Early this February, I wrote a blog telling the story of my LinkedIn post that went viral.
The short, organic post that went viral was a rant about cold sales pitches. Too many people were connecting with me on LinkedIn only to flood my inbox with these money-grubbing pitches. Fed up, I posted a rant that ended up garnering over 1,000 likes, 287 comments, and over 85,000 views.
Naturally, that visibility made a lot of haters crawl out of the woodwork, but the post was also flooded with positive comments and genuine questions.
One question, in particular, caught my eye. It went something like, “So, you don’t pitch EVER, or sell EVER?”
My answer? No, not really.
And this question made me think deeper about it all.
Our focus at Express Writers truly is on serving our customers first.
That rings true from our blogs and content, down to our sales team (which are not actually made up of salespeople, but content specialists and managers who focus on helping, instead of selling).
Even our live on-site conversations with ‘hot leads’ are focused on helping and serving, rather than selling.
This value-first, serve-first mentality goes hand-in-hand with content marketing. Content marketing is value-focused marketing. A content-focused marketing approach is our #1 way of driving qualified traffic to our site, earning leads, and making sales. I have leaned into content marketing because I love it, and because it WORKS — we have seen amazing things happen because of our audience-first content focus in marketing.
This content marketing mindset has trickled down into almost every aspect of what we do at Express Writers — and that’s what I wanted to write about today on the blog. How a serve-first mindset really, truly can equal brand growth.
Delighting your customers AND growing your bottom line? It’s possible. Read on.
Our focus is on serving our customers first. That rings true from our blogs and content, down to our sales team. More on #valuefirstmarketing via @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
The Growth of a Value-First, Serve-First Content Marketing Approach: Your Consumer Wants You To Care About Them
Content marketing as a whole has been growing rapidly.
A Technavio market research analyst forecasted the content marketing market to grow globally at a CAGR of more than 16% from 2017-2021, according to their latest report. By 2021, content marketing is set to be worth over $412 billion!
According to Ujjwal Doshi, a lead analyst at Technavio for media and entertainment services research, content marketing’s effectiveness is because of the lack of effectiveness in traditional marketing. What do you know — today’s consumer is savvy, and can’t be fooled into buying something!
“The effectiveness of traditional marketing is decreasing by the day. Companies must adopt the latest marketing trends to enhance their business and increase their consumer base. Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that is focused on creating and sharing valuable, consistent, and relevant content to attract and retain the audience.”
As a whole, content marketing is first and foremost about the customer, NOT about the brand. And this is why it’s growing at such an incredible rate and being adopted by upwards of 90% of B2Bs. According to Content Marketing Institute’s definition, the whole point of content marketing is actually to “attract and retain a clearly defined audience.”
They go on to say:
“Instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing truly relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers to help them solve their issues.”
This is a big shift from traditional marketing and advertising, where it’s all about the brand pushing their message out to consumers. Instead, with content marketing, the consumer has the power to discover and connect with brands and content that suit their needs.
And that’s what today’s smart consumer is looking for in a brand or marketer. Someone that cares about them.
Content marketing is first and foremost about the customer, NOT about the brand. And that's what today's smart consumer is looking for in a brand or marketer. Someone that cares about them. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
Unsurprisingly, the rise of content marketing has happened alongside changing buyer preferences. Shoppers don’t like pushy sales pitches, ads, or impersonal marketing according to studies by Accenture, BigCommerce, and SnapApp & Heinz Marketing. The latter study even found that most B2B Millennial buyers are sales avoiders, and will avoid talking to sales until at least the middle of their buying journeys.
Modern buyers have the internet and social media at their beck and call to help them find information and make purchase decisions, so their buying journeys are more independent, self-directed, and unpredictable than ever.
This quote from the BigCommerce study showcases how buyer expectations have changed:
“Millennials have grown accustomed to speed, convenience, and a personalized online shopping experience. However, Gen Z has never known shopping without these. They’re more brand agnostic and very wary of brand promises.” – Erik Christiansen
In other words, trust and loyalty are harder to win than ever, but today they matter more than ever.
Consumers today are more discerning, smarter, savvier, and more resourceful. They have the internet to help them make informed purchases. They can smell a sneaky sales pitch from miles away, and they know when brands are being inauthentic.
That’s why we need to serve our customers value before we do anything else. We need to focus on building trust and loyalty rather than selling. It’s what they want!
How do we do it? With a content marketing strategy built on the right framework.
Lifecycle Marketing: A Framework for Targeted Content Marketing
Luckily, the concept of lifecycle marketing fits in perfectly with a content marketing mindset.
When you think of the buyer’s journey in terms of a lifecycle versus a sales funnel, you can more accurately predict what they need/want at each stage, including after you’ve won their loyalty.
A traditional sales funnel doesn’t show that part of the journey, let alone what you’re supposed to do to keep delighting loyal customers. The only way to go is down and out, and once customers purchase (and thus leave the funnel), they’re often forgotten.
In contrast, tracking leads and customers in a marketing lifecycle also helps you track their journey to loyalty and beyond. The goal is to nurture leads and encourage them to keep trusting you — not just get their money. And, of course, you build loyalty and trust with value and service, which content marketing is all about.
For proof of how well a value-first, serve-first mentality works, we’re going to look at 5 brands that champion it — and probably owe their success to it. Let’s go.
5 Examples of Value-Driven, Service-Oriented Brands Getting It Done
1. The Honest Company
The Honest Company, Jessica Alba’s eco-friendly company, is a great example of a value-first, serve-first brand. It all starts with their products, which are universally loved for their quality, gentleness, and natural/sustainable ingredients.
