Want To Be An Effective Content Marketer? Deliver More Than A Spoonful Of Sugar

Marketers and advertising agencies are making content marketing strategy a core component of the marketing mix. In a push for near-term results, some firms (and some platforms) are missing a key point: content marketing helps build relationships with audiences, and those relationships create the environment in which sales can occur.

Start with community

Best practice starts with relationships and the desire to serve a community. In “The New Red Bulls: Why Every Big Brand Is Launching A Media Company“, Tessa Wegert captured this requirement fully:

“If ROI is measured by leads generated and sales conversions, then marketers are missing the point,” [Elena Sukacheva, global managing director of content solutions with The Economist] said. “Owned properties create a relationship with the brand, and probably should be measured by longer-term metrics such as brand perception, brand identity, and increased loyalty.”

Weber profiles some up-and-coming brands that are using content marketing to create relationships with their target audiences. The companies include:

Content marketing strategy requires ‘a laser focus’

Across these and other brands, Weger found that successful content-marketing efforts could be characterized by a “laser focus.” The content marketing strategy identified a “unifying brand idea.” Content fit hand-in-glove with the spirit of the product or service.

Addressing an identified audience is key. In Weber’s post, David Beebe, Marriott’s vice president of global creative and content marketing, explained:

Our content becomes valuable to other distributors, mainly international but also U.S.-based, because it isn’t produced as an advertisement… It goes back to storytelling and understanding what that means.

Advice like this is neither new nor scarce, but many real-life content marketing efforts simply insert traditional advertising messages in a different package. These brands don’t want to develop a relationship, participate in a conversation or provide a service. They want to sell something, apparently right now.

Avoid ‘the spoonful of sugar’

I call this approach the “spoonful of sugar (helps the medicine go down)” strategy. Marketers provide enough content to attract an audience, then deliver a series of marketing messages as part of that content marketing effort. The results are neither sincere nor effective.

Consider “9 Ways To Break Free Of Your Toxic Life Before You’re Trapped Forever”. The post is surrounded by a series of ads for T-Mobile products, including a text block just below the photo that admits the content is “promoted by” T-Mobile.

With a headline like “9 Ways”, Elite Daily attracts people who are looking for ideas to solve real problems. Imagine how they respond when they find that tip #2 (“Renew your passport”) includes this clunky bit of advice:

With T-Mobile Simple Global, traveling and staying connected has never been easier.

And if that weren’t enough, imagine the reaction to tip #6 (“Get rid of useless commitments that do nothing for you”), which in part suggests:

T-Mobile’s Contract Freedom means your phone will be one less worry when you’re trying to cut the ties to your toxic life.

Content marketing failure

Actually, you don’t have to imagine. These two links to T-Mobile are the only hyperlinks in the entire post. Reader comments are pretty clear. Consider these two:

“Wow. Way to go elitedaily.com. You are the epitome of what a sellout is. This article was meant to inspire people to break the corporate chains of exactly what a phone company like T-Mobile stands for. I feel violated.”


“Wow, T-Mobile…..I mean the writer has some good points. However T-Mobile sucks!!”

No sophisticated analysis needed: this is what a content marketing failure looks like.

We operate in an environment that is increasingly transparent about things like price, features, quality, service and reliability. Consumers continue to grow more sophisticated about how to obtain and evaluate information as they make purchasing decisions.

Trying to shoehorn old-school marketing messages into content marketing vehicles is a mistake. It doesn’t work, and it will backfire. If you want to make effective use of content marketing opportunities, start with audiences, relationships and service. Deliver more than just a spoonful of sugar.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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