Content Marketing or Direct Sales? You Need to Do Both

Last year, a friend of mine switched over from using an exclusively outbound marketing strategy (cold emailing and cold calling etc.) to an inbound marketing strategy, which involves content marketing.

While a greater percentage of his leads became more on-target for his business, a year later he told me that his number of qualified leads overall went down.

“That’s why you need to do both,” I told him.

Many people are not sure whether they should focus more on putting out content on social media and other platforms or on trying more traditional, direct, interruptive sales approaches to get new leads.

The truth is that a new business needs to do a little bit of both. To be sure, I’m not advocating spam or cold-calling, both of which are not only annoying but ineffective as well. Being respectful of other people’s time goes a long way and you never want to be labeled as “that guy” or gal who is always trying to push the sale on people who don’t want to be hearing from you.

For the record, I firmly believe in content marketing, which entails sharing content that provides value to the end-user usually without asking for the sale. This attracts leads to come to you rather than the other way around. Content marketing is an approach focused on building long-term relationships and boosting customer loyalty rather than on short-term “conversions” and one-time transactions.

Inbound marketing, of which content marketing is a part, finds customers where they already are e.g. on Facebook, reading articles, scrolling through LinkedIn etc. and gently pulls them in rather than interrupting them from another activity, such as a TV show, and pushing their message at them. Inbound marketing allows you to appear in front of people already looking for what you offer. These approaches are much more effective than outbound, especially today when most people are not receptive to interruptive advertisements.

Content marketing is slower in the short-term, but it helps you build brand, which is the key to achieving long-term success. Doing the hard work of relationship building and branding will help you win more sales in the long-run.

However, it takes time to build a presence and amass an engaged following that’s large enough to sustain your business. Therefore, it’s important to try outbound approaches as well. This doesn’t mean you put content marketing and building your social media presence on the back-burner. Since the results are cumulative, the right approach is to be creating content and engaging with your audience online even while you’re simultaneously winning the quick, immediate sales and leads in a more direct manner through email, calling, DM-ing, and more.

While you need the short term sales to build ca$h flow, don’t get seduced into outdated, ‘spray and pray’ tactics. Don’t cold call. Going in raw/cold without doing any research to learn more about the person you’re contacting is a big mistake and unacceptable in a world where you can easily do a quick Google search or look them up on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram to see what they’re interested in. There are also many useful tools that can help you find more targeted, qualified leads or connections.

Even when using outbound tactics, reaching out to people directly through calling, emailing, or LinkedIn messaging, you can still formulate relationships by targeting more qualified leads and genuinely seeking to help them and offer value.

A common mistake people make is they go for the short-term sales without doing the leg-work of putting out relevant content on social media and building real relationships. They neglect taking important actions that don’t translate into immediate monetary results, but can help them win big over time.  Many businesses then blow the money they earned from sales on hiring people they don’t need or worse, on unnecessary luxuries. Instead, use the money you make from those immediate sales and use it to invest in your content marketing, enhancing the quality (e.g. better video production) and building your online presence.

If you do both content marketing and direct sales, each approach will compliment the other. Your short-term sales will generate the cash flow necessarily to help you to strengthen the quality of your content creation and enable you to hire people who can help you improve it. Meanwhile, your content will warm up your leads and make them more receptive to your message, priming them for the sale whenever you finally decide to ask for it. Your non-sales content then serves to ensure that your ad spend will go further, saving you time and money. When you put out great content and interact genuinely and authentically with your audience, then you won’t even have to do much “selling,” because people will already feel a connection to you.

The Biggest Failure of the US Education System

The other night, I was walking through my neighborhood in Brooklyn when I overheard some teenagers talking outside a grocery store. One of them said to the others: “X equals Y. When do you use that shit in the future? Tell me when.”

I couldn’t agree more, kid.

Our education system suffers from a massive lack of practicality. Students are not taught practical skills and they are rarely ever shown how they can translate what they learn in school into anything of relevance or “real world” value.

