Offering free content attracts customers

Offering free content may seem counterintuitive when the goal is to sell, but educating consumers -- not just selling to them -- is better for a long-term marketing strategy.

As companies strive to get value from marketing campaigns, giving content away may seem contradictory.

Companies can develop more lasting relationships with customers by doing more than just selling. Educating customers and using content to inform them develops trust and can forge longer-term relationships.

This excerpt from Valuable Content Marketing: How to Make Quality Content Your Key to Success by Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton shows how giving away useful free content to consumers as well as sharing content from outside sources is a net gain for marketing strategies. Jefferson and Tanton lead Valuable Content, a content marketing consultancy and training business based in the U.K. In this excerpt, they discuss the importance of free content to a broad-based marketing strategy.

The valuable content marketing approach means producing content that provides independent value to those who receive it, whether or not they choose to buy from you. This means giving away some of your hard-earned knowledge and ideas for free, in the spirit of generosity. Now, business and generosity might not seem natural partners, but when it comes to creating content, the more you give, the more you will receive.

You might disagree. Selling goods and services to make a profit is surely at odds with giving valuable stuff away for free. Stealing a march on your competitors is miles apart from working with others toward a joint goal. And besides, generosity is such a fluffy notion. You don't want to be Gordon Gekko; you know greed isn't good, but there are limits.

The notion of reciprocity is rooted in human nature. In her book Webs of Influence, psychologist Nathalie Nahai explains that if someone gives us something, we are hard-wired to feel like we want to give something back in return. "We have evolved to value reciprocal exchanges at a very deep level. If you want your customers to 'like' you, give them something to like you for," Nahai wrote.

And so, too, does this work in business. If you give useful, free content that helps a customer to think differently, that customer is more likely to give you their time and attention. In the course of researching great businesses for this book, we see a strong link between success and sharing. Millions of businesses say they care about their customers, but it's only the ones who put those words into actions by being genuinely generous and helpful that show it. And when you show it, you reap the benefits: more referrals, deeper loyalty, more sales.

Action: Be generous

Three things you can do today:

  1. Give away something so valuable for your customers it hurts.
  2. Share some content you wish you'd created, but that was created by somebody else.
  3. Write a detailed blog post that helps one client who you know is struggling with a tough challenge. Don't just scratch the surface; write it as if you had time to tell them all the things you know would help them.

Human values and successful business -- that's not a contradiction. Despite what you see on TV shows like The Apprentice, back-stabbing, trying to steal a march on your colleagues, shouting loudest and giving everything 110% (at least) isn't the way to get ahead in business. Treat people as you would like to be treated and you will see greater success.

There is of course a time to 'sell' -- and that is when the customer is ready to buy. Even then the hard sell, close 'em down approach has had its day (if it ever had a day at all). The best salespeople are helpful sellers.

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