Give away your clever to win business

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman Writing & Training

A few years ago, if I’d used this article to advise you of the ideal tone for your own or your clients’ content marketing, I’d have said:

Produce writing that’s clever, compelling and clear. 

I’d have cited best practice as clean, concise writing – with the brand’s personality on top, for authenticity. And that would’ve been that.

But it’s become increasingly noisy out there. The world has changed. And what works in content marketing has changed. Hence, my advice has evolved a bit.

Today, the most effective, most compelling tone for content marketing – whether you’re using it to get more writing work or to achieve clients’ objectives – is helpful, human, and generous*. Even in emails, web copy and social media? Yes! Your best bet is writing that…

  • rings true in the context of the brand,
  • sounds like the company’s people when they talk, and
  • shares and shares and shares value, relentlessly.

Let me say this again: If you want your content marketing to pay off in meaningful ways, it must share value, with no expectation of reciprocity, for a long time.

That’s the “on switch”.

The GAYC Approach

I call this the “Give Away Your Clever” (GAYC) Approach to Content Marketing. I use it myself, I see the benefits first-hand, and I suggest that my clients try it too.

It’s quite simple, really:

You share advice.

You offer tips.

You answer questions.

You provide how-tos.

You’re generous with what you know.

You part with (some of) your intellectual property, as a teaser for the really significant knowledge, wisdom or insights that should, ideally, be paid for. And you don’t expect anything from the recipient in return. At least, not for a long while.

Learn from Aaron

Learn the lesson of someone I’ll call Aaron (because his name is Aaron).

One of my longest-term clients heads a leading international restaurant brand. She approached Aaron’s firm off the back of good stuff he shared online, because she was considering getting him to do some consulting for her. But, because she was still deciding, and Aaron’s services cost more than the Batmobile, she was taking her sweet time to sign on the dotted line. As you do, when you’re about to spend a couple of hundred grand, right? Right. But Aaron was growing impatient with her.

Here’s the email he sent my client (which I have permission to share with you):

Hi there. Through the years it seems you really like our views and material, but you are not willing to move beyond gorging on the free samples to becoming a client. What you have consumed in free content through the years — it’s sort of like eating everything you can for nothing and being unwilling to move to becoming a paying customer. We’re glad you liked all of the free stuff, but that’s not a great business model, is it? Are you ready to step up and reciprocate our good-faith efforts?

Uh, that’s a no, Aaron. Because you’re not a nice guy.

And because content marketing that really works is helpful, human, and generous.

And because there should be no quid pro quos.

And because you never, ever accuse a prospect of “gorging” – even if you’re in the restaurant business and it’s a clever, if bitchy, metaphor.

Need I go on about this? Nah. That wouldn’t be adding value.

Flip the agenda

It helps me to think of content marketing like this: It’s part of sales – and sales isn’t something I do to someone; it’s something I do for someone.

I used to feel a weird guilt about selling my services and asking for money. Like I was taking. Never like I was giving. But now that I think about selling as serving, and content marketing as “giving away my clever”, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Because ultimately I want my prospect to win.

TLDR: When I give away my IP in the form of a first free consult, email newsletters, free cheat-sheets, downloadable goodies, conference talks, and op eds, I’m serving. Not selling. And it sure does keep me top of mind when the prospect’s ready to buy.

* Disclaimer: If you’re funny, if humour or irony suit your brand, and if your audience can take it, you can also add funny to helpful, human, and generous.

This original op ed by Tiffany Markman was originally published on

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