A friend of mine runs the entrepreneurship program at a top 10 University and one of my favorite pastimes is asking him about the latest and greatest studies coming across his desk. He that special brand of strong dramatic flair for stories and never, ever disappoints.
When we met up for coffee recently, he asked me if I'd heard the one about the car sales people. I hadn't - so I happily sipped my caramel macchiato and gave him the floor.
"What is the single most effective action a car salesperson takes to make a sale?" he asked. I felt like this was a trick question, so I racked my brain, but I couldn't come up with anything awesome. "Um. They knock down the price? They upgrade something? They add some kind of benefit? They give the customer a longer test drive - I don't know..."
He shook his head grinning, then let me off the hook.
"So you've looked at cars for hours, taken a test drive, and you've almost settled on one, but you're still in the negotiation process. You're tired and are about to make a decision, when the salesman says, 'Are you thirsty - do you want a soda? Let me get you something to drink." Then he reaches into his own pocket for change and asks you what you want from the vending machine."
This study his university had conducted showed this action to lead to significantly more sales. "Why?" my friend asked. "Because the salesman reached into his own pocket - which sends a subliminal message. He's done something nice for you that shows he 'cares,' so you subconsciously feel that you owe him."
We both laughed at the ridiculousness of this story. Yeah, you buy me a one dollar soda and I buy a $20,000 car from you - fair trade! Unfortunately, that feeling of obligation is very real for a lot of people, but once they figure out they've been played, it's not likely they'll be referring their friends.
Using tricky psychology might work for salespeople once or twice - but is entirely short-sighted. If you want regular, loyal customers who refer their friends - you have to genuinely invest in them.
According to a study by Price Waterhouse Cooper, 62 percent of people trust brands less and Meaningful Brands Study reports that 73 percent of people wouldn't care if brands disappeared. Perhaps its because they're tired by "sold" at every corner - whether subconsciously or otherwise.
As a writer, I've had the opportunity to interview many leaders and marketing pros at very diverse, high growth companies. The one thing they all have in common is a vested interest in the customer journey (the way that their potential customers interact with their brand). Some recent examples are Blue Apron, whose team is passionate about helping families learn how to cook together or Dollar Beard Club, whose team is committed to celebrating manhood. Both of these companies exploded in a very short period of time because they truly cared about their audiences and conveyed that through their content.
One of the reasons that content marketing is so important is that it gives your company a platform to be of value to your customers and to show your commitment to them. Less effective brands fill their blogs with sales pitches and company news - while their more successful counterparts create on-brand, entertaining content that empowers the readers with knowledge - whether or not they choose to buy.
As you develop your own content marketing strategies, think about your audience as if they were your younger sibling. Give them the knowledge they need to make the best buying decisions possible - and don't end it with a sales pitch about your company (making this whole action the equivalent to reaching into your pocket for soda money!). Just give them good, solid information or advice. You might not make a sale tomorrow, but its not about that. It's about building a solid pipeline of loyal followers who are happy to refer their friends into your network - making your sales potential even more powerful.