Joel Kelly's Blog

Joel Kelly's updates about his latest writing, his process, and his life as a Halifax-based author and marketer.

It's dangerous to think you're the underdog...

...when you're not.

The underdog's job is to steal customers from the top dog, or the other underdogs. They need to focus their efforts on explaining why they're better than the bigger competition, which elevates them to the status of peer, and steal customers.

Sometimes, the top dog gets to thinking they're the underdog. So they focus on stealing customers, instead of making new ones.

If you're the top resort in a region, your job is to get more visitors to that region. Not to steal customers from the smaller competitors. You win if the region wins.

If you're the top rental car company, you want to get more people renting cars.

Now, you of course want to fend off attacks from your competition. You want to keep your customers from getting stolen. You want a moat around your castle, as Warren Buffet says.

But if you focus on simply capturing the business of those already interested, you're going after the small fish when you should be going after the whale.

It happens all the time — your business is suffering so you think the strategy is to focus on getting new customers, instead of growing the category. It's an easy trap to fall into.

But it's a trap.

The Secret to Perfect Content Marketing

The best piece of content marketing ever created was released before the Internet even existed.

I’m serious. Do you want to see what it is?

The best piece of content marketing every made.

The best piece of content marketing every made.

That’s right. The best piece of content marketing is this Rolls-Royce ad from 1959.

What even is content marketing?

Content marketing is creating content — useful, interesting content — that produces an interest in your product or offering.

It’s that simple. You might think it’s providing value, and in exchange, trading off of basic psychological principles like the reciprocity effect, so that the person will be more likely to consider your brand because you’ve done something for them.

That’s partially true. It’s almost true. But it’s not really true. That’s an easy thing to say to your boss or client, though: "Look, we’re producing great content, so people will like us more. And maybe buy?"

But that’s lazy. No, great content doesn’t just sell the idea of a product or service, it sells the product or service. It is an ad.

The great ads from yesteryear weren’t great because they were interesting content, they were great because they moved the damn product.

How to do great content marketing

So, how do you do great content marketing? Become a better advertiser. Understand that the most important part of marketing is positioning. From there, understand how to position your product in the minds of your consumers as it compares to your competitors and the overall industry.

Don’t say, “Try our product because we made you this great piece of content.” Say, “This content proves our product is better than their product. Try it and see for yourself."

David Ogilvy was the king of “content marketing.” Of course, he just called it great advertising. One of his first campaigns were these amazing ads for Guinness. Look at this “content." It provides value and effectively positions Guinness as a beer that's part of a meal. Part of an occasion. Like oysters? You'll love having them with Guinness. Other beers just won't do.

David Ogilvy's ad for Guinness. Look at all the "content."

David Ogilvy's ad for Guinness. Look at all the "content."

The fundamentals

So what can you learn about how to make great “content marketing?” Here are the fundamentals:

This chart is from a great talk by Dave Trott. This is what every advertisement must do:

First, make an impact. Get noticed. Why is that important? Because, according to the studies he cites, 90% of advertising is ignored. That goes for your blog post or “content”, too. So make an impact, get noticed.

Then, communicate a single, powerful point.

(Ogilvy spent three weeks working at the factory to come up with what would become the most famous advertising tagline of all time. You know what the chief engineer said when he saw the ad? "We've got to do something about that damn clock.")

Finally, persuade them to try your product.  Give facts. People make purchases based on emotion, but they justify it to themselves and to others through facts and rationale. Give them plenty to work with. Look at the Rolls-Royce ad again. All the body copy? It's facts about the product.

That’s what great content marketing does. It gets attention, it provides useful facts, and it makes a sale (or generates a lead).

Anything other than that, or less than that, is a waste of time.

Your image makes an impact. Your headline communicates a single point. Your copy (or the rest of your website) persuades people to take action. Every piece must be in place for success.

Which means you might not have a content problem. You might have a website problem. Or a lead capture problem. Or a salesperson problem.

So how do you become a better content marketer? Become a better marketer. Become a better advertiser.

It's just that simple.

Like what you've read here? Make sure you check out my brand new novella, "Scolding the Winds," about a young woman trying to make it in advertising as her life falls apart.

"Scolding the Winds" by Joel Kelly -- Released!

It's true! My new book, an ebook novella titled "Scolding the Winds" is out. Get it here.

