Walk Softly, But Carry a Big Schtick

by jdn74 on September 30, 2011


Gallagher’s Sledge-O-Matic is a pretty big schtick.  It’s also a pretty big stick, but that’s another matter altogether.  The point is that Gallagher’s trademark violence toward watermelons is such a well known act that people show up for his performances in rain gear or other protective clothing because they expect to get splattered.

What do your prospects expect when they show up for your content?

Do they have any expectations at all?

Are they even showing up?

If not, maybe it’s because you’re not providing any value.  Gallagher makes his fans laugh and generously provides them with a serving of fresh fruit. That’s his schtick and people are still showing up to see him after 30 years because they get something out of it.

But humor is an easy sell, you might argue.  Who doesn’t like to laugh? And what does this have to do with content? Well, Gallagher isn’t the only one embracing prop comedy.  By now, you’ve probably heard of the viral video marketing success of Blendtec’s Will it Blend campaign.

In 2006, Blendtec started a video campaign featuring their founder, Tom Dickson, attempting to purée various items – everything from avocados and super glue to iPhones and laser pointers – in one of their commercial blenders.  To date, their YouTube videos have received over 170 million views.  Sales are up well over 500% since the campaign began.[1] One of my favorite installments is below:

I’m not arguing that your content has to be funny or entertaining (though it doesn’t hurt), just that it has to be relevant and meet a true need that your customers have.  The approach I’m recommending is often referred to as the “soft sell.” In a BtoB article, Russell Kern describes it this way: “Soft offers … are low in sales commitment. They provide a high level of perceived value and are often educationally oriented.”

There is a time and place to push for the sale, to make the “hard sell,” but only a fraction of your potential customers are ready to buy at any given time.  If you don’t want to alienate everyone else, then mastering the soft sell is the way to go.

The soft sell goes by many names – content marketing, inbound marketing, branded publishing, relationship marketing, to name a few – but what they all have in common, like Kern describes, is they provide value. It doesn’t have to be funny, but it does have to be useful and help your prospects improve themselves, their lives, or their jobs in some way.  At the heart of the soft sell is the principal of attraction – drawing people to you and your business – as opposed to promotion (traditional advertising), which is pushing yourself and your business at them.

Why do I recommend this?  Well for one thing, it’s cheaper.  A recent report by Hubspot finds that inbound-generated leads cost around 62% less than outbound-generated ones. But besides actually being cheaper to produce and manage (think blogs and social media as examples), they also avoid alienating prospects who aren’t ready to buy “right now.” Soft-selling allows you to keep them in the sales funnel, coming back for the great content you provide, until the time they are ready to buy from you, which may ultimately be because you’ve proven yourself such a trusted resource.

To bring it all back around to success stories (which are a great form of soft-selling and the subject of this blog after all), for a fraction of the price of a full-page ad in a journal such as Technology Review ($21K, 4-Color, approx. 470K audience)[2] you could hire a freelancer to produce a 2-4 page case study for your product.

This case study, with the right distribution strategy, would not only be cheaper than a promotional ad, but would have a much longer shelf life because it could live on your website, or blog, or other channels for as long as it was useful, instead of the 1-2 months until a new magazine or journal issue is published.  And as I’ve shown here and here, the content of that case study can be repurposed in a variety of ways that extend its life and its value for both your business and your prospects.  Tack on a strong call to action, and the case study can lead your prospects to a webinar or white paper or product demo or your mailing list – all of which can (and should) deliver even more great content and continue building that customer relationship.

So make valuable content your Big Schtick. It may not be as much fun as smashing fruit with a large mallet, but if you do it right, it will still nourish your customers and keep them coming back for more all the same.

As always, the comment form is below. Add some value to this post by sharing your thoughts, or by sharing a good joke.  And speaking of sharing, if you found this content useful, use the buttons below to Pass it On …

[1] Get Content, Get Customers by Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett (p. 5)

[2] http://www.technologyreview.com/media/TR_Printrates.pdf



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