Brand Strategy

Content Marketing vs. Sales: Don’t Confuse the Two

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Ellie Pierce

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Content marketing vs sales

I recently got an email promoting a LinkedIn webinar. The subject line: “Win Big with Employee Advocacy.” This email subject line alone caught my eye.

(Nice work, email subject line writer!)

The email copy described a live webcast, “How to Increase Your Content Reach and Engagement through Employee Advocacy.”

“That could be useful,” I thought. Increasing employee engagement is something I’ve worked on within every brand and organization I’ve worked for since … well, since the advent of social media.

The copy of the email suggested we’d get insights from LinkedIn data and learn:

  • How employee sharing can enhance your marketing goals
  • How to launch your own employee advocacy program
  • Real life best practices and success stories from [redacted company] and LinkedIn

Ok, I might already know some of that, but I’m always open to learning more. So I registered and invited a few of my fellow Content Posse folks to join me.

What did we get? The useful, actionable webinar they promised?

Nope (cue sad trombone).

We got a little basic information—not even 101-level; I’d call it remedial—and a lot of sales pitching for a new LinkedIn platform that’s purportedly helped [redacted company] get great employee engagement on its marketing content.

This wasn’t content marketing, this was sales.

Content Marketing vs. Sales

Now, I don’t want to knock the team who put together the LinkedIn webinar. It was a decent webinar. The problem is, they put together a decent sales webinar, and I wasn’t expecting a sales webinar—no mention of this new LinkedIn product was in the email describing the webinar.

The problem as I see it: Whoever created the email promoting the webinar seemed to think the webinar would be a content marketing event, not a sales event.

So what’s the difference between sales content and content marketing?

Here’s the difference:

Content marketing exists to help people.

Sales content exists to help people make a decision to buy something from you.

Your goal with content marketing is to give something good away—for free—in order to build brand equity. You don’t try to cash in that equity immediately. In fact, you may never try to cash in that equity.

You may not sell anything to the people who consume your content right now, but maybe next month or next year, they’ll be buying. And hopefully they’ll remember you already helped them—for free.

So they’ll think kindly on you, they’ll think of you as an expert, and they’ll seek you out as a potential source of the solution to their problem.

User Experience Matters, Even in Your Marketing

Very few things gall quite as much as sales content that tries to dress itself up as content marketing. It’s simply bad user experience.

And user experience matters, even when you’re marketing and selling.

What do I mean by that? Pay off what you promise.

So, don’t compel me to click on an ad for a sale item and then take me to a page where I can’t find that item. Give me what you promised.

If your banner compels a click by offering a recipe, serve up a recipe on your landing page. If there’s a coupon, make it easy to find and use, even if I’m on a mobile device.

If your email promises actionable advice backed by data, give me actionable advice backed by data.

Understand Your Customer’s Journey

All of this is to say: Please don’t send me an email promising to teach me how to launch an employee engagement program and instead spend an hour selling me a product that mayyyybe could be a part of that employee engagement program.

That’s not what I came for. And it’s not giving me a positive impression of your brand.

Instead, try this: Think about your potential customer. Think about the problem you’re trying to solve for that customer. Think about how they feel, what they need and what their specific problems are at different points along the way to buying your product. Then think about where you can meet them during these different points in their journey, and how you can provide value to them where they are.

This is called channel planning. Done well, it helps you avoid doing things like serving up decision-making content to customers who are barely in the awareness phase of the funnel.

Ellie Pierce

Can execute figurative cartwheels, just not the literal kind. #NopeForever

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