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We’re starting to think that “content marketing” is dead. Or rather, it needs to die.

Why? Because too many associations have the wrong idea about how to use content to connect with new prospects. It occurs to us that the term itself might be the problem.

To be clear, content marketing is about creating and sharing pieces of compelling content that help establish your brand as helpful. This piece you’re reading is content marketing. So we’re clearly on board with the idea.

The problem is that, for many associations who do content marketing, the emphasis is usually on the content itself, not the person on the receiving end.

Content Overload is Not a Relationship-Building Strategy

How do we know associations are emphasizing content over people? Because when we dig into the practices and journey maps our clients create, we see very little attention paid to the fact that most people don’t want to be overwhelmed with content in their email inbox.

It’s all, Look at our content! Give us your email and we will send you so much content! Then we’ll ask what you think about our content! Then we’ll slice and dice and show you the same piece of content 7 different ways!

When it really should be, Hey, nice to meet you. You probably don’t want all this junk in your inbox, because you’re a person, not a robot. Let’s start a conversation that respects your time.

Consider how many people open their email each day, use the “shift” key to highlight a pack of emails, and delete them wholesale.

It’s what we do. So does your boss, your best friend from college, and the guy who sold you your mattress.

And you know who else does? All those prospects you forgot were people, who get irritated at the very same things you get irritated at.

Your content marketing is overloading people, instead of learning about them and meeting them on their terms.

What you need instead is people marketing.

Two Principals for People Marketing

People marketing is about making information more accessible and reducing the level of annoyance prospects feel. It offers content without overwhelm. It asks: What irritates you? And then it avoids that.

People marketing is based on the idea that you should always think like a prospect.

We’ve got two principals to help you understand people marketing. The first one is an old-school, universal truth and the second is based in behavioral science.

#1 Market to others how you want to be marketed to.

We all know the golden rule of treating others how you want to be treated. It’s elegant and beautifully simple. But when it comes to marketing, hardly anyone does it.

Ask yourself, what builds trust for you? What makes you engage instead of deleting, lean in instead of running away? Sure, some of it is topic related (people who are interested in sports read sports content, etc.). But much of it is behavior related. If people feel like you are inundating them and wasting their time, you’re gone from their inbox.

#2 Think differently about outcomes (and happiness).

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling Upon Happiness, has written extensively about how bad human beings are at predicting what will make us happy and how long our happiness will last.

For example, positive events, like promotions or a new house, do add to our happiness, he says. But not as much as we think, and not for very long. What makes us most genuinely happy, and happy for the long haul, are social connections with others.

His work deals with individuals, but we think the findings generalize to organizations—since organizations are run by individuals. Especially the idea that when you focus so much on desired outcomes (because you’re certain they are the key to happiness), there’s a lot you might miss.

Associations can become so preoccupied with reaching short-terms goals that they compromise the very relationships they are trying to build. They think more content and more emails will create outcomes that bring happiness for everyone. But they miss what people want: connections.

In other words, beware of trading short-view actions for long-term strategy.

What Will Your People Marketing Look Like?

This is the question your association should be asking itself. Inside of it are the questions: How can you think more like a prospect? How can you create trust among people who don’t know you? How can you focus on people more than outcomes?

Rottman Creative helps associations like yours find answers to these questions.

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