Once upon a time, ad copy was all about the patter. A huckster could sell mercury as a cold cure so long as he strung pretty words together long enough to hold a mark’s attention. As consumers became more knowledgeable, and more protected by law, those pretty words needed at least a little grounding in reality. A few decades later, advertisers found claims of quality weren’t as powerful as they once had been so they switched to talking about value and price. Still later, they found value and price mattered less than brand awareness. Marketing became stylistic or funny, in some cases never mentioning a specific product at all.
The Information Age has seen another shift in what works when reaching out to potential customers. Modern consumers are too sophisticated to fall for generic claims of quality or value. They’re too jaded to buy into power marketing words that worked reliably for a century. Studies found ad-speak like “limited time offer,” “9 out of 10 experts” and “guaranteed” are invisible to today’s consumers. They’ve seen them too many times, and debunking questionable claims is just a Google search away.
Leading edge advertising has evolved once again to meet the needs of modern buyers by making knowledge and education the newest and most effective form of advertising copy. Modern shoppers research their purchases. They are passionate about their interests. They will search the web for information about the products and services they might buy. This is bad news for companies that rely on a captive audience, or an uninformed base, to make their profits.
But it’s great news for a company willing to inform potential buyers about their product, industry and expertise. A business that can do this will get attention from the people most likely to become their customers, and will occupy front-of-mind-awareness when somebody is ready to buy.
Power Blogging: Mint.com and Payoff.com
Personal finance websites Mint and Payoff both provide similar services to help users track spending, reduce debt and improve net worth. Both sites include a deep well of blog posts and resource articles available free. Mint’s articles tend to be longer, in-depth and informational, while Payoff’s trend toward the approachable and actionable. In both cases, the information serves two purposes.
First, the articles establish their home sites as authorities in the field. People who want to learn more will trust information from Mint and Payoff simply because there’s already so much information available from those sites. Second, the presence of those articles boosts the rankings of both pages on search engines like Google. This increases their chances of reaching new consumers who need answers to their financial questions.
California-based Mixonic both uses and provides information-based advertising. The company prints short runs of CDs and DVDs for small-to-medium businesses. Before mp3s shifted the paradigm of music delivery, they made most of their money creating demo albums for local bands. With music now mostly digital, the company shifted their model to helping other business create educational and promotional items for direct mail marketing. They’ve found a DVD has more than 10x the return of a print-only mailing with the same information. In addition to providing a knowledge-based advertising service, they maintain a blog that educates readers on related topics ranging from sound quality, to promotional techniques, to how best to educate potential buyers.
Getting the Word Out: EZDiquote
An Oregon-based insurance firm specializing in disability coverage, EZDiquote does business nationwide. Like the other cases in this article, they maintain a body of resource pages to inform readers, establish themselves as an authority, and improve search engine performance. They also maintain a staff of writers who create guest posts on personal finance blogs unrelated to the site. These posts establish trust with readership by providing relevant information and including mention of – and links to – EZDiquote’s resource pages.
This guest post method is so strong, some sites derive their income from charging companies for the privilege of providing an article. It’s paid advertising, just like a television or radio spot in the 20th century.
Signs of the Times
Knowledge-based advertising is so powerful in the 21st century that entire business models have succeeded wildly by offering information as their entire product. Fitness giant Livestrong.com capitalized on founder Lance Armstrong’s fame by becoming a go-to source for online health and wellness information. The site derives millions in revenue from advertising alone. Niche blogs on topics like specific diseases, parenting advice and humor get thousands of views per day, then turn those views into advertising dollars, or use them as a platform to sell a book, service, software or similar product.
For any small business, the takeaway is simple. Knowledge is the currency of the information age. If others can charge money for their expertise, you can give some of yours away as a marketing effort. It’s cheaper than loss-leader giveaways, more effective with today’s consumers and infinitely scalable.
Article by Kevin Sawyer