Out of the dark and into the light: the secret of content marketing

At the end of this post you will no longer be afraid of the dark. Or of the bogeyman. Or of marketing — content marketing in particular.

The word marketing makes many of us feel intimidated; it has somehow gotten blown into the status of a looming mythological and demanding god ready to cast down bolts of lightning if we do not pay homage and offerings to its power and greatness.

It is a word that often produces anxiety because most of the time we feel like we are not doing enough. Or know enough. Or are up to date on the latest tricks and trends. Or are fast enough. Or loud enough. Or cool enough.

Marketing, until now, has been the divine terrain of a few creative elite. Not of mere mortals such as you and I.

Marketing is kind of like the bogeyman with Ray-Bans.

But, by the end of this post, that will be different. You will have unclothed the myth and tamed the beast.

Sound good? Well, let’s get going.

The first thing I want to do is to help peel back the invisible grips of this fear by shifting your focus with a new definition:

What is marketing? 

Marketing is communication. 

Communicating means making a connection with someone. 

If you offer a product or service you must connect that product to people. 

And the way you connect with people is through communication. 

Thus, marketing.

The word communication is easier to hold on to. It feels less threatening and more like a friend. So, for a few minutes I’m going to use the word communication instead of the word marketing to help move ideas into place and hopefully shift the way you think, feel and act.

By the time you finish this post something will be clearer about how your project and talent fit into the world. By the time you click away from this page you will already have the beginning of a new plan.

As entrepreneurs, project leaders, free-lancers, small business owners and artists, we must connect to our audience in order to survive. We must be able to communicate with them. We must capture their attention.

Stop and think for a moment about your own life. In a situation of communicating with someone, when is the moment that person gets your full attention? When is your mind most alert and your eyes shining the brightest?

When you are learning something.

When someone is teaching you something, telling you a story, offering you a new insight, a new perspective, helping you solve a problem or helping you to understand a particular theme — that moment is honored with receiving your full attention.

When was the last time you had your audience’s full attention?

Let me tell you about the last time someone got mine. It was just a few days ago.

I was working with a new client in my office, helping her develop a strategic map for her new business. She’s an architect and interior designer. And like all of my clients before her, she has a wonderfully unique vision of the world. And as with all of my client experiences, I had the opportunity to see the world through her eyes as we charted the detailed map of her business and clarified how she will connect her art to her targeted public.

One of this woman’s special talents as an interior designer, I found out that day, is lighting.

She is sitting behind the glass top table in my office and I am perched on the arm of a black leather chair in front of her with a flipchart by my side. I am busy writing her words on a sheet of the large block of paper as she describes her products and services one by one. When she comes to the theme of lighting, she stops for a moment and looks straight at me with her serious dark eyes and says, “illumination is everything”.

She lets the words sink in. I let the idea sink in.

Illumination is everything. 

For a few seconds, neither of us moves.

My silence encourages her to continue. She begins to tell me that the way spaces are lit directly affects the people that inhabit or visit those spaces on an emotional level. She explains that the lighting of our houses, offices, stores, restaurants is a key element that determines our relationship with those spaces as well as the quality and quantity of time we spend there. Simply by changing the lighting of a space, she asserts, one can change the entire experience for all of the people who enter that space.

As I listened, I kept going back to those words: Illumination is everything. 

What magnificent words.

I knew that she was not simply referring to interior design with that intriguing phrase. She was referring to life, to knowledge, to understanding, to connecting ideas. She was referring to the light we let into our lives in order to see more clearly. I now understand that her vision for lighting in interior design is more than a talent; it is part of her personal philosophy.

Illumination is everything. 

I had stopped writing minutes ago and had let myself slide down into the comfortable seat of the chair, the thick blue marker loosely held in my hand. Thoughts raced through my mind. My eyes quickly scanned my own office to see it through this new understanding of light.

I wanted to learn more. I wanted to move the flipchart aside, stop the strategic mapping session, make us both a cup of tea and listen to her talk about spaces and lighting. I wanted to hear her stories.

I wanted her to…enlighten me.

And, unbeknownst to her, she had just given me the perfect metaphor for content marketing: to shed light on a theme, to bring light to the dark.

The tables had turned and for a brief time I was no longer the coach and strategist; I had become a student, a learner and a potential client. I had become a curious listener. Why? Because she had captured my attention. I was enraptured by her understanding of light and how it can simply and swiftly transform people’s experiences in their physical spaces — how it can transform their lives. I wanted her to help me see my personal spaces through her eyes: my office, my house, my garden. How could my own life or business change if I changed the way my spaces were lit?

I wanted to know more. I suddenly had so many questions.

But they would have to wait; we were in the middle of a strategic mapping session. So I tightened my grip on the blue marker, sat up straight in my chair, took in a breath to center myself and continued in spite of my growing desire to know more about the art and science of lighting.

This happens to me all the time with clients. I learn something new, interesting and often of direct importance to my life. Actually, I fall in love with every one of my client’s projects. Why? Because of what they have to teach me, beyond the products and services they are selling.

And if I fall in love with their projects, their targeted audience will do the same if they are given the opportunity.

I try to help my clients see that they are not only creating a product to sell, but that they have things to teach, they have stories to tell, they have skills and knowledge and perspectives and know-how and a vision of the world that other people can benefit from.

I help them to see that they have content to share with their audience, and together we build a strategy for this. A strategy for communicating and connecting their ideas and knowledge to people that goes beyond the mere seller-buyer relationship. This way they build their professional identity by nurturing the interest and trust of their targeted audience.

The architect was not selling me a product or a service that day in my office; she was teaching me something. She was shedding light on a theme that had previously been sitting quietly in the dark. She was communicating what she knows and making me more knowledgeable.

If she had been communicating the content of her ideas on a blog, at a conference, on her web page, on Facebook, on YouTube, in an article, in SlideShare, in a podcast, on the radio, or even standing in the middle of her studio, it would be called content marketing.

Good content marketing means communicating your particular vision and understanding of some part of our world to people that will make things easier, smoother, better, clearer, healthier, more fun, profitable, functional, coherent, exciting or more beautiful for them.

Good content marketing means teaching people something, helping them understand the world the way you understand it, engaging them in a conversation that helps them move from places of dark into the light, offering them new resources, solving a problem for them — large or small.

There are endless problems to be solved for people, and infinite ways to help your particular audience get clarity, feel stimulated and be motivated into action — you will never run out of opportunities.

Content marketing is the most authentic and most strategic type of communication you can generate in today’s economy. It’s also the smartest and most strategic way to connect with and earn attention and trust from people — some of whom will undoubtedly become your clients and stay your clients.

      Here are 4 simple questions to answer before you begin any content marketing:

  • Who exactly do you want to reach or communicate to? 
  • What ideas, know-how, experience, resources do you have that could be helpful to them?
  • How can you best get the message to them?
  • What do you want to happen after you get their attention and perhaps their trust?

Now you are ready to enlighten us with what you know, with how you see the world, with what you understand — whatever that is. Everyone has a light to shine. If you have carefully identified, listened to and learned about your targeted public then you know what we need and what we can learn from you.

(And it you aren’t sure, just ask us. We’ll be happy to tell you.)

So, please, bring us out of the dark. It’s the best way to earn our attention and our trust. It’s also the most strategic way to earn a client. That’s the secret of content marketing.

See there? No demanding or judgmental gods peering down from the sky. Just a simple ray of light. And it’s yours.


This post is dedicated to my clients as well as to all of the people who have invited me into to the intimate world of their passions and projects.

Bookmark and Share