Enlightened content

Bare-faced honesty in marketing

By: Nicola Robey,   4 minutes


Head-turning, shout-worthy, and dare I say it…viral.

If you haven’t heard of The Enlightened Tobacco Company, I’ll give you a quick breakdown: in 1991, BJ Cunningham set out to cause a stir with a new brand of cigarettes. The product, christened ‘Death Cigarettes’ spearheaded a new way of selling that became known as ‘truth in marketing’.

Packets stood out on the shelves with their poisonous motif of a skull and crossbones, and advertising straplines grabbed eyes left, right and centre with phrases like,  ‘Let Us Be The Nail In Your Coffin’ and ‘The Grim Reaper Don’t Come Cheaper’ .

Cunningham was trying something new. Where other cigarette companies forged onwards with mythical pretences about a product that’s only known outcome was harm, he was offering something that cut through the gumpf. It was wry, clever, honest and new. So people noticed.

Inspired by an article I’m working on for The Challenger’s Almanac about the daring entrepreneur and his challenging and risky venture, I suddenly had a lightbulb moment. I realised that Cunningham’s unique angle could be linked to approaching the new rules of content marketing. Illuminating.

Essentially what Cunningham did, all the way back in1991, was read the trends of consumer behaviour and position himself both differently and creatively– giving the market a brave, bold and brutally honest product that caused a stir and engaged audiences.

At Stranger Collective, we’ve been keeping up to speed with the shifting trends in content marketing. Getting to grips with the evolution of mindsets and how readers now engage with brands. In short, it’s all about re-thinking how to communicate in a way that stands out and gets audiences excited enough to engage with your company.

Standing strong against other cigarette companies that opted for images of cowboys, sophisticated French people and bohemian artists dragging away sensually, Death Cigarettes wholeheartedly owned up to the fact that cigarettes held one certainty: eventually, if you smoke enough, they’ll shave years off your life expectancy. Scary.

Bucking trends and defying customer expectations is what Cunningham was all about. His premise was to go against all other cigarette companies’ angles that had preceded him, and take a different tack. He used the simple tool of great advice. Advice  that neither patronised nor tried to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. (Like when your Mum tells you to put down that cream bun because you’ve already eaten two.)

‘How does this relate to content marketing’ I hear you cry?  Well, The Enlightened Tobacco Company shook up the customer experience. They gave an honest angle to what essentially is a cloak and dagger affair, that pastes over the cracks with an aspirational and  halcyon lifestyle paint.

By giving something true, open and challenging, Death Cigarettes had thrown down the gauntlet and raised eyebrows.

This made me realise that content doesn’t just have to be about how many blog posts you upload per week, or whether you tweet about what you have for breakfast on a daily basis – it’s about the whole experience. It’s about building a relationship that encompasses the reader, the context, the emotional connection and the outcome, all at the same time.

In this DIY age we shop around, all the time. Finding ways of cutting corners and distinguishing how to get the best possible deal around. We know when people are trying to sell to us, and most of the time we run a mile. So how do you stand out and get a true connection with your readers? With some Cunningham inspiration, here are five tips to help distinguish content and get more people coming back:

Raise eyebrows To get the bite, you have to dangle some pretty tasty bait. Give your readers something interesting that they’ll actually want to read and talk about. Even the driest of topics can be framed in a fresh way. Break content up with attention-grabbing titles and sub heads and make it short and snappy, as online attention spans are a fickle thing.

Be honest Most readers and consumers have cottoned on to the raw selling techniques of traditional marketing. To have an effect now, you have to play the game differently. Cunningham’s honest advice stood him apart; if you’re honest with your readers too, they’ll see you’re not trying to lead them down the garden path. Being truthful about the customer relationship – breaking down the patterns that we’ve come to expect from the experience – will allow readers or potential customers to see you’re trustworthy.

Write like a human Whilst many businesses feel the need to speak to their customers in an authoritative and well, dry, tone, I’ve come to realise that writing like a human instead of in a detached voice can make all the difference. Of course, you have to take your audience into consideration, but on the whole, making your language more accessible, open and easier to engage with will make your content far more enjoyable to read.

Take a new approach Be prepared to go against what your readers expect. This isn’t saying you should be too controversial, (you don’t need a skull and crossbones to get someone talking about you) but giving something different and defying trends often makes people stand back and pay attention. Be brave and route yourself in a position away from the crowd. Stand where no one else is standing.

Share what you know If you’re producing content for your company’s blog and you want it to stand out, then give something away. We’re not talking the Colonel’s secret recipe or anything – but people are  savvy now, so if they’re not getting it from you, they’ll probably look elsewhere. Make yourself the go-to experts in what you do and people will come back to you when they need your services because you’ve helped them out in the past.

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