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What good is having a content marketing plan if it doesn't create leads and sales for you? The harsh truth is most content marketing strategies fail because content marketers have been given bad information about "what works."

Good stories don't cause sales. Engagment does not either. High levels of confidence in buyers (created by compelling blogs, videos, white papers, downloads, etc.) and clear, compelling calls to action do.

Here are simple guidelines to ensure your digital content always creates leads and sales by super-charging buyers' confidence in their abilities.

If you want more sales to result from whatever you're publishing make sure you are causing customers to become confident in themselves (as buyers). Because if you do this well enough prospects will ask you for the sale.

It happens to people like Rachel Farris all the time. Rachel works at a mid-sized Austin Texas based company called PetRelocation.com and is bringing in tens of thousands of dollars in new customers each month using Facebook and blogging. 

Do I have your attention?

The Power of Confidence

PetRelocation.com helps people relocate their pets. The company is a white glove service provider specializing in helping people in transition get their pets safely relocated to overseas locations. Pigs, horses, snakes, monkeys you name it PetRelocation.com will relocate the animal safely and securely with all the paperwork. Many foreign countries require extensive paperwork on pets and quarantining periods.

The more I got to know Rachel the more I heard about all the potential nightmares for pet owners. In fact, Rachel insists that she's not really selling a service. She says PetRelocation.com is selling confidence.

You see, many of her clients are scared stiff that successful relocation of a pet can even happen. They've got so many worries that ultimately Rachel says making the sale is not really about cost or the quality of services her team provides. The biggest obstacle to selling her service is getting her clients to believe that their pet can get relocated without stressful problems.

Bear in mind Graham's report this week on common success metrics used by publishers and notice the focus on quantitative outputs most content marketers expect. Visitors, time spent on site, page views. These are mostly advertising-oriented metrics that don't tell us much about the qualitative, experiential, goal-oriented ability of the content we produce.

Sell Your Experience

Most service providers find themselves in this exact situation: Selling an experience. Unlike selling a product (a near-term result), most service marketers sell a longer-term promise. So here's what Rachel does to meet the challenge.

Generally, pet owners are the kind of people who get excited when something really great happens to their pet---something like a successful relocation thousands of miles overseas. There's another thing about pet owners that's important to Rachel's social marketing success: People love to take photos of their pets and share them on Facebook.

When given a little bit of an incentive pet owners are happy to take a photo of their successfully relocated pet---actually being relocated by a named, PetRelocation team member---and post it on their Facebook page. Most customers jump at the opportunity to say thank you to Rachel's company for making something that, they deep down, weren't totally sure (confident) could happen... actually happen successfully!

Rachel uses the remarkable experiences her team delivers to creates confidence in prospective customers. She pairs this with calls to action that serve her business goals---creating more sales leads.

Create Confidence, Not Just Stories

There are a handful of ways you can approach effective content marketing plans (that create sales). The two most effective strategies are solving common problems (that customers have) and giving away mini-samples of experiences that relate to your product or service. This is the best content for blogs or any content marketing you publish.

Yes, yes, content marketing gurus... I can hear you complaining. You CAN tell a story as part of this formula; however, that story must be meaningful enough to provoke a response that gets the conversation going in a direction you can do something productive with. If you don't get the customer to respond to what you put out onto social media you're wasting precious time. I know some of you will cry "branding, Molander!" and I'm respectful of that. But I'm also in need of putting bread on my table too!

Response matters more than reaction (where customers share your content).

The most effective, practical way to generate sales with blogs, videos, download-able applications, etc. is to find ways to give confidence to buyers in ways that increase their ability to feel emotionally grounded and intellectually stronger... fully equipped to buy. Yet this is only step one.

Create Response, Not Just Branding

Buyers usually have questions and are seeking guidance before they buy. Or they're yearning for a sample that gives them a reason to believe (become confident) that whatever it is they want can actually happen for them---on time, on budget, without making a mess of the place or getting them fired. They want to be confident. They want to believe that someone (you) can make that something that they want actually happen for them.

Your content should spend some time telling a good story AND always give customers a reason to believe that it can happen for them---that they can act on. That's the part most people are missing.

Whether you're a business-to-consumer or business-to-business marketer there is power in making the buyer feel like "yeah, I can have this in my life... I can have this situation go in a direction that gives me a promotion or won't get me fired!" Or "I can get to that goal I want and get some help doing it the right way, on time and it without emptying my bank account." Yet without that call to action you'll leave your customer hanging every time.

Trust is the Outcome of a Process

The biggest beef I have with most of today's content marketing experts is this: In the end, they claim it's all about a good story when it's not. You can tell the most honest, interesting, moving story possible and never get the customer to pick up the phone, send an email, make an appointment with you, click to fill out a lead form... take an action. And that's just a waste of a good story! You've got to focus on the direct response marketing process piece.

