Give something away for free. This is the timeless principle that every sales process depends on. Whether you’re giving away a sample, lead magnet, or the salesman’s knowledge.

This idea has blown up on the internet. Marketers are giving away everything they possibly can just to get a tiny bit of interaction from their site visitors. The result is that thousands of websites offer downloadable checklists, ultimate guides, and complete toolkits.

This means that traditional content marketers are in a commodity business. We all have more or less the same information, methods, and goals. To win you need to be bigger, faster, or just plain lucky. Things you can never count on.

For content marketers to pull away from the competition and have a meaningful impact on sales things need to change. Here are four ways to do it in 2020.

1. Build a brand not an offer

89% of B2B marketers say brand awareness is the most important goal, followed by sales and lead generation. - Content Marketing Institute

Traditional content marketing says, “if you build the best offer you’ll win.” But, that’s far from the truth.

Who are you more likely to trust when it comes to SEO? Moz or your local web design company? When you’re looking for authority content to read, Moz will almost always win. It doesn’t matter if the local company did more research or has a better offer. Why? Because their brand isn’t as trustworthy or renowned as Moz.

To starting fighting this battle, the local web design company could:

  • Align messaging across its site and strengthen its brand identity.
  • Build its service offering around a meaningful value or ideal.
  • Generate brand awareness and respect through guest posting, interviews, and PR work.
  • Become the experts in a very tight niche, then start expanding toward Moz-like fame.

These actions will make their brand stand out from other local web design companies. Prospects that learn about you from an article on Forbes will be much more likely to trust you than those coming in cold from a search page.

How does this differ from traditional content marketing? The difference is your focus. Your focus should be on producing content that enhances your brand and its reputation and not just getting conversion or being an optimization junky.

This requires careful forethought. You need to know what you want your brand to be before it can become it. If you feel at a loss, then consider running a brand sprint. It’s the fastest way to get back on track.

2. Be unique

"The content of your articles and blog post should be new, fresh and original. It should add something to all the junk that’s already out there on the internet." - Yoast.com
A unique bicycle with watermelon tires.

Having a hyper-clear purpose and an interesting format can be all it takes to stand out.

Traditional logic says if you want your post to rank higher than the competition, you need to make it 500 words longer. In fact, most content marketing experts will recommend that today. Here’s why it will eventually fail.

Another company will see your top ranked post and write a longer one. Conversely, a stronger brand with more domain authority may swoop in and steal the top spot from you with a smaller post. When you’re playing the word count game it’s only a matter of time before someone outranks you. To be competitive your content needs to be unique.

What exactly needs to change?

  • Don’t spin content. Spun content will eventually fail as Google gets smarter and you’ll have to start your efforts from scratch.
  • Write content that wins because it’s different. Either it covers different points, offers a new approach, or provides meaningful inspiration. Take a journalistic approach to add more creative juice to your content.
  • Make your content persona-driven instead of keyword-driven. Keywords may help you rank, but you’re selling to people and not Google. Write with people in mind.
  • Ensure that the content is high caliber and is worth your reader’s time.

You may think these ideas are obvious or that being unique isn’t really possible. In that case, consider Jake Knapp’s Medium post on the brand sprint process (previously referenced). This post was shared with me by the owner of a successful design firm (virality). Since then, I have referenced it in my book, multiple blog posts, social media, and email. Now, my company offers brand sprint facilitation as a service and requires it as part of a content marketing retainer. I’ve yet to find a post to rival or replace Jake Knapp’s original brand sprint post.

Creating truly unique content and coupling it with a powerful brand will beat optimization and other technical tricks every time.

3. Make your offers no-brainers

"The $50 off coupon generated 170% more revenue than the 15% off coupon, and its conversion rate was 72% higher." - Entrepreneur.com

An email address for an e-book used to be the standard exchange rate. Now there are millions more e-books and more or less the same number of email addresses. This is called content inflation.

To keep your sales funnel full of marketing qualified leads, you need to do one of two things:

  1. Offer content on a topic that’s high value and hasn’t been covered by anyone else.
  2. Offer content or a small service with serious monetary value so that the exchange rate shifts from an email address for content to an email address for money.

The second option is easier to use in competitive markets. Since most content marketers are dealing with heavy competition, we’ll focus on the monetary value offer.

  • What do your potential buyers need in order to save time or be more effective at their jobs? Answering this question will help you choose what to offer. For example, a content marketer might offer a content marketing calendar template that populates based on values entered by the user.
  • What would you normally charge for that service? If you’d normally charge $500 to create a custom content calendar, then place a value of $500 on the download. Now your prospect views entering their email address as earning them $500.
  • How should you position the offer? Positioning the offer correctly is absolutely key to this process. Don’t use the old-school “get my free marketing toolkit ($5,000 value) for free today!” Instead, build in transparency. If you have a rate sheet, then link to it. Make it clear that you actually charge money for what you’re offering and you’re not just making up an inflated price to increase conversions.
  • What’s the catch? After you give away something valuable for free, you need to be able to sell the prospect on something else. What’s the next thing they’ll need to move closer toward their goal? Someone who downloads a content calendar template will need help writing the content. Use the information you collected to cultivate the lead and then make your offer.

HubSpot is good at this method. Their site is full of templates and other high value offers that have a more meaningful impact than an e-book.

Using this approach can make your content marketing stand out since you’re changing the exchange rate and the way prospects view your offers.

4. Create a brand voice

“Fully connected customers (emotionally connected) are 52% more valuable, on average, than those who are just highly satisfied.” - Harvard Business Review

The one aspect of branding that most people overlook is their brand voice. Probably because they don’t know what it is or why they should care about it.

So, what is a brand voice? It’s the unique way that your company communicates using words. Just like Ernest Hemingway and Dr. Seuss are both great authors with totally different voices/styles, companies can distinguish themselves from the competition by having a great voice.

Here’s the problem: even if you personally have a great voice that’s unique and enhances your brand, it’s not enough. Eventually, other people will start writing for your brand and they’ll bring in inconsistencies that will destroy the voice you’ve cultivated. To stop this, you need to create a brand voice that everyone can apply and follow.

If you’re interested in developing a brand voice, then what should you do?

  • Define your audience. Buyer personas and market research will help you understand who you’re talking to and what type of voice is appealing to them. When your voice appeals to your audience that’s an instant win.
  • Define your core values. Companies need to build themselves on values and vision. If you don’t communicate these effectively, then you’re another commodity competing on price.
  • Examine the competition. A brand voice is useless if it makes you sound like your competitor. For it to be effective, you need to stand out and cut through the noise.

Once you’ve done this basic research, you can start putting together a brand voice style guide. This topic deserves an entire post, so I’ll link to my method for creating a brand voice style guide here.

How to make your content marketing effective and powerful

The traditional ideas on content marketing are starting to become less and less effective. To pull away from the competition, increase sales, and build loyal customers, you need to be better. You need to stay ahead of the curve.

To help you do this, we’ve created a workshop for brands that aren’t afraid to stand out and lead the market. We call it our Rogue Inbound Workshop.

This workshop is right for you if you want:

  • To clearly define and differentiate your brand
  • Marketing decisions focused on strengthening your brand
  • Content marketing customized to your company’s needs
  • Marketing to match your unique product or approach
  • Less aggressive, more effective sales

Learn more about the process, timeline, and price here. You’ll be able to view the pitch deck and cost without entering an email address and you can request a brief call using the learn more button.

We hope to talk soon and help you change your content marketing for the better.