SM will not get you far. For example, I never click on any side banner because I know people want to sell me something I don’t want to buy.

  37. In what context do you mean treating others well ??

    Like responding to comments or what ??

  38. Adding value to your target market is essential. However, it doesn’t answer the question of how to initially attract your target market. Using your example: Where and how would Daniel find a sizable audience to deliver rock trivia?

  39. Love the post about thinking why customers buy – if its emotion or necessity and it got me thinking about how to re-evaluate my customers and the reasons they buy. When I finished reading your post – I thought OK – try to find a way to connect to the consumer to facilitiate purchase – but, like in your post – once you develop the freebie – how do you get that in front of people that don’t know that they are searching for it. Then it hit me (I am very new to online marketing and content marketing) – that is the power of the medium – social networking sites – to get those freebies in front of people who may not know they need your products or services.

    Great post.

  40. I happened to be writing an article on this topic for a specific industry. I was already working on the concept of “what are they really buying” – but you made me think more deeply about this. That is, it isn’t always a result the seller should be thinking about – e.g. the product or the experience that is created from that ownership. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than triggering the buying behavior that eventually creates that experience.

  41. You are very right about connecting to people’s emotions. Like you said, you need to figure out what you are really selling. Why will people buy your product? What emotional connection are you making with them or benefit are you creating for them? There is always a deeper emotional reason as to why people do things and if we as marketers can figure out what it is for our product and apply it to our marketing, then we will see a much greater return on our marketing efforts.

  42. I like the idea of moving the free line to introduce our target market to something they didn’t even know they desired. It’s not always about our primary product

  43. I know I’m too late to the party, but the piece was so good, it gave a reason to discuss here at our place. Yes, selling something of value is selling an idea(l), an identification; a memory of something experienced in the past or ought to in the future… This is really a great insight that puts successful marketing and business in something above and broad than the narrow-minded desire to just sell stuff while mindlessly shaving things down somebody’s throat for it. For folks like us which their primary goal has never been becoming trade salesmen, the clarifying concept of taking money while aim to give back something more valuable, more humane and even sublime is quite refreshing.