Giving customers that sense of confidence is the best way to earn deeper levels of trust---espeically for service providers who court customers over time. Your business can leverage the same technique Rachel Farris uses on Facebook within platforms like LinkedIn or YouTube. It's mainly about exploiting the remarkably good experiences your account or customers service team provides.

Once again the secret sauce is actually not a secret. Making social media sell for you is mostly about getting back to basics. Sorry gurus but being known, liked and trusted enough to earn the investment of fickle customers demands giving them confidence in themselves, then giving them something to act on---not just telling a good story.

Jeff Molander

Published 11 October, 2012 by Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is a professional speaker, publisher and accomplished entrepreneur having co-founded what is today the Google Affiliate Network. He can be reached at jeff@jeffmolander.com. He is a regular contributor to Econsultancy. 

29 more posts from this author

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Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Couldn't agree more.

Confidence is the secret ingredient of all great marketing.

almost 4 years ago

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R. Lee

Hi Jeff
Great article overall. But one question remains: How do you actually increase the (self-)confidence of the potential buyers?
Best regards

almost 4 years ago

James Robinson

James Robinson, UK Brand Manager at Randstad

The page you've just read is a great example of confidence-building content marketing Ryan.

And I suspect the best advice is in one of the Reports at the bottom of the page.

So I guess the question is, are you now confident enough to pay for said advice and buy a report?

almost 4 years ago

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Mohamed Hashim

Terrific article Jeff. Couldn't agree more that Confidence comes with experience, being true, responding and ultimately building trust. Expectation setting and meeting also help build confidence - I'm sure you agree.

almost 4 years ago

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Mehdi

You just gave me confidence for my next content marketing plan, thanks!

almost 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Consumer confidence comes when you convince your audience that you can deliver on your promise. PetRelocation says they'll get your pet to your new home with little hassle (which is a big promise) and they deliver every time. That kind of track record speaks volumes and makes the next customer a little more confident that you'll be able to do the same for them.

almost 4 years ago

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Jeff Covert

Exactly - what you are selling is always an emotion, not a product.

People buying home security systems are buying the feeling of comfort and safety, not a bunch of wires, plastic, and blinking lights.

In my case, people buying websites certainly aren't just paying for a bunch of code and jpgs, lol.

Telling stories is only one of many tactics used to "paint a picture" of what a product or service will do for someone. And as you note, it is often overused and misused.

Nice article, good breakdown.

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Hi, Ryan (at least I think it's Ryan) since James is addressing someone as Ryan...

First, no... I'm not trying to build your confidence so you'll buy a report from eConsultancy although it would probably be a good investment.

In this case, I am not aiming to build your confidence. We're too early on for that. What I AM doing in this post is baiting someone to ask the question you just asked... so I can continue that conversation with them. Ultimately I want to have this conversation... so as to bring you toward one of my paid products. [I confess to practicing what I preach!]

We marketers get invited into this conversation with prospects, as you just demonstrated. All we need is to demonstrate enough relevance (given you a new perspective on something, as I'm trying to do) to build credibility.

Once that's achieved NOW our goal (my goal) is to create an environment where we can elicit an action (among readers).

Now is when I am *allowed* (by the reader) to begin to foster trust by actually giving readers of this article that confidence. Make sense?

I'll write more on this in future posts but the way I am giving people confidence (as a business owner myself) is by exchanging "how to" information (specifics on how to avoid content marketing that fails) for the chance to have this very relevant, meaningful (to you) conversation over a bit of time.

Translation: I hope to earn people's curiosity to the extent that they'll ACT: Become a follower via my email list. To earn that action I use "ethical bribes." (www.econsultancy.com/us/blog/5836-successful-web-marketers-are-publishers) These give-aways provide a LOT of details on the answer being sought. Again, all aimed at building confidence that I can use to serve myself AND my customer with.

I, myself, use a free online training course---that gives-away the specifics to the answer (you just asked) AND (more importantly) helps prospects begin to take action on it.

Contrary to most of what I read and hear at conferences these days, our goal as content marketers is to convince customers to come on a journey with us. Actually DO something together. THEN we need to provide some results in advance (of what we hope will be a purchase). This involves giving SOME satisfaction, not full satisfaction mind you.

Can this involve a story? Sure. But it's not the focal point. The focal point is to create an action and nurture the lead (create confidence).

Myself, I aim to increase the confidence of my potential buyer by actually coaching them (for free)... actually helping them take action on a problem that relates to their bigger goal (one that aligns with my paid product).

