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From the Trenches

Trick or Treat! Don’t Let Your Content Marketing Spook Your Audience

Yvonne Lyons | October 28, 2016
Trick or Treat! Don’t Let Your Content Marketing Spook Your Audience

Trick or Treat. It’s a hit-or-miss event where effort and stamina really pay off. As a kid, you knew which houses gave out handfuls of Snickers and Milky Way candy bars, which houses gave out healthy snacks and a couple of pennies (clearly a trick), and which neighbors just sat behind their curtains with the lights out pretending they weren’t home. Experience, a knack for identifying trickery, and the ability to cover a lot of ground efficiently really paid dividends in the candy haul.

What does this Halloween flashback have to do with content marketing? A lot. Because your successful content marketing effort is either about tricking or treating your audience. If you have the content marketing plan that strategically and consistently offers up treats, then you are essentially that house that is handing out the full-sized Snickers bars, and your trick-or-treaters — your audience — are going to keep coming back for more. Trick them, and best case, they will stop reading and ignore you. Worst case, they egg your house — or buy stuff from your competition.

So this Halloween (and throughout the year), think about whether what you are handing out as part of your content marketing effort feels like a trick or a treat. Here are some of the most egregious content marketing tricks, and some treats that might get your audience back into your good graces.


Tricking your audience into clicking. Click-bait headlines are one of the big evils in content marketing, in my opinion. It’s a very quick way to lose audience. Remember, just because you have written a headline so clever that readers click to open does not mean that they will continue reading — especially if they realize that you have duped them with content that doesn’t deliver on the promise of the headline. Some say that eight out of 10 people read a headline, but only two out of 10 will read the rest. If you get someone to click through trickery, they may never read your stuff again.

Wearing the mask of educational content while you are really selling. Content marketing is for educating. Some folks still don’t get this. It’s not ok to be sneaky about the educating thing, like starting a piece of content with great, educational information and then shifting into full-blown sales mode halfway through. A call to action is necessary, and can be positioned strategically within and at the conclusion of your content, but selling your product or service throughout damages your credibility and will make your audience question your motives.

Writing mediocre content. We talk about this pretty frequently, but there are still people out there writing bad content and expecting it to make them millionaires. This is like giving out the candy that no one likes or healthy snacks and thinking kids appreciate it. They don’t. Likewise, mailing it in on content and thinking you are getting away with something is silly. People can tell the difference between remarkable content and the thin, poorly written stuff. That kind of content will eventually kill you. People won’t read it.


You’re offering up a variety of content types and topics. You’re the house where the really nice lady reaches into that giant bowl and grabs a whole handful of what happens to be all your favorites and dumps it into your bag. You have done your homework. You know your audience. You know that not everyone takes in content the same way, so you make sure to offer up different types of content for different types of people and different stages of the sales funnel. You see what’s working and what’s not, and that puts you ahead of the other content marketers out there. (Just think, if the neighborhood folks took stock of the candy that was the biggest mover, kids would probably line up for miles.)

You have super cool design — the kind that draws people to your content. Like the super-scary Halloween decorations that draw all the kids to that one terrifying but ultra-cool house in the neighborhood, your content needs great design to be truly successful. Content and design need each other to be successful. One doesn’t work without the other. Just like Halloween isn’t Halloween with only the candy and “trick or treat” but no costumes.

Your organization has an authentic thought leader. Mike Sweeney talked about this in his post last week. If you have an authentic thought leader at your organization and he or she is creating content for you, you’re winning. But in some companies, you’ve got content coming from a half-baked poser who thinks that calling himself a thought leader actually makes him one. And that’s like trying to disguise a bowl of Bit-O-Honeys with a few empty Snickers wrappers on top. You’re not fooling anyone (and they’re certainly not going to come back for more).

So what’s it going to be? Are you going to invest in the good stuff that makes your house the one that the neighborhood kids can’t afford to miss? Or are you going to settle for anything you can scrounge up (pennies, raisins, maybe even a toothbrush or two) — which will all but guarantee that no one’s going to be ringing your doorbell (or reading your content) anytime soon?

We think you should go with the treats. The really good treats. And if you need some help with that, get in touch.

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.