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The Checkout Line Speaks to Content Marketing

Checkout Line, Content Marketing, upsell

The pressure to sell and upsell breeds a philosophy at odds with effective content marketing. (Photo credit: Flickr).

by Frank Strong

Have you been shopping lately? I mean shopping by visiting a bona fide retail store and standing in a check out line.

Recently I stopped in a several stores after being on a trip for two weeks for annual training with the Army and was shocked by one uniform observation: the hard upsell.

Every store I visited — Target, REI, WorldMarket, Walgreens and Toys R Us — applied an incredible amount of pressure at the register to buy more.

Each cashier had a checklist of questions to ask the customer — offers for loyalty cards, credit cards, coupons for return trips, discounts if I bought more — right then and there — and donations to charity among others.

I understand smart processes and the value of an upsell — there are probably a hundred retail consultants with data to prove this works in aggregate — but at what point is it too much? At what point is the customer being badgered?


Pressure: A Slimy Sales Technique

Toys R Us was by far the most aggressive — no less than five different sales questions at checkout.

No kidding, there I was…in a toy store with $120 worth of goods on the counter, and despite giving every non-verbal cue I could muster — my sternest military face and tone — the cashier pressed on with the list of questions she had obviously been instructed to present.

I was beyond annoyed and in fact very tempted to simply walk out with all those toys sitting on the counter. Yeah, that would be a jerk move, but after two weeks away, I just wanted to get my shopping done and get home. Stop bugging me! I’m spending enough already!

At REI, the cashier actually copped an indigent attitude. Apparently I’m the dumbest guy in the world because I didn’t want to save $20 by giving REI my email address to be blasted with sales pitches. She clearly had also been trained: that sort of reaction to a sales objection by a customer is a weak attempt at a psychological trick and sales technique.

You’ll find this in the bag of tricks often at your local car dealership. It’s a real slimy sales technique. There are some things saving a few bucks can’t possibly buy.


The Applicability to Content Marketing

It got me to thinking about content marketing too — in that what’s different about content marketing is the corporate cultural mindset. Marketing departments are so conditioned to spew a hard sell in marketing collateral that doing content marketing effectively is a foreign concept.

The Cluetrain Manifesto prophetically wrote more than a decade ago that “markets are conversations” — but it’s a concept that remains elusive to many.

In a comment on the post, Marketing: the Race to 2nd Place, Joe Cardillo of Visual.ly made a point that really resonated with me:

The problem, as I see it, is that marketers are often guilty of not providing a structure that allows for real conversation with customers. Or, if they do, it is only in the context of buying.

To Sell More, Try Selling Less

The folks that don’t get it also don’t understand why this is so important — and it boils down to trust. If people trust you, they might click on your link, read your content, share your post and when it comes time to make a purchase, they are more likely to make a purchase from you.

Why? You’ve taken the time to demonstrate your expertise and how you can help in a no-pressure manner. You are approachable, trustworthy and most likely to continue helping after they’ve made a purchase. And along the way, your content eliminates the major sales hurdle of educating prospective customers about your product before they enter the sales cycle.

That’s a great foundation for getting sales and marketing to finally agree on the definition of a lead.

This is also why PR is so well-suited to content marketing — because PRs have been doing this exact means of marketing in other mediums for our entire careers. We take out the hard selling content and replace it with a story, and marketing puts it right back in; it’s an endless cycle that’s been at the core of the marketing vs. PR battles for as long as I can remember.

It might seem counter-intuative, but to sell more, we’ve got to sell less hard in our content. It’s an approach that just might work in the checkout line as well.

Photo credit: Flickr

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