The Sales Lion

Controversial, Risky, and Offensive Content: When is it Appropriate for Online Marketing Success?

Controversial, Risky, and Offensive Content: When is it Appropriate for Online Marketing Success?

I was fortunate enough to speak at the Go Inbound marketing event in Indianapolis yesterday and was asked a very interesting question from a kind lady in the audience:

“You talk a lot about honesty, transparency, and answering customer questions. With our business, I see a lot of things wrong in the industry but really don’t know if I want to talk about them on my blog and rock the boat. What do you think?”

This is a very interesting question, and one that deserves serious attention as many companies, big and small, are confronted with this issue the moment they decide to embrace online marketing and put their thoughts out there for the world to see.

And if they truly do want these marketing efforts to help them become one of the premier voices and thought leaders of their industry, they are going to have to be willing to tackle subjects others simply won’t mess with.

My response to the lady’s question above was a simple one:

“When you’re talking with a prospect, do these subjects come up and are you honest with your thoughts when they do?”

Her reply was telling:

“Yes, they do come up and I’m honest in that moment, but it’s different when you’re just talking to a customer vs. publishing your thoughts online.”

Hmmm, an interesting statement, one I think many folks have considered before, and begs the question:

Should our online message and communication be much more filtered than our “offline” communication when talking with prospects and customers?

My philosophy in a case like this is a simple one, and it came out in my response to the lady I was conversing with:

“Actually, when you talk to a customer you’re verbally publishing your thoughts, which in this day and age of social media is like sharing it with the world anyway. In other words, if you would do it in that moment there is a good chance you should do it on your digital platforms as well.”

Instead of hiding from the constant comparisons with the Apple iPhone, Samsung chose an incredibly creative and gutsy marketing approach.

Now granted, whether it’s a one-on-one communication or one-on-many(digital), it’s important to use tact and common sense. This being said, one of the main reasons so many individuals and businesses fail to get any momentum online is because they don’t have the guts to talk about things that are at all controversial or risky. Unfortunately for these businesses, in almost every industry, it’s the “apparent” controversial/risky/potentially offensive articles that get the greatest results.

For example, when it comes to my swimming pool company, here are the 5 most trafficked blog posts we’ve ever written:

1. How much does a fiberglass pool cost? (“Risky” because almost no one in the pool industry talks about pricing online for fear of the competition or scaring off potential customers.)

2. Fiberglass vs. Concrete vs. Vinyl Liner Pools: An Honest Comparison (“Risky” because we were freely admitting the benefits of concrete and vinyl liner pools over fiberglass)

3. Top 5 Fiberglass Pool Problems and Solutions (“Risky” because we were openly discussing the faults of our products)

4. Small Inground Fiberglass Pool Design Awards for 2010 (“Risky” because this was the first time I gave competitors awards)

5. Viking Fiberglass Pools vs. Trilogy Pools Reviews / Ratings: Which is Better? (“Risky” and “Controversial” because we were taking a stand on a product we sold versus one of the leading competitors.)

Although comparing two major brands in any industry can seem risky, it certainly can pay huge dividends when done the right way.

You likely already know, but each of these articles has generated a huge amount of traffic, leads, and sales to River Pools. In fact, because of our advanced analytics, these 5 articles, “risky” as they may be to some, have generated to date over $4 million dollars in sales for the company we otherwise would not have had.

Furthermore, I can honestly say that if we hadn’t written these 5 articles I don’t know if we’d still be in business today.

But because we allowed our customers to be the true editorial guide of our content and therefore were willing to openly address these subjects—the same online as we would offline in a normal conversation with a customer—River Pools today is the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world and the dominant voice and brand of the fiberglass swimming pool industry.

Luke Warm Content Gets Luke Warm Results

As you can likely imagine, this principle of honesty and transparency in our marketing efforts doesn’t just apply to pools. In fact, it very much applies to essentially any industry out there right now.

My friends at Yale Appliance are absolute blogging masters, mainly because they aren’t afraid to share their opinions, which is why posts like this one have been read thousands upon thousands of times.

Currently, I have clients that are government contractors, lawyers, pharmacists, software developers, home builders, consultants, doctors, etc.—and each company experiences almost the exact same results with their content marketing:

The more honest they are and the more they embrace what others in their industry see as “risky” (articles dealing with prices, comparisons, reviews, problems, etc.) the more they see a significant increase in traffic, leads, and sales.

Please understand I’m not espousing being irresponsible and lawless online. As with anything else in this world, too much of anything can be bad, and this article is clearly not a green light for “stupid content.” Furthermore, risky and controversial content shouldn’t be “sought out.” If your consumer base truly seeks answers, then that’s one thing, but if you’re just looking to draw attention to your brand or company, then there’s a good chance you’re off-base.

That being said,  honesty, transparency, and bravery are a rare thing for businesses online, especially in many “old-school” industries.

So my challenge to readers is simple:

Have guts.

Talk about things others run from.

And if there is an elephant in the room, intelligently and tactfully tell everyone else where they can find it.

Your Turn

What’s your take on controversial, gutsy content? I’m sure we can all agree that everything must be done in moderation, but how does your company define how far to go? Also, if you have an example, tell us about a controversial or “risky” article you wrote and what the results were.

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