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Note: The following blog post originally appeared on the NewsCred blog and is republished with permission. Michael Brenner is a guest speaker at our upcoming webinar, The Secret to Killer Content Marketing.

We at NewsCred often get asked by our customers to help them create content that is more promotional, or that has a direct product tie-in.

Or as I’ve heard some executives huff: “we are in the business of selling stuff, ya’ know.”

Companies are mistaken to want content that promotes their products. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Content marketing must help the buyer. And in doing so, you help the business.
  2. Brands need to think and act like publishers. This means creating content people actually want. Then promote your brand and product “on the edges.”
  3. Promotional content simply doesn’t work. We ignore it and have become amazing filters of any content that is trying to sell us something.
  4. Customer-focused content attracts readers who read and share the content providing increased reach, conversion, and ROI.

What is content marketing?

At NewsCred, the definition we use for content marketing is the overlap between what brands want to say and what buyers are really interested in.

There’s a large amount of content that brands create that no one actually wants. And of course, there is a large amount of content that consumers are reading and sharing from their friends and publishers.

Today, brands pump out a ton of promotional material. And yet, when we are ready to buy, we seek out the information we need. This consumer-directed search means brands have to work harder to create more effective consumer-focused content.

Content today must compete with picture of babies and kittens. If you want your content to be seen, read and shared, it has to be helpful, educational, or entertaining content.

The biggest mistake in content marketing is making the content all about you. We love to quote one of the earliest leaders in content marketing, Ann Handley, who said that in content marketing you need to take your brand (or product) out of the story and “make your customers the hero of your stories.

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The biggest mistake in content marketing is making the content all about you. - @BrennerMichael


Effective content marketing seeks to help the buyer. In doing so, you gain their attention, their respect, and ultimately their trust. This trust is what leads to sales.

But try to add a product pitch or promotional tie-in directly to your content, and the readers start to run for the door.

Don’t Believe Me? Test It!

Back in 2007, I joined SAP to run an online lead generation program. The aim was to get more high-quality leads for sales. The natural instinct of the business was to push product brochures, thinking this would provide a smaller number of more highly-qualified leads.

My instinct was to get new leads through thought leadership content, research reports, and white papers focused on the buyers in our space.

So we tested this approach through publisher pay-per-lead programs. We gave publishers the content. They gave us the names and contact information of those who downloaded it. At one point we were testing more than 200 pieces of content across a dozen or so publishers. The results were clear:

Product-based promotional content drove almost zero response and no qualified leads. While customer-focused content drove, not just a higher volume, but also higher quality leads.

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Customer-focused content drives higher lead volume and higher quality leads. - @BrennerMichael


The responders of non-promotional content converted at a higher rate to new business that we could count as closed deals and cash revenue.

We also found out something else that was interesting: targeted content didn’t deliver more leads in the targeted audience.

What does this mean?

When we wanted leads in the retail industry, and pushed content specifically “for retailers,” even helpful thought leadership content, we received just as many leads in the retail industry as more generic, topic-based content such as “how to deliver amazing customer experiences.”

The lesson? You must understand the topics that are interesting for your buyers. Then publish content that seeks to help them answer their biggest questions, challenges and concerns. You topic will likely be broader than you might initially think, and your content will be much more basic than you might think (such as "What is content marketing?").

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Content marketers need to understand the topics that are interesting to buyers. - @BrennerMichael


The bottom line: if you want content that works—that truly drives leads and sales—create helpful, non-promotional content.

If you want content that gets ignored, try to promote your business or sell your products.

The promise of content marketing is to attract an audience versus buying it.

This is why leading brands like Kraft, GE and Red Bull have said that content marketing delivers a significantly higher ROI than their traditional, promotional marketing efforts.

Because when you earn your audience through effective content, you earn their trust. When they are ready to buy and looking for information about the products you sell, they will come to you before they go to the competition.

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