Let’s take algebra and most high school-level math as an example. Only a small subset of the population will ever need to use it. And, yet everyone is forced to study algebra and gets graded on their performance. These grades may impact their future college and job prospects.

We are failing students when we continue to score people’s intelligence and abilities based on completely nonsensical metrics like how well they can solve an algebraic equation or regurgitate a motif in a Shakespeare play. Often, the only ability a standardized test is good at measuring is one’s ability to take a test. Ouch.

We now know that there are many different types of intelligence and the way we grade in school is completely passé. Grades are an egregiously poor indicator of how smart a person is or how well they will do later in life after school.

Yeah, that’s right. I said egregious. Stick it up your ass, SATs.

In my current field — content marketing — where I never have to use any algebra or trigonometry whatsoever, I focus on creating content with the purpose of engaging an audience of potential customers. We center all of a brand’s communication around the needs and wants of its target audience. If educators figured out a way to provide their students with educational content tailored and customized to the needs of their students, way more students would be thriving. By creating engaging and student-focused content, the education system could provide a lot more value to students.

Of course, this means a lot more work for teachers and administrators, so it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. To be fair to them, a lot more depends on politicians and we all know they are so great at getting shit done. Hah. Good luck with that.

Instead of an outdated, one-size-fits-all education model where we’re all taught the same subjects and graded the same way, we should be focused on teaching each student according to their unique abilities and interests, helping to steer them toward success. To borrow from a source of ancient wisdom with modern-day relevance, King Solomon wrote: “Teach a child according to their way.”

(And to all you Grammar Nazis out there, it’s perfectly acceptable to use “their” instead of his/her when trying to keep your language gender-neutral.)

The absolute biggest failure of the US education system (and probably all education systems) is this: We force kids to spend more time, energy, and focus on what they’re not good at instead of helping students double-down on their strengths so they can hone and develop their talents. Rather than nurturing a student’s passion or natural aptitude for a certain subject, we squelch it and make students do more of what they suck at and hate doing. Schools do this because they’re preparing students to pass more exams in order to meet quotas instead of preparing kids for life or a future career.

On a personal note, there was no need to make me sit through hours and hours of remedial algebra focusing time and attention on something I’ll never use again or be great at when that time could have been spent developing my talents and translating them into practical skills. “Math lab,” as they called it, was a complete waste of my time, my teacher’s time, and your tax dollars.

Now, I know what some of you critics will say:

“We need to expose people to a broad educational curriculum before they can discover where their interests lie.”

Sure, but there’s a way to accomplish that without making it into an exercise in futility. Let’s be honest. By the time you’re in high school, and for some, it’s much sooner, you already have a pretty good idea of what general areas (math, reading, writing etc.) you’re strong in and what general areas you’re weak in. We can expose people to different disciplines without killing their curiosity and thirst for learning, punishing them when a subject is not their “thing” with bad grades, remedial classes, and erroneous judgments about their intelligence or work ethic.

Others will argue that everything we learn in school is valuable and serves a practical purpose, even if indirectly. For example, reading literature can develop critical thinking skills and algebra can improve logical reasoning.

All true, but a lot of other things can also develop those skills AND provide real-world, post-graduation value. Furthermore, if you want to argue that many of the subjects taught in school are valuable and necessary, then I would ask why you don’t deem many things that are not taught in school, such as time management, leadership skills, and how to manage money effectively valuable and necessary enough to be part of the curriculum. With so many people in debt in this country, educating people about money should be a top priority of educators. Sadly, it’s not.

Still, some will say all knowledge is good and helps to develop us as people. Without taking a position one way or the other, I’d counter that if school is supposed to shape you as a person, then don’t give out grades. Failing a class doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a human being.

In the higher grades (and maybe the lower too), we have the concept of electives. Electives are classes that are often a hell of a lot more interesting than the general requirements. They are taken on a volunteer basis, usually by students who are interested in the topics. The problem is that much of what we teach should really be offered as electives and much of what students actually need to learn is not taught in school at all.

