The George Costanza Approach to Content Marketing

Be the Opposite of Every Company They’ve Ever Met

November 2, 2015

george costanza

You know the episode of Seinfeld: George walks into Monk’s feeling more down than usual and decides that, since his life is the exact opposite of what he’d like it to be, every decision he’s ever made has been wrong. So he starts doing the opposite of what he would normally do – and picks up a pretty blonde, gets a great job with the Yankees, and finally moves out of his parents’ house.

It’s funny because we can all relate, right? Sometimes, as marketers, we need to rethink our approach. Contradict our common instincts. Break out of the tidy boxes we put ourselves in. When you find yourself in a major marketing slump, consider embracing your inner George Costanza and taking Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to heart: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite must be right.”

Here’s what I mean:

  1. Common marketer’s instinct: Let products take the lead.

The problem: When you do nothing but encourage customers to “buy now,” you miss the opportunity to nurture high-quality prospects who haven’t yet reached the buying stage. As a result, all that product goodness – those impressive lists of features and benefits – falls on deaf ears.

Try the opposite: Lead with the customer.

Think like a detective, not a sales person. What do potential customers need in the early stages of the buying process? What actions do they take before they even know they have a need that your company can fulfill? Answer those questions before you put in the work of creating content, and you’ll stay one step ahead of prospects.

A couple of ways to do this:

  • Analyze user intent. Rather than just focusing on popular search terms for your market, look at the keywords people use to find your website, and put yourself in your visitors’ shoes. What are they looking for when they show up? What content could you offer, to fulfill that need?
  • Be where your customers are. Find out where your audience hangs out, and start showing up there. Do some guest blogging on sites that offer information your prospects find useful. Join groups on LinkedIn that focus on issues your customers care about.
  1. Common marketer’s instinct: Inbound marketing is all I need.

The problem: When that blonde at Monk’s gives George a look, he has a choice: Sit there stewing about it with his friends, or risk playing the fool and go talk to her. Similarly, as a marketer, you know you can rely on the audiences who know and love you, and sitting around the table with them is a great way to avoid rejection. But to break through to new markets, you have to add some outbound tactics. Otherwise, it’s a future of tuna on toast for you, my friend.

Try the opposite: Put yourself out there.

Alcatel-Lucent took a risk when it created its video series, The New Guy. The goal was to break into the enterprise network market -- a big ask for a behind-the-scenes provider of network operator services. Since the series launched last winter, it’s had more than 500,000 YouTube hits, raising awareness among enterprise CIOs, and paving the way for more lead-gen-oriented activities in that market. It got there with the help of paid promotion on Linked-In, and a Twitter account for Alex, the fictional CIO, which has collected more than 1,500 followers so far.

As one influential 20th century writer put it, “When you stay too long in the same place, things and people go to pot on you, they rot and start stinking for your special benefit.” To keep your company growing and vital, you have to constantly seek out new markets and evolve with the world around you. Otherwise, you kick yourself at the end of the day, as your competition moves in where you could just as easily have gone.

  1. Common marketer’s instinct: Consider it done, and move on.

The problem: You put a lot of time and effort into your Big Rock. Like a Thanksgiving Turkey, it takes time and attention to get right. If you launch it once and move on, effectively throwing away the leftovers, you miss out on weeks of soup, sandwiches, and more.

Try the opposite: Squeeze out all the value.

That Big Rock is supremely useful to its audience. If you did it well, it’s outrageously entertaining, and stands the test of time. It’s the top of your content marketing pyramid, so launch it like a product with a big Thanksgiving splash. Then, be sure to dole out meaty slices in the form of blogs, infographics, webinars, videos, and slide presentations. Maybe you tweak the message to appeal to micro-audiences. Maybe you create spin-offs. Do it right, and your Big Rock will last you a good long while.

The classic LinkedIn example is our Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn, now in its second edition. That one piece of content has an 18,000% ROI. So far.

  1. Common marketer’s instinct: Never gate top-of-funnel content.

The problem: A top-of-funnel content program takes time, money, and effort to create, promote, and maintain. Somehow, you have to prove its value by showing it moves prospects one step closer to the buying stage. And let’s face it – a list of email addresses, voluntarily offered by your audience, is a pretty great step in that direction.

Try the opposite: Make people want to trust you with their information.

When you spend a lot of time and resources putting together an in-depth report or a kick-ass webinar, you can ask for a little something in return. Even your blog represents hours of dedication and hard work. Getting someone to add their name to your email list isn’t such a big ask. Just remember a few key points:

  • Be transparent about your reasons. What value does it offer a visitor for you to have her email address? Maybe she doesn’t want to miss the next episode of your series on XYZ. Maybe she can save her favorite recipes to access next time she comes.
  • Wait for an appropriate moment. I see this all the time – I click on a new blog, and I immediately have a pop-up in my face, asking for my email address. Please! I haven’t had two seconds to see what you have to offer yet. Wait until I read a post or two, at least. Otherwise, you’re doing the opposite of building trust -- you’re just being annoying.
  • Guard the information carefully. When you gate top-of-funnel content, don’t automatically add those leads to a demand-gen email list. When you contact them, make sure it’s about adding value to their experience – not bombarding them with sales come-ons.

Marketing today involves no sleight of hand. There’s no need to pretend you’re someone you’re not, or to overwhelm your audience with bombast. Take a real interest in who your customers are, and what they need from you, and then – just be yourself. I say that knowing full well that some of you are even more obsessed with the cast of Seinfeld than I am – and I say, more power to us!

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