Andrew Davis on Why the Best Content Has No CTA

By Juliet Stott  |  May 9, 2016

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When he’s not playing internet cosmonaut, best-selling author and marketer Andrew Davis travels the real world, presenting on topics from social media to the future of print. An internationally acclaimed speaker, Davis has shared his unique new media insights with everyone from newspaper editors to Fortune 500 CEOs.

Here, he talks about the value of unconventional brand partnerships, why the best kind of content has no call-to-action (CTA) and how to create content that resonates with an audience.

Is it right for brands to become, or aspire to become, publishers?

Brands becoming publishers is one of those mantras that definitely bothers me. I don’t think most brands are very good publishers, and I don’t think most brands are media companies, or should be media companies.

A CEO of a Fortune 500 company once said to me, “I’m really interested in doing great marketing and sales, but I have no interest in becoming a media company.” And I think that’s right.

That being said, there is an opportunity for brands to leverage the right kind of content to inspire demand for their products or services. Brands that are good at it can really drive a huge return on investment.

Red Bull is a great example; in 2015 it planned to sell more content than beverages. The content it creates is fast becoming more valuable than the beverages it sells.

You say some of the best content marketing stories have no CTA. How does this work as a business tactic?

One of my favorite examples comes from Tractor Supply, the Wal-Mart equivalent for farmers, which has everything in it you need to run a farm. It has partnered with a guy named the Chicken Whisperer.

The Chicken Whisperer creates content for Tractor Supply every day. He has a daily online radio show aimed at passionate backyard poultry enthusiasts (people who love to raise chickens). This show has inspired a whole new generation of people eager to get into backyard poultry.

The Chicken Whisperer never tells listeners to go to Tractor Supply and buy a baby chick; there is no CTA on his show. All he does is talk about how fun raising chickens is, and the problems and educational opportunities that come out of this hobby. But what has happened is people have been inspired by his shows.

They’ve wanted to come and meet him at a Tractor Supply store, and when they’ve gotten there, they’ve bought a $4 chick. They’ve then realized they need to spend $600 on equipment that will keep that chick alive (which Tractor Supply happens to stock). It’s a great business model. It’s very simple.

Successful content resonates with its audience. How do you find out what an audience wants so you can create content that meets that need?

Start with your existing list of clients and customers. Dive deep into your most profitable ones; these are your most valuable customers. Find out why they bought from you—not just about the last step in the buying process where they read five positive online reviews and made a purchase.

Find out what their first step on the journey was. You really have to go far back in their psyche. If you can identify that reason, you’ll be able to create content that shows you can empathize with the problems they had early on.

In a B2B world, sales teams should ask questions such as: What day-to-day challenges do they face? Where do they want to be in five years? Take note of responses, and feed them back into the marketing team.

In a B2C commodity-driven market, look at the influencers—read their blogs, watch their videos, and listen to their concerns and what made them buy the product or service in the first place. You can resort to surveys, but they don’t tell you as much as personal interaction.

I think it’s worth every company getting out of the office and meeting clients and customers that use their products and services, and talking to them about what motivates them to buy. You’ll find most people are eager to talk to the CEO to share their views.

The opportunities for brands to tell their stories online on various platforms have never been more numerous. How can storytellers be heard among all the noise?

I always talk about valuable content. The content has to be valuable to the audience, not necessarily to the brand—although, it should be valuable for both. It has to be relevant to the audience first, not the company or product.

You have to switch your perspective. Marketers today expect every piece of content they distribute on every channel to be successful and have lots of likes and shares, but this is unrealistic.

One piece of content will not make a difference to the bottom line. What you have to aim for is building a relationship with an audience over time. And that means you have to consistently deliver something that is high quality. I don’t mean production quality; you don’t need to spend a ton of money hiring great photographers or writers.

You need to have higher quality content—the kind your audience will respond to. You need to monitor the competition too. If, all of a sudden, their content is better than yours, you have to change tact; you can’t produce the same, old stuff.

How does a brand, especially in a B2B market, come up with what you call a “moment of inspiration” to connect with its target audience?

A brand has to understand its target buyers’ aspirations, or it’s never going to inspire them to change what they’re doing today.

Most people in a B2B world are interested in doing their job well—doing it so well they get a raise or a new job or can move to a different company. Even people in the most mundane jobs have aspirations. If you understand those aspirations you can tap into the emotion attached to them and make a difference.

The toilet paper company Kimberly-Clark, which is the largest paper product company in the world, knew it couldn’t attract new or repeat business on price alone. So, its professional division created a cleanliness rating scheme, called CHESS (cleanliness, hygiene, efficiency, sustainability, satisfaction), targeted at office building facility managers.

Each time a sales rep visits an office it supplies products to, he or she rates the bathroom facilities. Each manager is given a scorecard that can be compared against neighboring building managers’ scores online.

Kimberly-Clark understands the aspirations of the facility managers who buy its products. Its professional division knew that if it inspired facility managers to take pride in their work and used a scoring system to recognize their efforts, these managers might get a pay increase or new job with a bigger/better building in the long run.

They used CHESS as a way to build relationships with facility managers, earning their trust and helping them fulfill their aspirations. This has helped Kimberly-Clark secure customers for life, not just customers who buy products based on the price set today.

You’re an advocate of cornerstone content. What is it, and why is it important?

Cornerstone content is different from consistently delivering content to your audience on a regular basis. Cornerstone content is, in my mind, one piece of content that increases demand in the marketplace over a long period of time.

It’s a commitment to that one piece of content and that one audience you’re trying to inspire. It’s a commitment to making something so big that it has long enough legs to create a movement, not just an instant spark in demand or awareness.

There are some great examples, but my favorite is from Imagination Foundation, a nonprofit founded after an LA filmmaker made a short film about a little boy who created his own arcade out of cardboard boxes. “Caine’s Arcade” is such a great example of a filmmaker who created a great story with no expectation of an outcome, which became a movement.

Now, three or four years later, people are still watching and donating to the Imagination Foundation, a nonprofit that only exists because “Caine’s Arcade” came out. I think it’s a phenomenal cornerstone piece of content—a little movie that inspired demand for a new movement in the marketplace.

In your book, “Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships,” you champion competitive collaboration between unconventional brands. Can you give an example of this working in practice?

Converse, the shoe company, and a Guitar Center, a company that sells music equipment in retail stores, have come together successfully.

They initially collaborated to build a music studio in Brooklyn because Converse realized that if it could build a relationship with musicians very early on, and embrace their passion for music, it would pay off in spades. The musicians would then wear Converse shoes and have loyalty to the brand. But Converse didn’t know anything about music, so it partnered with Guitar Center.

They built this studio called Converse Rubber Tracks (there are now a number of studios around the world) where anyone in the world can book time—up to three days with a professional engineer—for free. In return, all Converse asks for is to be allowed to share the band’s story or music with its audience.

It’s a tremendous example of two brands working together to create content for audiences that neither one of them would have without the other. It was a smart move and has had a huge impact for both of those brands.

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Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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