There’s no doubt that content marketing serves as the wellspring of digital marketing success. Content assets like blogs, ebooks, infographics, and videos provide the foundation for many other marketing strategies, like paid digital advertising and email automation.
But sales and marketing departments continue to debate which sort of content is most effective at generating a return on investment: sales-based or tangential. The argument lies at the root of the sales-marketing dynamic and arises from two competing perspectives.
The Relationship Between Sales and Marketing
The contentious relationship between sales and marketing is the worst-kept secret in the professional world. Although both departments have the same goal, they have different objectives and differing opinions on how to move their companies forward. Too often, the tension between those differing views becomes personal, disintegrates relationships, and prevents progress.
At a fundamental level, sales departments should generate revenue while marketing departments should develop and nurture leads. In theory, marketing should generate qualified leads that help drive sales.
However, as the field of marketing (and especially digital marketing) continues its transformation into a data-driven industry, companies now expect their marketing departments to drive traffic to multiple web properties, create brand awareness through social media, and develop organic lists through paid digital advertising, among other responsibilities. And as marketers become more influential in the overall success of a given company, any pre-existing resentment between the two departments tends to deepen and calcify.
Part of this resentment comes from a drastic shift in how and when marketers transfer the leads they’ve generated so sales can nurture and close them. In the past, sales departments met most potential buyers early in their purchasing journeys, but recent research suggests the average buyer today gets 70% of the way through their journey before they ever speak with someone from sales.
Because contemporary marketers are leading potential customers and clients from the awareness stage through many of the other stages in a typical purchasing journey (interest, consideration, intent, evaluation), they feel they deserve more influence on how those leads get converted, scored, and assessed. This results in a turf war and sows dissenting views on where one person’s job ends and the other’s begins. And when both departments fail to meet key performance indicators, you can bet the blame game will begin.
At the end of the day, companies need to reconcile these departments and get them working together. Marketers need to pass high-quality leads instead of just focusing on quantity, and sales professionals need to follow up with those leads consistently instead of cherry-picking.
According to the B2B research firm Sirius Decisions, highly aligned B2B organizations achieve 19% faster revenue growth and 15% higher profitability. So, the incentive is there for sales and marketing to collaborate, but things become even more challenging when content enters the mix.
Often, sales professionals prefer web properties that focus on sales-oriented content. They want to make sure that those properties champion their company’s products and services and direct users toward purchasing decisions.
Of course, the problem with this is that they’re taking a myopic, narrow approach instead of empathizing with the user, who is looking for information related to those products and services as well as informative, engaging content that fosters trust in the company. In other words, they’re looking for tangential content.
The Importance of Tangential Content
Tangential content is a marketing term that refers to blogs, ebooks, infographics, webpages, and videos that don’t directly focus on a company’s products, services, or brand. Ignoring this type of content and focusing exclusively on sales material is a shortsighted approach that can have drastic consequences. Meanwhile, tangential content has a much broader appeal and can generate lots of positive outcomes.
Here are just a few examples of tangential content we’ve created for clients over the years:
- A piece on diversity in the workplace for the employer audience segment of an HMO
- A piece on the history of the American tax system for a law firm specializing in tax liability issues
- A piece on famous chickens in popular culture for a domestic chicken coop manufacturer
Notice how each topic relates tangentially to each company’s products or services? The primary goal of each piece, in order, is to be informative, educational, and fun.
These pieces have generated significant traffic for each client’s website, and they’ve helped generate conversions. They display thought leadership and entice readers to come back to the site — perhaps so they can review other, more sales-focused content.
Sales departments frequently push for collateral that will result in immediate high-quality leads, but that’s not the way digital marketing works, at least not anymore. Today, the name of the game is deeper metrics like readership, social visibility, and newsletter signups and opens. By employing strategies that emphasize these metrics, you can create content that nurtures lasting relationships and delivers perpetual value, but only if the material serves to promote brand awareness, increase consumer engagement, and establish lasting trust.
But don’t take our word for it. The respected marketing agency Fractl recently conducted an internal audit of 835 content marketing campaigns and found that their tangential content significantly outperformed their “on-brand” content, per the numbers below:
- Average number of pickups
- Tangential: 114
- On-brand: 87
- Average number of social shares
- Tangential: 9,595
- On-brand: 5,431
Meanwhile, in a 2017 survey administered by the marketing agency Ascend2, researchers asked marketing influencers to identify the most important objectives for a content marketing and distribution strategy. The results might surprise you:
- Increasing sales revenue: 50%
- Increasing brand awareness: 47%
- Improving lead generation/nurturing: 44%
- Improving customer engagement: 42%
- Increasing website traffic: 34%
- Improving search engine rankings: 32%
As you can see, generating revenue came in first (which is where it belongs), but it’s followed closely by increasing brand awareness, nurturing leads, and creating engagement — objectives that too many sales departments downplay or ignore. This research highlights the importance of link-building, PR mentions, guest blogging, and other outside-the-box strategies. Granted, the researchers compiled the results from a group of marketers, but the survey still indicates how important those additional objectives are.