Worse, if a student is failing in a subject, they will make the student spend extra time on that subject and prevent them from taking electives in areas where they might excel. So instead of letting students take a course that would enable them to pursue an interest and possibly find a career path, they force students to spend more time and attention on something they’ll never need.

Scoring by the metric of lifetime value, the education system deserves a big, fat F.

Do I Need Social Media if I Have Word of Mouth?

If you’ve built a successful business, chances are many of your leads come from the referrals of satisfied clients or customers. Some businesses have done very well with little or no advertising.

Every now and then I’ll hear a business owner express doubts about investing in social media, or even marketing altogether because most of their business comes from word-of-mouth. There is then a resistance to putting money toward marketing, which is totally understandable. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

However, the success that comes from word-of-mouth can also lull you into a false sense of complacency and prevent you from growth, which leads to stagnation and long-term business failure. And even if the customer-base is loyal enough to keep the company in business, the business risks leaving a lot of money on the table by refusing to market. Good can always become great and great can always become better.

The most important thing for today’s business owner to understand about social media is that social media marketing is word-of-mouth marketing. Social media simply magnifies and amplifies your word-of-mouth, harnessing its full potential.

Traditional advertising attempts to pitch products and services to the audience. It’s a one-way, broadcast style of communication. Social media, by contrast, allows a brand the opportunity to meaningfully engage in two-way communication with its audience. Social media helps you not only attract new clients and customers but also stay in touch with current ones.

By consistently providing value on social platforms where your audience is already spending their time and attention, you can make a genuine connection with them, converting prospects into fans, fans into customers, and customers into loyalists.

Word-of-mouth has long been the strongest form of marketing. Most people will be far more inclined to try a product or a service that has been vetted and recommended by a trusted source, such as a friend or a third-party expert over an advertisement.

When a brand speaks highly of itself, you think: “Duh, of course, they say that.” When a friend of yours has had a good experience with a brand and tells you about it or when an individual whom you trust, such as an influencer, recommends it, you’ll be much more likely to choose that brand over a competitor.

According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report published in 2015, 83 percent of online respondents in 60 countries say they trust the recommendations of friends and family over advertisements. And, according to data from Musefind, an influencer marketing platform, published in 2016, 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or a traditional celebrity endorsement.

Creating a community on social media may not provide immediate or directly traceable ROI in the short-term, but over the long-term, it will get your brand in front of more people and build brand equity, which you can leverage in powerful ways, reducing your new customer acquisition costs and receiving more repeat business.

Social media allows you to see your friends’ likes and interests as well as which brands they follow. Friends see posts from brands that their friends of engaged with, allowing branded content to spread virally throughout the Internet. Friends who see that their friends like, follow, and trust a brand, will be more positively inclined to try the product or service for themselves.

Social media is not a replacement for word-of-mouth. Social media has simply restored word-of-mouth to its rightful and lofty place in the marketing universe. With over 47% of customers using AdBlock technology and tuning out or fast-forwarding advertisements, word-of-mouth has become more important than ever before.

Social media channels are places where brands can seamlessly mix into the conversation. Remembering that social media marketing is a conversation is key. The number one mistake most brands make on social media is treating these new channels as one-way broadcasting platforms where they attempt to push out their marketing messages, much in the same way they do on TV, radio, or in print.

Social media is where people go to converse, catch up, get information, or find entertainment. Users don’t want to be interrupted with ads and sales pitches. By creating content that blends in natively to each channel and respects the nuances of each platform and provides value to the audience, brands will delight current customers and fans who will engage with the content and spread it to others.

Furthermore, people are going to talk about your business regardless of whether or not you have a strong social media presence. Social media is a valuable team player that helps your business win on both offense and defense. By having an engaged fan-base on social media, you’ll spend less time and energy on reputation management, deflecting negative comments or poor reviews. Instead, you’ll have an army of loyal and passionate brand advocates who will step in, engage, and help spread your message for you.