This way one's product/service becomes a next step in the journey. Some prospects literally come to you saying, "that worked! thanks... what's next?" (hence, they ask YOU to for the sale)

So thanks for asking! :)

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Wow. I think I just posted an article. Sorry about that! As you can see I'm eager to share what I've learned.

And thanks to all for the comments.

@Nick and Jeff: Indeed. NONE of this is new. It's classic, time-tested stuff. That's why it works.

Personally, my opinion on content marketing is that it's become a buzzword. Considering it is no different than "contract publishing" or "custom media" of decades past. At its core, effective content marketing does the same thing as these ancient practices!

almost 4 years ago

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Christoph Trappe

Insightful post. I agree with much of this, though, it feels a bit like storytelling is getting a bid of a bad name here. But either way...

This is great:
"Your content should spend some time telling a good story AND always give customers a reason to believe that it can happen for them---that they can act on. That's the part most people are missing."

This is one reason why we share stories of people helped AND donor stories at United Way of East Central Iowa.

Here's how your dollars make a difference. Here's how it makes donors feel. You can feel the same way.

Thanks for the thoughts!

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Christoph...
Thanks for keeping me honest. I admit, last time I took on this topic I was a bit over the top. Folks in the content marketing community spoke out publicly and privately to me--re: my coming down too hard on storytelling. I think the quote you pulled offers more balance and makes my point more clearly.

Your success reminds me of how this credit union created 32,000 leads in 2 years using the same essential technique... playing on social recognition. In this case it was teachers (the credit union's clients).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KayGYFiR2dg#t=08m38s

Thank you for sharing your success. I'll be interested in profiling (interviewing you) you if you're interested... and assuming you mean "you can feel the same way" resulted in verifiable future donations.

almost 4 years ago

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Colleen Jones

Hi Jeff,

Savvy points in your article. For sales lead generation, content educates and advises to build customer trust, or confidence, around the need or problem. It's not enough to explain the need or problem. You have to prove or show that you really do meet the need or solve the problem.

Now, there are all kinds of opportunities for stories to help build that trust. In your example, a testimonial from a satisfied pet relocation customer is a story that supports the goal of building trust. The testimonial helps show that successful pet relocation really is possible and, better yet, possible with PetRelocation.

While I agree that trust or confidence is a quality, it *can* be measured--just not with web analytics. That takes other kinds of evaluation, such as a survey or set of interviews when you're developing the concept. And, ultimately, improving the qualitative should lead to better quantitative performance. For example, if I like what PetRelocation is saying about the possibilities for safe pet relocation, I'm more likely to engage with more of PetRelocation's content.

almost 4 years ago

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Steve Wasiura, yes man at Waztech

Hi Jeff,
At first I was confused why you were saying "give buyers more confidence in their abilities".

I thought it was supposed to give buyers more confidence in YOUR abilities to deliver the product or service.

It must be "giving buyers more confidence in their decision to buy from you"?

Especially in a corporate environment where you might get in trouble if the vendor you buy from really screws something up and your boss blames you. but it probably also applies to the husband who buys something for take-home dinner and the wife hates it.

-----

I also like your comment about the attraction phase. You've written this article to attract a prospect to the concept your are putting out there, and to get them to engage with you by asking a question, which indicates they are interested and they are inviting you to talk more about it (the complete opposite of interruption marketing).

-----

... and I like the part about providing some results for free, ahead of the actual transaction / sale / start of service. You give SOME satisfaction, but you're not giving away the whole product / service for free - you still need to make money to buy dinner.

-----

I joined your website's email list to learn more.

almost 4 years ago

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Max Almenas

Jeff,
Thank you so much for posting this advice. Last December I decided to quit my job, train for my first Ironman (IMNY) and start a triathlon website with a friend based on the inspiring stories of people overcoming great odds to become Iron men and women.

Had we read this back then we would have realized inspiring stories and videos are not enough to attract advertisers. We didn't identify our audience, we didn't address their need for us, so we didn't create an opportunity to build confidence.

Now we're thinking of taking a hybrid approach by producing video commercials for local businesses and triathlon content.

But building a bridge between the two looks like a challenge if we have to build confidence.

Are we trying to be too much to too many or is it possible to create a niche to stand out from the crowd?

Sorry for the long post/question.
Thanks,
Max

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Wow, Max. Outstanding production quality. But I'm unclear on what it is you're trying to sell?

I see the honey you've been using to attract the bees. And I see one big opportunity that you ARE aware of but are not (yet) fully exploiting:

Experience.

What you've got to "work with" (in terms of what you're **really** selling) uses experience to achieve the confidence. You probably have opportunities to use a problem solving approach too... again, to build confidence.

