How to Give Good Content Writing Feedback

We’ve all had the experience before – someone says words in a way that makes it clear that they think you’ll know exactlygood content writing feedback what they mean, but you’re stumped. You are just not following what they’re saying to you at all.

This is one of the quirks of communication that everyone deals with at some point. Something can be so clear and obvious in your own head that you think expressing that to the person in front of you (or on the other side of that email) is easy, but what’s clear to you is confusing and muddy to them.

Writers know the feeling of being on the other end of that email well. Most of us have had multiple experiences of hearing feedback from clients that just doesn’t tell us what we need to hear in order to understand what the client means. It’s tricky providing feedback well, but having a good relationship with any writer you hire depends on it. And giving good feedback early on in the relationship will usually help them learn what you’re looking for, so you won’t have to do as much work later on.

To help you more effectively get what you’re wanting from a content writer’s work and keep the relationship positive between you, here are some tips on how to give good content writing feedback.

Read the whole thing.

To start, you want to make sure your feedback is accurate and that means taking the time to read over the entire piece of content they’ve submitted. And really read here – don’t skim.

It’s embarrassing for you and awkward for the writer if they have to point out that you’ve asked them to add a section that actually already exists further down the page or with a heading you didn’t recognize. On top of being awkward, it wastes everyone’s time and you both have better things to do.

Get to it quickly.

I know you’re busy, but if you sit on a blog post or white paper for weeks, or worse, months before sending your feedback, that particular piece won’t be fresh in you content writer’s memory. It’s both harder and less efficient to make good updates if they barely remember the piece by that point and the research they did for it. And some freelance content writers (this one included) will even put feedback deadlines in the contract, so you may miss your chance to get updates altogether if you wait too long.

So give yourself a deadline. Commit to reading over the piece and sending your feedback within a week of receiving it, and get it on your to do list even sooner if possible.

Be specific.

While it’s so obvious to you why the wording in that third paragraph just doesn’t sound right or the overall tone of the piece doesn’t work – your content writer can’t see into your head. You have to explain what you’re seeing to them in terms that make it clear to them how to make the changes you want.

Avoid general language.

Feedback like “this section doesn’t really work” or “this just isn’t clicking” only tells someone that you don’t like what you’re looking at. It doesn’t tell them why. Sure, your writer could re-write that section to be all new wording, but if they don’t understand what you don’t like about it, there’s a good chance they’ll end up just repeating the problem you didn’t like about it the first time.

Saying instead something like “the tone in this section is too formal” or “this sentence is too long, which makes it hard to follow” actually gives us something to work with when making changes.

Make notes and changes in the text itself.

This makes it possible for you to comment directly on specific wording or sections that demonstrate the issue you’re addressing. If you think some of the wording is muddy or confusing, point out specifically where you see that happening rather than expecting the writer to be able to figure it out. If you think there are claims in the piece that need to be better backed up with sources, point out which ones.

Being able to match your feedback with the particular parts of the content piece you’re talking about will help the writer see clearly what you mean so they know both the sort of changes you’re looking for now and how to avoid making those same mistakes in the future.

Provide examples of what you’re looking for.

Particularly when it comes to issues of tone and style, it can be hard to communicate exactly what you want with descriptive terms. If you can point to other blog posts or content pieces – either on your own website or elsewhere – that have the kind of style you’re looking for (or even better, if you have a style guide), it can go a long way to help a writer figure out the right approach to take.

Be respectful.

Clarity is a big part of the good feedback equation, but respect is just as important. When you hire a professional content writer, you need to treat them with professionalism.

Negative feedback is ok, but tone matters.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to provide criticisms. Anyone working in a creative field should have enough of a thick skin to take (respectful) criticism of their work. The line between constructive criticism and being insulting or mean should be clear to you. If it’s not, let someone else in your company be in charge of providing feedback and maybe consider therapy or communication classes to learn the difference, because it’s a pretty important life skill to have. I don’t mean that as shade, but as genuine advice.

