“Johnson, get in here.”

Johnson appears like magic in front of the CEO and snaps to attention, his hipster beard vibrating with excitement.

“We need a new sales strategy. I hear that this content thing is effective.”


“No need to shout, Johnson,” the CEO says. “Ok, get back to me at 4 p.m. with your strategy to make this happen.”

“SIR YES SIR,” exclaims Johnson, as the CEO shakes his head. And then Johnson leaves the office to Google “how to do content marketing.”

Everything Johnson finds points to how to capture emails and force visitors into the sales funnel. “Seems about right,” Johnson thinks. “After all, the goal is to increase sales. May as well lock those eyeballs into a newsletter so we can track their every move.”

And so at 4 p.m. Johnson presents a spectacular deck filled with facts and figures and tricks and tips, mostly provided by Hubspot, to convert website visitors into customers.

The company adopts these new tactics and starts pumping out content from departments system-wide. After a few months, the numbers start to roll in. Only, the numbers aren’t as good as Johnson and the CEO had expected.

“Johnson, get in here.”

Johnson appears like magic in front of the CEO and snaps to attention, his freshly-oiled hipster beard glistening in the morning sun streaming in through his boss’s window.

“Have you seen the numbers?”


“And what have you got to say?”

“I hear Snapchat is hot.”

When you’re following trends, you’re already behind the curve.

Yes, content marketing is hot. But not because of why you think. Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean they’re doing it correctly or even for the right reasons.

When you create content to drive sales, you’re just writing long-form advertising. Besides David Ogilvy, who in their right mind likes reading long ads? Hell, we don’t even want to read short ones. But when you write 1500-1700 words (as recommended by the experts) about the benefits of your widget while placing CTAs in all the right places to drive visitors to the funnel, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

When you write content to sell, you’re not fooling anybody. People don’t want to be sold. They want to be told stories.

I once worked with a client who wanted a billboard. I was excited because outdoor is one place where you have to draw on real talent to get people to notice and take action in as few words as possible. But the client had other ideas. After talking her out of using her picture in the art, she instead insisted that the billboard say as much as possible. There were two phone numbers, a website address, a photograph, a headline, and a line of copy. IN A BILLBOARD. The campaign was ridiculously ineffective, and I lost the client shortly thereafter. Because it was my fault. Had I let her use her picture, “it would have personified the ad and worked.”

When you fork over the bucks for advertising, there’s a natural desire to want that advertising to work hard. To do everything. To sell. You want ROI.

Only those are the worst kinds of ads. Despite our best intentions.

People don’t want to be sold. They don’t want to feel like you’re telling them what to do. They want to be told stories. They want to feel like they discovered you.

Stop selling. Strip away the CMO suit for a minute and write a post about an interesting facet of the organization like you were talking to a friend. Then do it again next week. And the next. In time you’ll have amassed a library of content that is 1) authentic, 2) relevant to your audience, and 3) (perhaps maybe most important) is SEO compliant.

Is it still advertising? Absolutely. But then again, every outward communication is a form of advertising.

If you’re serious about engaging in content marketing, don’t simply rely on tricks and tips to drive people to the sales funnel. And for crying-out-loud stop selling. Your readers are human beings, not cows to slaughter. Tell them stories. Be their friend. Relax when you write. Or hire a professional copywriter who understands the nuances of being human. Only then will you start to see results.


To learn more about sustainable marketing, read this postthen this onethen this one.


Life in the Fast Lane
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Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.