Responding to both negative and positive comments on social media makes your audience members feel valued. It feels special to be recognized, especially when so many businesses seem to take customers for granted and are slow to respond to questions and comments. Engaging with your audience makes your brand more human, relatable, and trustworthy. Additionally, most millennials, in particular, value transparency and are wary of brands that do not put themselves out there on social media and authentically engage.

So, if you were hesitant to invest more into social media, now you understand that social media will provide an added boost to your word-of-mouth and allow your business to grow and reach new milestones.

And, don’t get hung up on worrying about what kind of content to create and share on social media. With each piece of content, simply keep in mind how you can provide more value to your audience. This approach to content will help you create an inspired, engaged community of people who share your values, passions, and vision. Of course, if you’re still having trouble, feel free to reach out to me in the comments below.

Did you experience positive word-of-mouth as a result of your social media marketing efforts? If so, how did you do it? What could you have done differently? 




How Do You Know When You’ve Found Your Passion?

While it may differ slightly for every individual, I think you know that you’ve found your passion when…

You love it so much that you forget to eat (some say when you forget to shit).

When I was in school, my favorite subject was lunchtime. School was not my passion.

When I worked for other people, it was nice to get out of the office and grab some food or to take a lunch break. I wasn’t so into whatever it was I was supposed to be doing.

When I’m forced to do anything I don’t want to do for an inordinate amount of time, I start to get hungry or sleepy or bored and usually, I start mindlessly checking my phone scrolling aimlessly until someone tells me I’m being rude. It doesn’t take a lot to bore me, so please don’t take offense.

However, when I’m writing or doing some sort of creative pursuit or get involved in a self-started business endeavor, the opposite is true. I enter into this almost trance-like zone (Don’t let me get in my zone, cuz I’m definitely in my zone). Everything else seems to fall away. The notifications beep and it’s almost as if I don’t hear them (unless I’m involved in an interesting conversation and that’s why I’m getting notifications).

Sometimes, it can be hard to get time to pen a blog post or shoot a video, but when I actually sit down and do it, I get sucked in. All in. When I do client work or write something for a client on a subject that I find interesting, I go into a similar level of hyperfocus. When I’m putting thoughts to paper (or screen), I can lose track of time. I forget to eat. If I have to go to the bathroom, I hold it in (or continue working in what I like to call the corner office). Not to get graphic, but keeping it real. I think that’s a sign that writing (and creating and entrepreneur-ing) is my passion.

One thing I’ve been slowly learning as an entrepreneur is that I cannot and should not do everything and that it’s ok. It’s good to delegate areas in which I’m less proficient or less passionate to others. And, even though I’m not at a point where I can do much delegating, the process of doing nearly everything myself is helping me gain awareness of what I’m interested in doing and what I should delegate or outsource in the future.

So, what’s your passion?

If you’re not doing it, why not? If you’re not pursuing your passion at least as a hobby, then it’s probably not really your passion. Don’t call yourself a writer if you barely write or an artist if the last time you created something was back in high school and now you’re 40.

If you would like a shot at being able to do your passion for a living or as a side-hustle or simply as a means of sharing it with others and connecting with like-minded people, then the best thing you can do is create content around it. Maybe it will find an audience. Maybe it won’t. But, if it’s your passion, then you now have the tools and the access to share it with others and potentially even get recognized for it. Furthermore, if you create content around something that’s your passion, it will be more authentic and people will pick up on it. Your passion will be infectious.

Creating a blog, vlog, or a podcast about your passion or interest may lead to speaking gigs, brand sponsorships, and free stuff. Or, it may simply enable you to meet and connect with others into the same thing. Either way, you now have the ability to explore your passions and interests and showcase your thoughts or creations with many people quickly and easily. Creating and publishing written, video, or audio content is far easier and cheaper than it ever was before.

So, take a chance.

Skip lunch and go do something that takes your mind off food.