Saying “this writing is awful” or “don’t you know anything?” isn’t helpful, but saying “this piece could really use some more work, could you take some time to do a little more research and find some data or case studies to back up your points?” is perfectly reasonable.

Keep things professional.

This relates to tone, but is worth saying on its own. Don’t yell at a content writer because you don’t like their work. Don’t insult their intelligence or use vulgar language to describe what you think of it. For the love of all that matters in this world, do NOT use racial, sexist, or ableist slurs in your response.

Every content writer you hire, whether they’re a freelancer or employee, is someone with a career and their own professional contacts. Know that if you’re the client or boss from hell, their other contacts will hear about it and it will come back to haunt you.

Remember: writing is subjective.

One of the really cool things about language is that there are a lot of right ways to say the same thing. Someone can have a writing style that doesn’t work for you, but is still perfectly good writing. Remember that your opinion on this subject is not the objectively correct opinion.

When you’re paying for someone to write for you, you’re allowed to have an opinion on the writing – of course you are. But don’t frame your feedback as though you know the right way to say things and your writer is clearly wrong for not choosing the wording you would have. If you do, you’ll come off as arrogant and patronizing.

Instead, approach your feedback as an exercise in helping your writer understand how to come around to your preferences for style and tone – or better yet, the preferences you believe your audience has for style and tone. After all, you may be the client, but they’re not actually writing for you.

 

A good working relationship with a freelance content writer can be extremely beneficial to your company and your content marketing program. Good feedback is an important part of being able to keep the writers you hire for the long term and get them to a place where they know how to deliver the kind of content you’re looking for. It’s worth spending a little bit of time, especially early in your relationship, to provide specific and respectful feedback to any writer you work with.

 

Should You Use Gated Content?

gated content

Image source: skitterphoto.com

For many businesses, one of the frustrating things about content marketing is feeling like you’re investing a lot of time and money, putting a lot of value out into the world – but it’s hard to connect that work back to solid leads and sales. One of the tools content marketers have to bridge that gap and turn content into a more direct lead generation tool is gated content.

But while putting content behind a form means you gain something (leads and information), you also lose something. If you’re going to use gated content, you have to think carefully about why and how.

What is Gated Content?

Gated content is any content that’s only accessible to people that provide something in exchange for viewing it. In most marketing cases, that means personal information like a name and email address or business information like your title and business size. Sometimes it can also mean content that goes behind a paywall, so you can only see it after paying for it, but that’s more common for media publications than marketing uses.

form2 form1

4 Reasons to Gate Content

Gated content gives you a way to get something back for the content you put so much work into. There are a few good reasons to consider gating your content:

  • To gain leads

When a person hands over information about themselves to download your content,  you end up with more knowledge about a potential future customer. You know what topic they’re interested in (based on what they downloaded) and how to get back in touch with them. That’s information you can do something with if they look like a promising lead.

  • To collect more information from your leads

A name and an email address can be enough to count someone as a lead, but the more you know about them the more you’re able to be targeted in your contact with them. Sometimes the form for a piece of gated content includes additional fields like business size and industry. And if someone that’s already a lead comes back to check out more of your gated content, you can ask for different information than you did the first time – you already have their email, but maybe they can tell you now the services they offer or their biggest business challenge.

  • It gives you an in to continue the relationship

Someone who views a blog post may find it valuable, but then leave the website and never return. When someone gives you contact information they’re showing engagement and giving you a way to keep the relationship going – something that can often be hard to pull off in content marketing.

  • It signals higher-value content

While content marketing is often all about providing value to your audience (for free), there’s definitely still a sense in our culture that a thing too easily gotten can’t be worth as much. For someone with that mentality, a piece of content they have to give something up for will immediately look more valuable than something publicly available to everyone. Putting content behind a form can therefore be a way of communicating that there’s something special about this piece of content, which can make it look more enticing to your audience.

5 Reasons Not to Gate Content

I’m going to come right out with a clear stance here: not all content should be gated. The benefits of leaving content publicly available on your website are too significant to gate everything.

