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Show, don’t tell: The essential difference between marketing and content marketing

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If you have ever dreamed of writing the great Australian novel, you’ll have attended a fiction writing course and been told to show what is happening in the story, not to tell.

He watched the flying fish burst out again and again and the ineffectual movements of the bird. That school has gotten away from me, he thought.” The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemmingway.

The maxim “show, don’t tell” reveals the essential difference between marketing and content marketing.

Marketing tells customers – we do it better, we understand you, we know what you need, we care about you.

Content marketing shows our customers that we understand them because we provide news, inspiration, ideas, tips, research and insights to our customers every time we share a story, a picture, a graphic, a podcast or a video.

One big reason that most of us no longer believe marketing messages is that the stated message contradicts what the company actually does. For example, a TV ad that interrupts a program you are enjoying with a very loud message “We understand you” is ridiculous – if they really understood us, they’d butt out of our evening’s entertainment!

So, how do we apply that to the process of creating content? If I make widgets, surely I must write about the widgets I make, and how beautifully I make them.

Most companies do this:

Heading: Our Projects.

Picture: A widget.

Text: We created this widget for Acme Inc by aligning our customer’s requirements and budget constraints and delivered this widget on time and within budget.

I challenge that. The beauty and usefulness of the widgets you made are directly related to the deep understanding and insight you had of your customer’s brief – what they wanted and needed and how much they had to pay for it.

Writing with insight and sensitivity on the subject of working to a budget, using your own and other examples to illustrate the point demonstrates your knowledge, shows your ability to take a brief and understand your client.

Here’s another approach:

Headline: Five ways to achieve excellence within your budget

Picture: Five excellent products, including one of your own

Text: An introduction followed by five clear tips about how to achieve the end result. Share your knowledge and expertise.

If you want to stick to marketing, write about what you do.

If you want to be a content marketer, write about what you know and believe, and show, don’t tell.


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