Their content on the Honestly Blog is also value-forward, offering useful and helpful guidance for moms, parents, and women of all ages.
Their activity in the comments on their Facebook posts also attests to their dedication to their customers (and their customers’ trust in their brand):
2. Trader Joe’s
Another brand putting customers and value first: Trader Joe’s.
(The people at BuzzFeed agree.)
On Twitter, you can see evidence of the grocery chain regularly delighting customers:
This was at an Austin Trader Joe’s. pic.twitter.com/jR1haMXgdL
— Fred Garvin (@StonersH8Trump) February 13, 2019
I’m never leaving Trader Joe’s lol pic.twitter.com/cdjic1GCbC
— Mariah Vasquez (@mariaaahlove) February 13, 2019
The message featured in the tweet below appeared in one of their Fearless Flyers (a mailed newsletter that describes all the new and fun seasonal products coming to your local TJ’s in mouth-watering detail – A.K.A. content marketing!).
It not only plainly states “We love our customers” – it also shows how Trader Joe’s listens to their feedback seriously.
Kudos to Trader Joe’s! Reponding to customer concerns about plastic packaging, they are replacing plastic packaging in their produce department with #biodegradeable alternatives, eliminating one million pounds of plastic from their stores annually. #PlasticFree #BeTheChange pic.twitter.com/RiEKmDEKsH
— Steve Englebright (@SteveEngles) February 14, 2019
Finally, don’t forget Trader Joe’s Recipes, a blog where they bring you delicious dishes using their signature products:
Source: Trader Joe’s February Fearless Flyer
3. Book Depository
Known and beloved by bookworms all over the world for their vast selection and free delivery on ANY order, Book Depository is another brand prioritizing the customer.
For starters, their homepage is like browsing a well-organized bookstore, which is nice if you don’t know exactly what you want:
Plus, in every order, they slip in a free, custom-designed bookmark. Since most readers I know always need something to hold their place, this is a nice little perk.
On their Twitter account, Book Depository keeps the bookishness going with regular fun polls, discounts, literary quotes, and lots and LOTS of giveaways.
Bookshelves are any book-lover’s pride and joy, but what is the best way to organise your collection? Vote below! 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/IDKl3gPP0i
— Book Depository (@bookdepository) January 31, 2019
— Book Depository (@bookdepository) February 13, 2019
🌟To raise awareness of #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek, we’re giving away 5 copies of @gavinoattes and @beingbrilliant‘s Diary of a Brilliant Kid, thanks to Wiley! 📔 To enter, simply RT & ❤️! Ts&Cs: https://t.co/SyzecNQQI5 pic.twitter.com/ZD9IgJnEag
— Book Depository (@bookdepository) February 4, 2019
As a result, Book Depository as a brand feels very personal and approachable – much like the clerks at your favorite bookstore. That’s because, from free shipping to free bookmarks, book lists, recommendations, and bookish conversations, the emphasis is always on the book-loving customer.
Another brand with a serve-first, value-first approach embedded into its name is Magnolia, the umbrella name for Chip and Joanna Gaines’ sprawling empire.
If you’ve never heard of Magnolia, maybe Fixer Upper might ring a bell. The hit show appeared for 5 seasons on HGTV. During that time, the Gaines family established Magnolia as a brand with a heart, values, and a customer-first approach while showcasing timeless design.
After the show ended, the Magnolia engine didn’t stop. It has since expanded to include a quarterly magazine, a line of home goods for Target, and collections of furniture, rugs, wallpaper, paint, and more sold online and in various home stores across the U.S.
You’ll find evidence of Magnolia’s value-driven approach in their Manifesto. Lines from this mission statement grace their websites as well as their magazine:
The focus on customers is also really obvious. In the Magnolia Home brand guidelines for retailers, there’s even a section about how to serve them:
“Show kindness and exceed their expectations”. “Go the extra mile”. “Show respect for the customer’s time”. “Make a positive impact”.
All of Magnolia’s content reflects value (and strong values), from their blog to the Magnolia Journal, to Joanna Gaines’s various books.
On Magnolia’s Facebook page, you’ll find much of the same. If you scroll through any of the post comments, you’ll find devoted fans and followers expressing their admiration, or even spontaneously sharing the recipes they made from Joanna’s cookbook:
When customers express their love like this, you know the brand is doing something right.
5. Express Writers
Last of all, we’re throwing our company into the hat because we strongly believe in putting value first. We lean into the content marketing mindset and focus on serving value before selling.
A great example of that in action comes from our team leader, Korilynn. Even during sales-oriented Drift chats, she cares about having real conversations with our leads.
In 2016, I ditched the commissioned sales model altogether because I found it brought in salespeople to our team who were wallet-first, not customer-first. In contrast, when we focus on serving the customer, everyone benefits.
That’s also why we work so hard to create the best content we can. It’s a major part of serving our audience and providing value.
As a whole, it’s about building relationships, retaining customers, and growing their lifetime value. Happy, delighted, loyal customers are worth it – they give back as much as you put in!
A Value-First, Serve-First Mentality is the Way to Grow Your Brand in 2019 and Beyond
Today, customers are actively looking for brands they can trust.
Trust is a big deal because the internet is full of shady deals, slimy salespeople, false information, fake news, and scams.
When you’re a beacon of trust in that dark forest, people will flock to you. Online buyers want to invest their money in smart purchases. They want to use their resources to find brands that give them the best experience of value and service.
Value first. Serve first. Start here, and your brand foundation will be stronger for it.