“Should your content marketing sell or tell?” is the wrong question.
Some marketing professionals have gone ahead and offered in-depth answers to this question.
In my opinion, they’re answering this wrongly formulated question for one of two reasons:
- They view general advertising as the only true marketing model
- They view content marketing as serving only a particular marketing function (usually teaching)
Look, marketers should really recognize that content marketing isn’t new.
In fact, content marketing isn’t even content marketing.
Content marketing is just another word for marketing.
And this fact forms the crux of the problem with this question.
Should You Sell or Tell in Your Content Marketing?
I get why people ask it.
Coming across as salesy is something most business professionals want to avoid like the plague.
It comes across as pushy, tacky, and unprofessional.
But, on the other hand, you need marketing ROI.
So you have to sell.
What a quandry!
On the one hand, you can’t sell, because it’s tacky.
On the other, you have to sell, because that’s how you get customers.
When asked about selling vs. telling in content marketing, some industry professionals come back with:
- Teach, don’t sell
- Don’t sell your brand, tell your story
- Sell a lifestyle, not a product
These answers are silly .
Or misguided, to put it more politely.
They completely ignore one of the most fundamental, important concepts in marketing — the marketing funnel.
One of the most common funnel models is…
The AIDA Funnel
For those who don’t know, the AIDA acronym stands for:
- Attention (or Awareness)
This funnel describes a single pathway to purchase — a prospect becomes aware of a problem, gets interested in solving it, desires a solution, then takes action, usually by making a purchase.
Content Marketing Isn’t New at All … And Neither Are Its Methods
Soon after the printing press was invented, people began using the written word to sell. Brochures, pamphlets, books, newspapers.
Before that, you can even consider transcribed books as a form of marketing. After all, you’re spreading ideas via the written word, right?
Yes, today’s medium has evolved considerably.
But it’s aims are the same.
And it’s methods are the same.
In other words, as I said above, content marketing is just marketing.
Your goal in marketing … as it’s been for hundreds of years … is to move people through your funnel.
At each stage of the pathway to purchase, the objectives are different.
- Attention – Get attention and build awareness around the problem
- Interest – Generate interest in a solution
- Desire – Channel desire towards your specific solution
- Action – Compel action
Some people consider this model to be a bit simplistic.
And that’s fine — a discussion for another time.
But if current marketers throw even this simple model out the window, what does that tell you about their marketing model?
There’s one important takeaway from all of this:
Content Marketing Operates at Every Stage of the Funnel
If that’s true … if content marketing operates at every single stage of the funnel … hopefully you can see my problem with the question.
It shouldn’t be:
“Should you sell or tell in content marketing?”
A better question is:
“Where in the funnel do you sell, and where do you tell?”
“Which types of content apply to which stages of the funnel? And what are their objectives? And what does the complete funnel diagram look like?”
These questions are more precise, accurate, and the answers will be more profitable.
And I will explore the more in depth in a future article (subscribe to my newsletter to stay tuned).
Why I’m Making Such a Big Deal About This
If you’re shopping for content marketing professionals — copywriters, marketers, or content strategists — then their answer to this question reveals much.
It can illuminate their marketing method … their marketing model … their perspective of content marketing … what type of metrics they will use … how they treat ROI.
And, most importantly, whether your marketing philosophy agrees with theirs.