Creating Content as Generous Service vs. Manipulative Strategy

“Where is the line between strategy and manipulation?” asked a dear client. “Doesn’t it make sense to post about a certain topic in advance if I want to sell a course about it? Some bloggers have a whole schedule of content and events leading up to their launch… is that manipulation, or just good strategy?”

What is strategy anyway?

“Strategy” is a series of planned steps intended to cause a calculated change. When that careful calculation is to influence other people for our own benefit — without the other people knowing our plans — then it seems like manipulation to me.

But isn’t it for the customer’s benefit too? Don’t they benefit from our content, even if it’s tied to a launch?

If so, why not be transparent about our plan? Why not let them know that we’re about to launch a product, and we’ll be giving them related helpful or introductory teachings beforehand, whether or not they buy?

Let our intentions be transparent:

  • What if we create content for our own personal development? I know that if I practice communicating my ideas, I will get better at it, especially if I get some coaching around it. It’s a proven “strategy” but the intention is to influence ourselves. Others may be influenced as a potential side benefit, but not as an ulterior motive.
  • If I create authentic content consistently and learn to distribute that content, I will grow my audience of true fans. This proven “strategy” is transparent — everybody knows how it works: if you enjoy someone’s content, and you start to follow them, their fan base grows. Of course.

Create content that is meant to genuinely help

The cynical strategy that is commonly taught in marketing: build up their desire by posting free content designed to indoctrinate them about the topic of your product — before launching it (or really, as part of a launch). This is manipulation.

A client in my community responded to this:

“Often, the products/services we offer are a result of our passion for what we do, and our belief that it will genuinely help people. For example, I sell prenatal classes and birth support. Pretty much all my free content is educating people on these kinds of things, and naturally, I rave about the benefits of this kind of work, and informing folks of options. While my content isn’t trying to sell a class, it probably does anyway.” — Angie Evans (quote used with permission)

In this case, Angie is not calculating a series of steps to influence others. She is genuine in sharing her passion and knowledge, in the hopes that it helps people, and also knowing that of course, by consuming her content, people learn to trust her and will be open to considering her products. She is employing a transparent strategy. Everybody knows how it works: When a business is authentically generous, you are more open to looking at their products. They’re nice by sharing knowledge openly, but not as a planned move to get you to buy some specific thing next.

This is why I consider planned sales funnels to be manipulative and unnecessary. The marketer is hiding their true intentions from the consumer, so it feels sneaky to both people.

It grates on the marketer’s conscience. It erodes the customer’s trust.

Be aware of attachment to outcome

I’m always interested in how business and marketing affects our inner life.

When we bring a strong agenda (a launch strategy) into our content, what happens is that we are building up expectations — within ourselves — about how the launch should turn out.

We become more desperate to launch “successfully” because all our efforts are tied to it. We aren’t giving content generously, but rather, to try to persuade people to buy.

When our audience finds out — when it becomes transparent that our content has been geared towards the launch — they will trust our content less, seeing it as an early sales pitch.

What can we do instead?

Create authentic content consistently, remembering its true benefits:

(1) Creating content is an opportunity for inner exploration — to unpack our thoughts, learnings, experiences, and how we have helped others.

(2) We become increasingly skillful in communicating the ideas in our field.

(3) Our generous content truly serves our audience — whether or not they ever buy.

Aim for a consistent rhythm of content, for the above worthwhile reasons.

Then occasionally, announce our products/services, in a spirit of inviting our audience to check it out to see if it’s right for them. Sure, we can have introductory content for free, but it’s transparently tied to our launch, not as a sneaky content strategy.

In other words, let our typical Content not be part of a sales funnel, but as a way to genuinely explore, grow, and connect.

Written by

Authentic Business Coach & Author of 4 Books including "Authentic Content Marketing" and "Joyful Productivity" https://www.GeorgeKao.com

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