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My Worst Mistake: Content Marketing Faux Pax

Let’s revisit 2009. For the first six months of LeadMD, I was marketing the business, selling accounts, groaning when we signed an account, and swiveling my chair to service that account. In short, I was doing everything.

Aside from the MA elephant in the room, there were two big trends emerging in marketing: social and content. Not surprisingly we marketers still struggle with those same areas today. They’re constantly evolving and tough to scale. A learning curve is required for both. So it’s not a surprise that given my tendency to plunge into things, this initially involved a collision of skills.

In my last post I divulged that I was a marketing major. But I didn’t start out that way. Until my junior year I was a journalism major, and I continued to write throughout my career.  So as content marketing and social media began their ascent, I started contributing to a cool online forum, Focus.com, that I considered relevant to our buyers. It was a Quora-style exchange based on sales and marketing topics, with real subjects discussed by real people. So I created my profile – and immediately proceeded to screw it up.

Craig Rosenberg

You have to understand my background. For 10 years I’d been taught that marketing was a billboard, a blatant advertisement where whoever shouted the loudest won. But the rules of content marketing were different – as I was informed by one Craig Rosenberg (later I came to know him as the Funnelholic and a friend) who promptly told me that I was swiftly killing the integrity of a site focused on educational content. And that if I continued, I was going to be politely but expeditiously kicked off the site. I actually reached out to Craig and asked him to recall the events in question here.

“One of my content managers sent me what Justin was writing and asked me to do something about it. I read his posts and they were basically advertisements from LeadMD. He was so emphatic, he even used explanation points. It was a complete breach of content marketing protocol,” recalls Rosenberg.

Carlos Hidalgo

This sounded insane to someone who had been rewarded over and over for this behavior my entire professional life. What the hell is this, I thought. This is my area of expertise. I started reading other threads with folks like Carlos Hidalgo sharing great content and exchanges, solving real problems with no mention of their brand or even a web address. Where was the call to action? Where was the urgent offer and number to dial?

As I dove into other great sites like Marketing Profs and Sherpa, I found a shining commonality – the most engaging posts with the majority of comments, shares and like, were all devoid of sales speak and offers. They were educational in nature and shockingly they were FREE. No forms to fill out, no number to call or sales rep emailing me to talk about ‘that article I just read (they hoped I enjoyed it).’ The best things in marketing were actually free.

Aly SaxeI started to write differently. With the help of our PR agency and their founder Aly Saxe, I started to un-learn. I developed a system of finding and answering marketers’ problems without asking for money. When LeadMD embarked on its content marketing journey in early 2010, we implemented a strategy that I previously would have seen as giving away the keys to the kingdom: we would write, record, design and answer for free. Craig was nice enough to give me a reprieve as he adds “Now Justin Gray is one of the best content marketers out there. He is focused completely on helping the consumer of his content. I would also mention, this attitude extends to his conversations with people where he is always helping instead of pitching.”

It’s always nice to be vindicated and as a result, a stunning new cycle began. We’d place content and editors would call looking for more. Buyers would tell our team that they had read our content and wanted to see how we could help. Conference organizers would reach out to see if I could speak at their event.

The notion of giving something away, without an immediate exchange of money, information or some other reward, was completely and utterly foreign to me. Now I know this outlook is the key to success. This approach has driven our business in ways I can never summarize here but the INVESTMENT I made in content and education has come back in other ways than just financially. Every name I mentioned in this article I am proud to call a friend, in addition to dozens more I have met along the way – like-minded, value-oriented marketers and executives who understand that the value of the conversation is truly beyond calculation. Exponential growth multiplied by time.

Time. Therein lies the challenge. How much time should you invest blindly in a process that has no defined ROI or even result timeframe? The answer is, more. Nothing bad ever came from doing something with care and love and quality. Find a way to provide your buyers with value and give it away often. The more you do this, the more trust you will cultivate. Opportunities will naturally seem to present themselves everywhere you look.

As for me, this attitude transformed what I thought was my career into something I was truly proud of. I became a marketer not in 2001 when I entered the workforce, nor in 2006 when I took my first executive level position, and not even in 2009 when I left to start my own business. I became a marketer when I learned that the best way to influence someone is to help someone. Thank you to the many people who have helped me along the way.

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