by Danielle Styles

I may be a copywriter, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of adverts.

There are exceptions of course. I find the cascade of multicoloured balls bouncing down a San Francisco hill pretty beautiful. And who hasn’t been won over by the drumming skills of that uber-serious, Phil Collins-loving gorilla?

In general though, I resent time-wasting interruptions to the flow of my day. I don’t like that feeling of being sold to.

When adverts fail

Ad-overdose. You’re probably all too familiar with it. I mean, how often do you have to comb through your emails, weeding out irrelevant promotions? I’m sure I didn’t knowingly subscribe to half the marketing emails that end up in my inbox.

And what really annoys me are those flashing banners that stalk you through the Web, regurgitating all the products you once browsed but decided against buying.

The problem with unsolicited ads is that they don’t necessarily have much – or anything – to do with the priorities of the person on the receiving end. Worse than simply ‘falling short’, misfired ads could end up having the opposite effect of what was intended. By getting in the way of what you’re trying to get done, they can transform from a temptation into an active turn-off. The brand becomes something you have to swat away like a persistent fly, or uproot from your day like a weed.

So unsolicited ads don’t work ?

It’s tempting to claim so, but it isn’t actually true.

The fact is that for decades, traditional sales copy (read direct letters, flyers and ads) has worked precisely by being hurled in the direction of people who haven’t asked for it, and might not be interested. And admittedly, these methods have prompted millions of people to purchase or take action. If you throw enough muck against a wall, some of it is going to stick.

But here’s the thing: you don’t need to throw muck these days. We’re living in a digital world – one that has opened up a far more appealing, and potentially far more effective – possibility. You don’t have to risk annoying people, because you can choose to market only to those who’ve chosen you. And you can motivate these people to take action by actually making their lives better.

It’s time to drop the gift of the gab, unslick your hair and ditch your used-car-dealer suit.

There’s a better way. It’s called content marketing.

What is content?

When we talk about content, we mean the quality written or scripted materials you give away as part of a marketing strategy. Content could take the form of blog posts, an entertaining video or an infographic. These days, content marketing tends to revolve around your own branded website, from which you distribute rapport-building goodies to your customers/supporters for free.

You need to hold something back for paying customers of course, and your content-giving needs to be woven into a smart, strategic plan that encourages people to become buyers or donors eventually. But the essence of it is that you get prospects on board by giving them something that enhances their lives.

Why content works for you and your customers

Today’s buyers are empowered, informed and – crucially – pro-active. They’ve got Google, so if you’re a great fit for their needs they’ll find you.

Having brilliant content means that instead of throwing lassoes into the (relative) darkness, you can deliver your sales messages to the prospects who’ve actively sought you out, and then – by drawing them back with regular updates – woo them over time by building rapport and trust. The better your content, the easier it should be for people to find you. Users who are engaged with your site will link to it more and spend longer on it, and it’s these stamps of approval that really curry favour with the search engines.

Get it right, and your target audience will no longer be trying to avoid your marketing. They’ll be actively looking for it, reading it and sharing it with others.

In contrast with the traditional, ‘single-shot’ approach of direct mail and cold calling – which place the prospect on the spot and push for an instant ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ – content marketing expands the timeframe for your target customer to say ‘yes’. It also completely transforms the relationship between you and them. You haven’t rudely interrupted their day; you’ve just made it better. This slow-burning, win-win relationship creates much more scope for a positive outcome than your average isolated sales pitch ever could.

Content marketing has worked brilliantly for high-profile brands like Lush, John Lewis and Prostate Cancer UK, and it can work for you too – as long as you apply the principles that make it truly effective. The next post on this blog will talk you through how to do it.

And come think of it, that drumming gorilla was less of an ad, and more a piece of content anyway.

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