Can we promote products again?

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Doug Kessler

12. 04. 2018 | 1 min read

Can we promote products again?

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Here’s a weird thought (expressed as eleven quasi-rhetorical questions):

What if one of the core premises of content marketing is wrong?

What if the idea that we must always suppress our product messages in favour of altruistic, prospect-helping, issue-exploring stories was a bit… naïve?

What if we admitted that this ‘altruism’ was always a bit… disingenuous—that our hidden sales agenda wasn’t very well hidden after all?

What if the marketing pendulum is starting to swing back?

What if it becomes okay again to talk about our products and services right up front, at the top of the funnel, not just at the bottom?

What if we realised that the ‘content apartheid’ that imagined a massive Trumpian wall separating promotional content from ‘real content marketing’ is just as imaginary (though nowhere near as ridiculous) as the Trumpian wall itself?

What if we saw that, if we believe in our products, then telling people about those products is being helpful and does add value?

What if it’s okay to be promotional again? (As well as helpful, and thought leadery?).

What if we noticed that a lot of really, really successful companies (like, um, Apple) have been doing this for a long time?

How might our content marketing programs change?

How quickly would the sky fall?


For some thoughts about what this kind of content might look like, see the badly-named Irresistible Content for Immovable Prospects slideshare.



Published in:

  • B2B Content Marketing

  • content-marketing

  • product content

  • promotional content

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  1. Ahmed Khan

    April 13th, 2018

    Hey doug.. are you somehow suggesting a route path here that might drive us away from the freeway of “CRAP”?

    1. Doug Kessler

      October 16th, 2018

      Just maybe!

  2. Sydney Myers


    October 23rd, 2018

    I think content marketing was always about finding a “nice” way to sell products. Some people, myself included, took it the wrong way and started just making content and leaving out the marketing.

    That doesn’t really change the issue, but it shows that those who are actually successful with content marketing understand what it really is. Those who are not are probably falling into the trap you’re describing.

    Either way, love you guys’ content!

    1. Doug Kessler

      October 23rd, 2018

      Thanks, Sydney!
      Yeah, it does feel like a whole lot of people forgot to put the ‘marketing’ in content marketing.

  3. Joady Weatherup

    October 23rd, 2018

    What if we stopped thinking of content marketing as a Trojan horse for product marketing?

    What if content marketing centered around business expertise and brand values and had the objective of contributing to conversations rather than coming across shallow and shouty ?

    What if great product and brand promotion planning was a mix of both straight marketing and content marketing?

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 2nd, 2018

      Now I like the sound of that, Joady. Thanks.

  4. Caroline Trotman


    October 24th, 2018

    Finally a sensible challenge to the mask that is “content marketing”. I particularly like “What if we admitted that this ‘altruism’ was always a bit… disingenuous—that our hidden sales agenda wasn’t very well hidden after all?” I have what I believe, and what my customers say, is a great product that solves some very pressing problems. Why am I considered less of a marketer by not telling you about this directly- but trying to bury its many benefits in some related content? Let’s bring back honesty in marketing. My content should be about the problems I solve.

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 2nd, 2018

      Thanks, Caroline.

      I love top-of-funnel content as much as anyone, but don’t know when it became dirty to actually promote the things you spend so much effort creating for people.

  5. Peter Bayley

    Best Decisions

    October 24th, 2018

    I love this article and thread and my response is “Yes!”.
    Current product marketing – truly extolling the benefits of the product and making it clear who it’s for and why – is generally abysmal.
    Try buying a laptop or Chromebook: a blizzard of model numbers that hide poor and / or contradictory product configurations will not help the buyer in the least. I don’t want to know that it will make me a social media maven, triple my “friends”, make me look cool in Starbucks and generally make me a popular hipster.
    The public are mostly inured to the lifestyle bullshit that sails way out beyond their reasoning and desire for the product on offer. Just lay out the features, describe the benefits, make it clear what differentiates different models in the product range and tell them why they should buy and buy now. It’s not difficult.

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 2nd, 2018

      Thanks, Peter. I hear you. Sometimes I like to think of marketing as great customer service for people who haven’t become customers yet.

  6. Angela Crittenden

    Cognito iQ

    October 24th, 2018

    I love a good Velocity blog, always challenging, revealing and just so damn cool.

    There’s a whole dollop of irony in this one too. A pure, unadulterated content piece. Altruistic [tick] prospect-helping [tick] issue-exploring [tick]. No mention of a product… although, (as always) I mourn the lack of budget that would allow me to pick up the phone and yell BUY, BUY, BUY!

    Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other – imagine a world where all (marketing) things were equal…I know, right?!

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 2nd, 2018

      Thanks, Angela! You get us.

  7. Paul Quarry


    October 24th, 2018

    Angela’s got a point there Doug. Isn’t your own Blog a magnificent example of the behaviour you’re questioning?

    To return to the issue: I love this Blog. Although the issue is nothing new: the creative bit of our industry has always had a streak of embarrassment about up-front selling, hasn’t it ?

    Advertising awards juries traditionally loved the work that tried to change the world first and the sales graph second, mostly because it glamourised what they did just enough for them to go home and tell their kids about it.

    No one wants to self-identify as a shyster, and I suspect the content hipsters of Clerkenwell (or Richmond) are no different in this to the art college grads who flooded the business in the 70s.

    Besides, turning the client’s product benefit stories into content that’s persuasive and relevant and watchable and readable and drives sales is, frankly, really, really hard. Which is why it’s so satisfying when it’s done well. After all, if our content doesn’t sell, then what are WE selling?

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 2nd, 2018

      Thanks, Paul! Great to see Richmond put up alongside Clerkenwell.

      All very good points.

      I’m certainly not against the ‘pure’ content at all.
      I just think we need to be okay about good old-fashioned selling too.

      You might like this piece: Irresistible Content for Immovable Prospects:

      All about the harder sell kind…

  8. Denis Cody


    October 24th, 2018

    Doug, if we follow your premise, we’re ignoring the fact that not every piece of content has to do the same thing.

    If we make every piece of content as if it was bottom of funnel content, we’re ignoring the context of where the prospects is in the buying cycle and depriving them of useful content at the top of the funnel.

    Match your content to the buying cycle I say – – notice I did not say “match it to the sales funnel”.

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 2nd, 2018

      Thanks, Denis.
      Yes. That’s completely true.
      It just felt like the good old fashioned selling content was getting lost in the mix!

  9. Clara

    Go! Comunicação

    October 24th, 2018

    You guys and your ability to sweep me off my feet. Oh man.

    As someone who lives in a country where content marketing could be called “shy” at best, I now find myself in doubt of the innovation I am trying to bring to my clients and the agency I work in.

    I know I won’t give up on content marketing for now. But I am certainly going to keep the pendulum concept in mind.

    Good stuff!

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 2nd, 2018

      Thanks, Clara.
      Don’t give up on content marketing!
      It’s still hugely important.
      I just don’t want to see us all lose sight of the selling side of things…

  10. Louis Gordon

    Upstart Marketing

    November 7th, 2018

    I think that content should be valuable, relevant and helpful. Sometimes to meet those criteria you’re talking about your product. No harm done.

    1. Doug Kessler

      November 9th, 2018

      Thanks Louis.

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