This novella is perfect for anyone interested in:

  1. Religion (specifically cults)
  2. Advertising
  3. Alcohol
The cover of "Scolding the Winds"

The cover of "Scolding the Winds"

I'm extremely excited about this, and I hope you are, too. It was over a year in the works, and it's certainly my most personal and most challenging work to date. It is based on many of my own experiences growing up in a cult (Jehovah's Witnesses) and working in advertising.

I would appreciate it so, so much if you would buy it and tell your friends about it.

What is it about? It's the story of Riley, a young woman who was cut off from her family after being kicked out of their religion. She is struggling to make it in the advertising business, and struggling with alcohol. And then, after all that, it gets worse.

It's a story about love, loss, religion, and advertising. My favorite subjects.

I sincerely hope you'll read it.

The terror of newness, the comfort of "Best Practices"

"Try something new. It’s unpredictable so it’s uncomfortable. Then it becomes predictable, so it’s comfortable.
Try something new. It’s unpredictable so it’s uncomfortable. Then it becomes predictable, so it’s comfortable.
Somehow, we never quite spot the pattern. It never clicks that feeling uncomfortable means it’s a new experience. And new experience means growth. Going somewhere we haven’t been before. Trying something we haven’t tried. That uncomfortable feeling is being alive.
Helmut Krone said, ‘If you can look at something and say, “I like it”, then it isn’t new.’" - Dave Trott's Predatory Thinking

Doing something new is terrifying. It's uncomfortable. So we wait until someone else does it, until someone else takes the risk. Eventually, enough people will do it that we can call it "Best Practices". Then we can do it. Because it's not new anymore. It's comfortable.

There's a difference between doing the tried and true because it works, and doing the same thing as everyone else because you're scared.

If you want to do something interesting, something truly "disruptive", you need to do it first. Otherwise it's comfortable.

Otherwise it's boring.

Otherwise it won't work.


Excerpts from my novella, Scolding the Winds

If you're not following my updates on Inkshares, you're missing out! Check out the first few pages of my new novella, Scolding the Winds, (due out this winter) here: Part One, Part Two.

As a teaser, here's the first page:

“I’m nothing but a drunk,” she thought.

“No. I’m nothing. And I’m a drunk.”

And then she fell asleep.

The wind had pushed the grill a foot or so from the wet, slatted patio wall. The rain had filled the heavy glass ashtray until it had spilled over the side. It had dripped the greyish water down onto the rusting metal bistro table.

Down onto the pine two-by-four floor.

Down onto the neighbors’ patio.

Down onto the ground and grass.

Water had come in through the slightly open window in the living room. The wind had blown it against the screen until it made its way down onto the windowsill.

Down against the wall.

Down onto the old wooden chest on the floor, painted green a year ago. It had been a child’s coffin, once. But never used. The coffin was a gift from a family friend who was a woodworker. The order for the coffin had been canceled.

Riley slept on the couch in the living room with the coffin. Her feet were tucked under the corner of a heavy wool blanket, but the rest of the blanket draped off of the brown leather couch into a pile on the dusty hardwood floor.

She enjoyed the sound of the rain against the window, against the roof and walls. It helped her sleep, and reminded her of camping with her mother and father when she was eight or nine. They camped every year on Prince Edward Island, in an old canvas tent that would leak if you touched the sides.

So she slept deeply, now, as the water seeped in, more and more.

And it rained in her dream. She was walking toward her office, early in the morning. Too early, too dark. Her auburn hair was getting much too wet. But there was nothing to do about it. She had forgotten her umbrella. Forgotten her coat. But her feet were warm, and dry.

The coffee shop she usually stopped into wasn’t there anymore, in her dream. It had never been very good. They served coffee out of those giant thermoses, some off-brand generic roast, poured half-heartedly into a white styrofoam cup. But it was on the way.

Now, though, it was replaced with something else she couldn’t see, and didn’t want to. A part of her, something deep, and hurting.

She tried to walk away, but every step brought her closer. She tried to run, but her feet wouldn’t hold the ground. She bent over, tried to pry at the sidewalk with her fingers, to propel her forward but she only went back. Back and back. Toward something like a shard she couldn’t see but feel.

She felt something pierce her back, carve slowly through her skin. She felt it slide through muscle, wedging in between her vertebrae, and sending pain to every corner of her body. The shiv moved so slowly and so deep she could almost hear it.

She listened to herself die.

And then she fell. Down to the ground. Down past the sidewalk and through it. Down into the earth.

Down and down.

She fell until her she was traveling upward again through the earth. Toward the sky, toward heaven.

Up and up.

And then she woke.