One of the best books I’ve ever read is Simon Sinek’s "Start with Why."

The premise of Sinek’s book is that before we do anything, we need to understand our motives. He calls it our “why.” 

Much of what we focus on is what we do as a company or how we deliver our products and services. Pretty straightforward, logical thinking that makes us our own worst enemy, because this discussion quickly deteriorates into a “me too” approach.

Instead, Sinek pleads the case as to why companies, and the people who lead them, need to start by discovering why they do what they do, and then use that as a road map that inspires their audience (and employees) into action.

All this applies to content marketing.

What’s Your MO?

If you ask most marketers, sales teams and executives why they want to start a content marketing program, they’ll probably say it’s to get more customers faster and cheaper.

Or is it?

Granted, we work for businesses that we want to stay in business, so let’s agree that keeping the doors open is table stakes.

Before we start laying out a content marketing strategy about what we’re going to say to whom and when, we have to understand our own motives. Why do we want to invest in content marketing? Why do we want to invest more in content marketing?

  • To increase brand awareness
  • To better communicate with our customers
  • To educate them about the industry
  • To spark conversations
  • To build communities of interest
  • To create a more meaningful customer experience
  • To support sales relationships
  • To keep ‘em coming back

Slower. More Expensive. Worth It.

Robert Rose of Big Blue Moose consulting shares a great example of why you have to remain committed to your motives for content marketing beyond just closing sales faster and cheaper. (It’s also a great case for why you need to measure content marketing efforts beyond closing the sale.)

He talks about a debt-management company that used content marketing to create more engaged clients. They segmented their audience, then began using content to educate potential customers about their programs. The result? It took four times longer to close the sale.

Here’s where the company’s “why” came into play. If they looked strictly at sales numbers, they would have deemed their content marketing initiative a miserable failure. But they looked at engagement, which doesn’t necessarily spike when someone signs on the dotted line. Instead, they continued using content marketing past the close and incorporated it into the customer experience. By doing this, they moved people from customers to satisfied customers who they could retain, upsell and eventually create such a delightful experience that they would become, what Guy Kawasaki calls, evangelists.

Here’s where knowing why they wanted to invest in content marketing paid off for the debt-management company: the customers they closed were 215 percent more likely to make their first payment and 500 percent more likely to keep paying for the life of the loan.

Yes, these customers were more expensive to close. But they became more valuable in the long run.

Keep Asking WHY

On average, it takes five iterations of asking “why” a team wants to invest in a content marketing program until you get to the root of the request. Sometimes it’s three, sometimes it’s seven, but rarely is the first reason a person gives the real reason. For example …

Subject Matter Expert (SME): I want to create a series of white papers to talk about our new software that we’ll launch next quarter.

Marketer Q1: Why?

SME: Our users will really like it because it offers new functionalities. (Falls into typical marketing focus of talking about what a company does and how.)

M Q2: Why does that matter to them in the bigger picture of what they do?

SME: Usually, they have to spend a lot of time customizing off-the shelf software because it doesn’t allow them to do things that ours will out of the box. It’s expensive and time consuming for them and creates a lot of work arounds.

M Q3: Why will they be interested in this?

SME: This will save them 30 percent more time, free up resources and give them more flexibility in the long run because we have additional add-ons that we’ll release each quarter for the next two years. They’ll constantly have the latest tools to keep pace and everything integrates with their existing platforms.

By asking why, the marketer uncovered the real reason the SME wanted a content marketing program -- to educate prospects, move them to customers and keep them engaged after the sales in order to retain and upsell them. This changes the theme of the series of white papers from focusing on features and benefits to one that lays out measurable business benefits, then transitions into technical specifics.

If you were trying to get approval from a CIO or CFO for a purchase, which approach would support your case?

Great Endings Come From Great Beginnings

Sinek’s approach delivers a powerful benefit for content marketers; it creates a filter for decision making so it’s easier to stay on track during your content marketing journey. When faced with a request for content, simply ask yourself, “does this fit with why we started this content program?”

If yes, then proceed.

If no, then stop.

Simple as that.

Title image courtesy of ILYA GENKIN (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more thoughts on content marketing by Carla?

-- Content Marketing - Start With Your Story