Tangential content helps achieve several other objectives, including:
- Top-of-funnel awareness: Branded content might be most effective for users nearing the end of the purchasing journey, but tangential content serves as the initial hook, especially for industries whose products and services don’t generate a lot of public interest.
- Digital sharing: Third parties have no interest in sharing or promoting your sales-based content, which can leave your social and link-building campaigns dead on arrival. Conversely, third parties like tangential content because they know readers love it, which translates to more clicks and more time spent on the page.
- Resonance: Tangential content can be informative, fun, and even humorous. These attributes encourage repeat visits and consistent readership.
- Diversity: At some point, sales-based content becomes stale and repetitive. If your content marketing initiatives have stagnated, tangential content can bring in fresh air and complement your more brand-oriented material.
Creating Quality Content That Generates Leads and Drives Sales
As with any content marketing campaign, building a library of tangential content should begin with a review of your personas. These are distillations of your ideal clients, and they should guide all your marketing efforts. Personas help you understand who you’re marketing to, why you’re targeting them, and which tactics are most likely to work. If your business model or your offerings have changed significantly, you’ll want to update your personas based on the most recent data about your prospects’ demographics, interests, and user history.
After you’ve created personas, use them to begin brainstorming potential content topics. Facebook Insights is a good place to start, as are Google’s AdWords and Analytics platforms. These tools will tell you where your site visitors come from and which topics interest them most.
If you’re unsure whether a certain topic might succeed on your site’s blog or as a collateral asset in a related campaign, you might want to test it out as social media content. Then, based on the amount of traction the post generates (or doesn’t), you can decide to move forward with an original piece or head back to the drawing board for new inspiration.
Here are a few pertinent questions to ask yourself when developing tangential topics:
- Does your brand lend itself to pop culture topics like film, music, or sports? Why not try a comparative list that links your products and services to a clever counterpoint in mainstream culture?
- Are your potential customers interested in politics or activism? If so, tread carefully, but don’t hesitate to take a position on issues that reflect your company’s core values.
- Is your brand light-hearted enough to play with memes, GIFs, or funny videos from Reddit or YouTube? These mediums have mass appeal and can establish a kinship between your company and your site visitors.
- Does your company invest in the community through charitable donations or volunteerism? Sharing your philanthropic efforts and experiences will place your company in a positive light and distinguish you from the competition.
- What are your sales professionals saying? Open the lines of communication to determine how your sales team is pitching your products and services and how prospects are responding to these efforts.
Regardless of your industry, the root of all great content is emotional connection. Connection inspires action, and action influences conversions. Those conversions increase sales, generate a better return on investment, and ultimately breed harmony between sales and marketing departments.
Look at that — we’ve come full circle.
LaFleur Understands How Marketing Impacts Sales
We know you believe in your brand. We believe in it, too. But implementing a content strategy that focuses exclusively on your brand and your selling points will ultimately fail. Users will move on to other sites, your social media efforts will stagnate, and third-party affiliates will have no use for your material — all of which will squander your potential to make a larger impact on your industry and community.
That’s why, if you’d like, we would love to speak with you about your existing strategies and how we can help improve your digital marketing results. Our content team is full of expert writers, including professors, journalists, and former attorneys, so we’re confident we can create content strategies that work for you, regardless of your industry or geographic location.
DeMers, J. (2018, March 12). How content marketing should relate to your sales strategy. Hanleywood. Retrieved from http://www.hanleywood.com/marketing-insights/how-content-marketing-should-connect-to-your-sales-strategy_s
Hayward, K. (2018). The relationship between sales and marketing and the impact to your business. Pure Matter. Retrieved from http://www.purematter.com/relationship-sales-marketing-impact-business/
Isaacs, N. (2018, March 28). 5 content strategy mistakes that are killing your results. Act-On. Retrieved from https://www.act-on.com/blog/5-content-strategy-mistakes-that-are-killing-your-results/
Jones, K. (2017, October 24). Tangential content earns more links and social shares in boring industries. Moz. Retrieved from https://moz.com/blog/tangential-content
Lehr, A. (2017, July 19). 5 reasons to create content outside your niche. Marketing Land. Retrieved from https://marketingland.com/5-reasons-create-content-outside-niche-219459