In a previous article I contended that one must earn the right to promote, and the course of action one should take to win this right is by mastering the art of the “indirect appeal.”
The idea behind the indirect appeal is simple. You cater to a wide audience via valuable content whose appeal is tangentially related to your core line of business.
Sure, not everyone who enjoys your content will buy, but as long as you do the math correctly, the cost of producing said content will pay for itself.
Understanding that content marketing is analogous to publishing, and that great content must have generosity in mind is a good first step. However, the logical next step is to wonder what kind of appeals will work for your audience.
In this article, I highlight three beneficial approaches to developing worthwhile content that will drive results. Exceptional content should do any number of the following three things: educate, entertain or convince.
What’s The Right Appeal?
The right indirect appeal will depend on quite a few things. My last post dealt specifically with why I cannot give a “one-size-fits-all” approach; but to summarize quickly, it’s because there are simply too many variables that might affect which appeal will work best.
We’ve gone into quite a bit of detail regarding how to use content to build a brand with purpose, but the most relevant question that post brought to bear was “what comes first, the content or the purpose?”
The brand you decide to carve out for your organization, and the unique point of view that makes sense for you to come at content from will certainly vary; however, typically once you reach a consensus on what this direction is, the appeal you choose will come into focus.
Need an example? Canva is a content operation I’ve vocally lauded in the past, and in that piece I pointed out how they manage to marshall a variety of content types and channels to iterate and reiterate their core brand message.
Namely, the main thrust of their messaging is “to increase the world’s visual literacy.” A benevolent goal, no doubt; and one that means that, regardless of the medium they choose, their appeal will be educational.
That’s the idea here. People worry so much about which channel and which medium (because investing in different content creators for different mediums and strategizing for each is a lot of work for you) but for the consumer you’re only doing your job if they never think about any of that.
So long as they’re getting the value and you can deliver on that brand promise, then your job as a content marketer is complete.
Not because you’ve hit a quota for unique pieces of content created, or impressions garnered or social shares achieved, as those are vanity metrics.
No, you’ve succeeded because you’ve created value that didn’t exist before, and you’ve done so in the context of your brand. You’ve won in the way that so few marketers ever do.
You actually helped someone.
Appeal 1: Educate
While many of us might not look back fondly on our academic past, nearly everyone enjoys learning interesting new things.
Where most education falls flat is either in a poor match of subject to recipient or a lackluster delivery of material.
Luckily, you already know how your target customer thinks and feels and what their interests are. The two big jobs then are to identify potential areas of interest that appeal to your audience and then concept engaging, exciting ways to educate your viewership about said ideas.
Easier said than done. But luckily there is a whole burgeoning field of fantastic educational content springing up around the content marketing world.
The aforementioned marketing hot-shots over at Canva, have built a full-fledged “Design School” with constantly updated, interesting articles meant to educate its users (both potential and current) about how to become better artists and designers.
Another stellar educational content effort carried out on (what seems to be) a fraction of the budget of an operation like Canva’s is one built by a small, Iowa-based baking supply shop called Breadtopia.
With videos stretching back to YouTube’s early days (the first upload was eight years ago) that are still being updated consistently, Breadtopia’s clearly discovered a formula that works.
While the production values might not be all that high, the no-frills, highly actionable and instructive videos do one thing extremely well. They teach you to bake great bread.
And just like Canva’s content and appeal being directly inspired by their brand purpose, Breadtopia’s educational videos just make sense in light of their stated goal.
If we can aid in the development of a baking community—composed of new, veteran and constantly developing enthusiasts—all passionate about creating great, homemade baked goods, then we will count ourselves successful.
The videos almost never mention any products by name. Rather, in the process of learning how to bake you start to notice all the tools or ingredients you might not have. Since you trust the source of information you implicitly trust them to provide you the tools you need.
In this case what they actually sell is so tied into what they’ve already given you that going anywhere else doesn’t even enter your mind.
Appeal 2: Entertain
Everyone loves to be entertained, that much is hard to debate. Yet entertaining is likely the most difficult thing to do on this list, and it’s not always clear how to convert good will earned via entertainment into consumer interest.
One thing to avoid doing is falling into the trap of interruption marketing where you pull a bait and switch by offering up your own entertainment but having your product be an unwelcome non-sequitur.
Another related pitfall is to be so heavy-handed with inserting your product into the ad that it is just no longer funny and/or enjoyable anymore.
Achieving this balance, and making your product or service not just an add-on, but also not distracting is difficult to pull off, but works wonders when done right.
Stellar examples abound, but among the best in class is the work done on Pepsi’s YouTube Channel.
This most recent ad was a joint venture backed by multiple brands, but spearheaded by Pepsi. It succeeds in being funny on the backs of the star-power enlisted as well as a series of clever sketches all surrounding the various sponsor products.
The final touch that signals the self-awareness on the part of Pepsi is the final few frames.
By acknowledging the inherent absurdity of the whole production, it actually lends an air of authenticity. You feel goodwill towards the brands for entertaining you, but not annoyance that anything has been shoved in your face.
Don’t take my word for it. Just look at the top post in the comments section (this is YouTube comment’s we’re talking about here) and see for yourself.
In the world of YouTube comments, “decent” and “ad” never go together. This is remarkable.
Appeal 3: Convince
This final appeal feels the most like straight selling, but successful content using this approach will go for a far higher-level aim than simply hawking your wares.
Remember that content needs to be generous in order to succeed, meaning that taking a rhetorical stance with your indirect appeal will have to be about something bigger than your product.
The best examples of this appeal in the wild all focus on creating compelling intellectual arguments. What sets them apart from an educational appeal is that they have a clearly stated point-of-view that they are attempting to advance.
In my eyes, the absolute masters of this are the folks over at Apple.
Sure, Apple releases plenty of conventional commercials, and these are great. But where they truly shine, and where they win over their die hard fans, is with their much more expository content.
This video about the Macbook’s design is a great example:
This video might be educating users about the product and entertaining them with slick visuals, but all of this is superseded by the fact that the central goal of this short clip is to convince the viewer that great design matters. Apple can only defend their market position by dispelling the notion that they are selling “just a computer,” or that Macs are only popular because they’re “cool.”
Using their approach to designing a Macbook not as an opportunity to show off specs, but as a case study for how great design and obsessive care can elevate even the simplest things, Apple implicitly argues for their product’s superiority.
Once Apple has convinced you that design matters, then their products seem like the logical next step.
The simplest way to start creating impactful content is focusing on one of these approaches at a time, but it is important to note that some content can incorporate two or three of these approaches concurrently. Start now to see what works best to reach your audience.