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Most content marketing experts say, "engaging content drives sales." In reality even the most engaging blogs, Facebook timelines or LinkedIn discussions fail to produce leads and sales.

For most businesses, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity. They have impressive marketing statistics that ultimately don't directly help generate leads and sales. Businesses who DO create leads and sales using social selling seem to know something the rest of us don't.

Why we're failing to sell with engagement

Most of us are failing to sell with engaging social campaigns. We're failing because we're building content marketing itself on an outdated foundation. We're clinging to mass media advertising ideas and values. Meanwhile, those content marketing programs that create leads and sales are exploiting direct response marketing concepts and values.

Direct response is the secret sauce. This is the untold truth that top social sellers realize and act on. It's how they are making social media sell for them. Engagement alone isn't enough.

After all, why do so many of us pursue getting "Liked" on Facebook or followed on Twitter? Because of this single idea: getting lots of customers' attention (reach) over and over (frequency) is enough to earn a sale... somehow, sometime. Indeed, this is how brand advertising is conducted. Now I'm not saying attention doesn't matter. It does. I'm simply saying it's not enough to be momentarily memorable, funny, "human" or engaging.

Stopping at earning customers fleeting attention or amusement is a sure-fire losing strategy online. Does this mean that brand marketing or engagement without calls-to-action don't sell products and services? No. But it does mean that it's a weak strategy when compared to direct response. The Internet, after all, is interactive and built for direct response!

What to do in order to make the sale

Today's best social sellers do not believe for a minute that exposure to engaging content will result in a sale. They have no faith that it will produce a lead. Rather, the content they create solves customers problems or vividly demonstrates (proves... think "infomercial") compelling experiences relating to their service. They believe in, and execute on this and carefully mix in calls-to-action. They make it irresistable for customers to take specific actions that connect to pre-designed experiences and marketing processes.

The best way to sell on Facebook is to solve customers' problems (yes "for free") in ways that earn trust and ultimately help them navigate their way toward your paid products and services.  

Flip the paradigm

Ignore the "experts" preaching aimless engagement. Get focused on a purpose that is the behavioral outcome of your social campaign. Is there one? Make it so or don't make it at all.

Most of all, don't get sucked into the profitless prosperity black hole. When I speak to audiences I encourage them to think (and act) in terms of direct response marketing when engaging with social media and content marketing.

Ron Perlstien says it so well when he says, "Frequency is the benefit of success, not the key to success."

In other words, you can increase frequency when you generate sales revenue.

Jeff Molander

Published 10 April, 2012 by Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is a professional speaker, publisher and accomplished entrepreneur having co-founded what is today the Google Affiliate Network. He can be reached at jeff@jeffmolander.com. He is a regular contributor to Econsultancy. 

29 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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Nick Stamoulis

You need to make content that appeals to your customers on a personal level. You don't just want to engage them, you need to convince them to act! Great informational content with call to actions goes a long way in driving actions.

over 4 years ago


Colleen Jones


You speak in broad generalizations and have no specific examples of either side--content marketing not leading to sales or direct response leading to more sales. Marketing and sales are too important, and the potential to do them better online is so great, that they deserve a deeper discussion.

I researched content's role in sales for my book, Clout (http://content-science.com/clout). Customers undergo phases of decision-making. More than ever, people are going through most of those phases of decision-making online. In early phases, future customers are researching their problem and needs online. (This behavior is relatively new.) In these early phases, content marketing is very influential. Content marketing acts like a trusted advisor, helping people identify their real needs and identify potential solutions.

In later phases of decision-making, people are picking a specific product or service or solution. Or, they're watching for the best possible deal. That's when direct response tactics and offers make sense and are actually useful. When I'm ready to buy, make it easy for me, please.

You're pitting content marketing and direct response against each other, and they're actually complementary. Content marketing without direct response means all advice, no action. Direct response without content marketing risks attracting the wrong kinds of customers or getting more sales leads of poor quality.

My book has lots of examples, but let me share one new quick example. One of my clients, Cerner Corporation, underwent a major content strategy, including revamping their blog for content marketing and improving their sales lead form (direct response). Cerner has not only increased reach, boosted reputation, and deepened engagement but also increased sales leads. And, not only did they increase sales leads, the leads were of better quality. That is, more of the sales leads were actionable. That's the right combination of content for them to get the best possible result.

What combination of content marketing and direct response makes sense? It depends on the types of products and services and the type of customers. For Cerner, each sale is millions of dollars. The decision-making cycle is longer than for buying a pair of shoes.

I'm just scratching the surface, here. My point is online sales and marketing are too important to be decided by the truisms and generalizations in this article.


over 4 years ago


Kris K

A very interesting article!

At Recommendly, we believe that several lightweight interactions over a period of time can drive your engagement towards the desired outcome (Paul Adams' theory). You can't achieve success with a monotone of 'call to action' all the time on Social Media, simply because content marketing isn't the same as search marketing.

In search marketing, the user is a 'seeker' having a common purpose with the seller - to complete the demand-and-supply equation. On social media, the user doesn't always have a ready need or demand. So any attempt to 'supply' without demand will fall flat. The secret is to build interactions over a period of time, driving towards the desired outcome as Jeffrey says here.

We are recommending this article to our users as a must-read.

over 4 years ago


Julian dianomi

Good points - much of content marketing (and social media for that matter) is not measured for ROI at all.

When it is, there are often nebulous KPIs and vague mutterings of how content is good for SEO.

Content marketing used to produce relevant leads is effective and measurable.

over 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

I'm so glad to meet you! I completely agree and let's find ways to collaborate to spread the wisdom. That said, this is blogging after all. I cannot write a book here or risk boring readers. My aim is to provoke thought not provide complete answers. I dare say any good, purpose-driven blogger would do the same. I provide many, many examples on my blog, in my book, in my videos, etc. Here at eConsultancy and elsewhere I'm taking advantage of the fact that there is a mass media mentality (and that drives people *away* from mixing in/using direct response) among many in the "content marketing community." Hence, the "black and white" nature of my post and argument. Again, I'm being argumentative with purpose: It's available to me to serve my own selfish interests and those of readers' too.

Shoot me an email and tell me more about Recommendly? Paraphrasing Paul Adams is simply wonderful. Paul and I see the world very similar. Not exactly similar but close. And I consider Paul to be among the very brightest of minds out there when it comes to producing organized, PURPOSEFUL behavior with social media. I quote him extensively in my book because he has so much to offer marketers---in a world filled with 95% useless noise on the subject of social media marketing.

over 4 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Hi, Julian...
This is precisely my viewpoint/position/experience. It's as if the "branding" (vague mutterings indeed!) mentality (and practice) has overtaken content marketing. Which, of course, is just a fancy pants name for custom publishing. This is another reason to be suspect of this whole "content marketing" craze in my humble opinion :)

But to your point: The ROI of social media? The ROI of content marketing? The ROI is not a marketing metric. Get over it. The ROI can be leads and sales. But if that's the case... well now... we're getting pretty accountable for our spending. And I think that scares people, candidly.

over 4 years ago

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