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What boiled cabbage can teach us about effective content marketing

December 05 2014 10:32 AM

When I was young, my mother would employ various tricks to make her children eat healthily. And funnily enough, I think we content marketers could learn from her experience…

My mother’s tricks would range from psychological ploys (“Are you eating carrots like the other children yet?”) to simple physical efforts to make greens more palatable. One that sticks in my mind is her habit of incorporating one type of (less favoured) foodstuff into another. A classic approach was to fold cabbage into the mashed potato. You can’t have one without the other. So reluctantly at first – but eventually without complaint – a little more roughage and Vitamin C was incorporated into my 6-year-old diet.

And so onto content marketing…

Your job as a marketer is to educate your target audience about the benefits of your brand or product. And content marketing is a great way to do this, but a fundamental requirement is that the content should be attractive enough to be willingly consumed.

So your product message is the cabbage. The key point is that your target audience does not WANT it (yet). They need to be weaned onto it. It is for the moment, strange, new and unappetizing. They need to enter the buying process, they need to become familiar with your brand, they need to start to like you before they will willingly consume it.

To complete the metaphor, the mashed potato is the interesting part of the content – and there are two ways to provide this:

1. You can create it yourself – you make something that offers information, interest or entertainment. For example, if this is a whitepaper, you ensure that its value is clearly signposted in the title (and that you deliver on the promise), eg: 5 ways to achieve that goal! 2014 report on your industry! The 10 top performers in your field!

2. Or you get someone else to do it. Which means your association with a particular brand, writer or celebrity is enough to make it interesting. Which means, in effect, you pay for the mashed potato. This is native advertising. This is PR. This is celebrity endorsement. This is paid tweeting. You pay for the stuff that surrounds the unsavoury part of the total package (which is your bit).

Either way you need to get the balance right, and there is a lot of content out there that gets it badly wrong.

The more a company tries to talk about itself and its products, the less palatable the content becomes. Put too much cabbage in there and your 6-year-old won’t touch it. Put in a trace amount and he will finish his plate.

This may be a simplistic and slightly silly analogy.

But the principle is important. This weaning process is something that marketers like us HAVE to think about before we embark on a content marketing strategy, because it is ultimately a long-term strategy.

Get it right and we will eventually have a generation of prospects, growing up to be healthy, profitable customers because your brand was a constant feature of their formative years. If you get it wrong – if you try to foist platefuls of unfamiliar, unappetising food upon them (no matter how much good it might do them) – they will always somehow prefer the taste of the competition.

4 Comments

Richard Gordon

August 19 2014 3:36 PM

Interesting. I certainly get a lot of cabbage-spam (I think I’ve invented a new food product in the process of commenting) in my email, and it’s right turn off. You’ve got to be careful though that you don’t overdo it with the mash, so that your audience doesn’t lose sight of the brand behind the content, as that does nothing for you either.

Even if something is rightly pitched, I find it’s also important to ensure that you don’t do the good stuff to overkill - a lot of content I don’t consume now because it’s just too much. Not even a wafer thin bit.

Richard Gordon's avatar Richard Gordon

August 19 2014 3:38 PM

Interesting. I certainly get a lot of cabbage-spam (I think I’ve invented a new food product in the process of commenting) in my email, and it’s right turn off. You’ve got to be careful though that you don’t overdo it with the mash, so that your audience doesn’t lose sight of the brand behind the content, as that does nothing for you either.

Even if something is rightly pitched, I find it’s also important to ensure that you don’t do the good stuff to overkill - a lot of content I don’t consume now because it’s just too much. Not even a wafer thin bit.

John Bottom's avatar John Bottom

August 19 2014 3:41 PM

You’re right about not overdoing it. Childhood obesity is a very real issue right now.

Howard Smith

September 01 2014 5:50 PM

Good point well made, John. When planning blog content with clients, we aim for a balance between education, inspiration, entertainment and persuasion. We want to be authoritative without being stony faced, fun without being frivolous. Even then, it only works if you’re serving up content that people are prepared to swallow on a regular basis.

March 30 2017 5:29 PM

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