Confidence=the end goal. Because the bridge from confidence to trust is a short one. Once you have proven to prospects that you can give them:

1) honest to goodness confidence and
2) skills

... needed to achieve their lifelong dream / end goal. Well then, you are golden. What you're selling then becomes a "next step" on that journey you've already begun to experience with the prospect.

Am I making sense?

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Sorry, Max. I just realized... your revenue model is advertising? This could be VERY difficult and is not my expertise.

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Hi, Steve...
I LOVE your visual branding. Outstanding!

You understand what I'm describing precisely. And yes the applications of this are far and wide. Anyone who buys needs a certain level of confidence in themselves as buyers. Marketers, today, are forced to be the source of that confidence.

This is the essence of "content marketing" and is what's been at the core of effective contract publishing or custom media for DECADES.

See you over in comments in the video training!

almost 4 years ago

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Steve Wasiura, yes man at Waztech

@Max
you should learn about Lean Startup, how to start your business with minimum waste, by talking to customers about their needs before creating your product/service.

there is a free online course from author / millionaire Steve Blank at http://www.udacity.com/overview/Course/ep245

Maybe you'll discover that your blog reader want a motivation coach to push them and support them, when they can't afford a in-person coach. Perhaps advertising is too much horse-before-the-cart, since most advertisers won't spend unless you have lots of eyeballs.

almost 4 years ago

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Steve Wasiura, yes man at Waztech

@Jeff
Thanks. I originally did that on LinkedIn to stop recruiters from bugging me, but it is my true personality - I like to have fun while working.

Plus it makes me stand out from all the other peacocks parading about, showing off how pretty they think their feathers are.

almost 4 years ago

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Max Almenas

Hey Jeff,
Thanks for the quick response. Originally, we took the "if you build it, they will come" approach - "build it" meaning inspiring triathlon content, and "they" meaning advertisers that make triathlon products.

But we learned advertisers will only consider content websites who generate mega hits per day. We're a small fish in a big pond. And we haven't figured out how to make our content go viral. (no piano playing cats or kids doing stupid stunts)

Our next project is a commercial for our chamber of commerce. We think it will give us an opportunity to sell our video production services, highlight local business, and build confidence by delivering on our promises.

I guess we can use previous projects to showcase our skills. I just wish we could have found a way to make the triathlon site profitable.

Thanks for your time.

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Max...
You might consider USING that content, Max. The revenue model is simple: customer acquisition and product sales for related products. You provide leads for high-ticket products & services relating to tri-athelets.

Are you familiar with Vega? You likely are. Steve's use of content in your industry is one of the best I've seen:

http://www.thrivein30.com/sign-up-now/

The only weakness I see in your content is that there's nothing really to do with it as a viewer/reader. It could be far more actionable... like the Thrivein30 content. Surely there's something you can teach or a skill you can help people build that relates to a purchase they'll ultimately make.

I hope this might give you something to think about. Otherwise your plan B sounds good... your production quality is excellent!

almost 4 years ago

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Mark Weyland

The tips mentioned here to make content marketing a major success for any company is simply awesome! I especially liked the point where the writer suggests to sell confidence rather than services, which everybody sells. I have always seen that once your customers get that much needed confidence in your abilities to help them when they need you, they will always like to seek your help in the long run. So I believe that selling confidence is what is needed to be done by companies worldwide.

almost 4 years ago

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Social Regina

Thank you for making me understand the nature of content, better. More often than not, authors mention the vital nature of content but do not provide good examples. You made it very clear and doable.

almost 4 years ago

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Build Selfconfidence

Really Nice!! Confidence has a great power.

almost 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Hi, Mark...
I honestly believe that this is really big news for most of us in social media marketing--this idea of selling confidence. It is at the core of what successful selling has been about since the beginning of consultative selling.

Selling to an impulse or immediate need is easy. But these days customers have MORE choice and MORE places to (here's the biggie) GET FREE INFORMATION (get confident) than ever before.

The opportunity for marketers is to step up and BE that fair and balanced source... to be that trusted guide. Is it the right strategy for every business? I'm not sure but I can tell you that for first movers like those I profile in my work it's a huge asset that pays dividends over time. Yes, it requires constant investment and upkeep but in many cases marketers have blog pages that net new customers over long stretches of time. Fine-tuning their free, consultative, educational lead-nurturing programs only boosts that.

over 3 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Hi, Social Regina...
Well, I've taken that job on as how I earn my keep and feed a family these days--so I'm glad to have offered you such clarity. I appreciate your kind words and I'll continue to work toward giving clear examples of real-life successes.

On the subject of do-ing this stuff, I invite you to my free training course at http://www.socialsellingbootcamp.com

over 3 years ago

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