  • Gated content creates friction.

Anytime you put a barrier between people and what you want them to see, you’re decreasing the number of people that will take that step. In some contexts, that’s ok. Having fewer relevant leads is better than lots of irrelevant ones. But a big part of marketing is creating awareness of your brand and product, and content has an important role to play in that. It won’t help people learn you exist if they can’t see any of the content you create because it’s hidden behind a form.

  • It can cause annoyance.

If someone doesn’t know enough about your brand to trust you and care about what you have to say, being hit with a form first thing asking them to hand over their information is obnoxious. Not only will they probably not provide the information you’ve asked for, but their overall experience on your website will be negative.

If you overuse gated content without taking the time to build up trust with freely accessible content, then you can expect your visitors to experience annoyance and frustration – clearly not emotions you want to cause in potential customers.

  • You lose out on SEO value.

When you put your content out of reach for prospects, you’re putting it out of reach for Google’s algorithms as well. Why would they want to rank a page that has partial information on it with a form to learn more rather than a page on the same subject that lays out all the information a searcher would need? If SEO is a priority (and it should be for most businesses doing content marketing), then most of your content should remain ungated.

This is related to SEO, but worth mentioning on its own. When a writer is looking for content to link to in a post or article that will add value to their readers, they’re less likely to choose a resource that their readers won’t find readily accessible. With some exceptions where what’s behind the gate is so uniquely valuable as to be worth it (original research being the main one), they’ll skip over your gated content and find a resource that’s not behind a form to use.

  • Your blog can be a tool to gain leads without gated content.

If your blog content is consistently useful and you promote your email list throughout the blog and website, then you can gain email signups and leads without putting your content behind a gate. Sticking your best stuff behind a form isn’t the only way to gain leads.

What’s Right For You?

Whether or not you should gate your content depends on three main things:

  • Your goals
  • Your audience
  • Whether or not you have content worth gating

If the main goals of your content marketing program are awareness and SEO, then gated content probably isn’t for you. But if it’s crucial to you to gain leads with your content and your blog isn’t doing the trick, then working up some especially high-quality resources to put behind a form could be a great idea. It all depends on your overall goals and if gating makes sense within the rest of your content strategy.

If You Use Gated Content

If you do decide to start using gated content, then it’s important to do so in a way that keeps your audience top of mind and helps you meet your goals.

Make sure your content is worth it.

First things first, if you put lackluster content behind a gate, people will resent you for it. And if you reach out to contact them after, you’re doing so at a disadvantage because they already lost their trust in you. So you have to make sure any gated content you create is top of the line.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I know this is a topic my audience cares about?
  • Is there anything in my gated content people couldn’t easily find with a simple Google search?
  • Will my audience walk away from this content having learned something they can use to make their lives or work better?

If you can’t confidently answer all three of those questions with a “yes,” this content shouldn’t go behind a form.

Don’t ask for too much.

There are definitely people who would be willing to download content that only asks for an email address, but will balk if you ask for their email, title, business size, industry, date of birth, name of their firstborn…you get the idea. The more time it takes someone to fill out the form and the more they feel like they have to give up, the harder you’re making it for them to say “yes” and complete the task to reach your content.

Think about starting small – just ask for a little information the first time a prospect encounters your gated content. If they come back for more later (a different piece of gated content, that is), you can ask for more.

Promote it like a product.

If you’re putting the time in to create content that’s of a high enough value to put behind a form, then you should commit time to getting it in front of people. Promote your gated content on social media. Plan other relevant content pieces you can use to help promote your gated content and work CTAs into them. Consider pitching relevant guest posts to other blogs that will include links to your gated content, to help get it in front of a new audience. You might even consider paid promotion if you want to make sure you get that much more out of it.

If you simply create it and sit around hoping people will notice and care, you’ll have done all that work for nothing. Help people find the content you worked so hard on.

A/B test forms and CTAs.

If you’d really like to ask for extra information in your form, but aren’t sure you can get away with it without losing leads, do some testing. Figure out different wording to put on the landing page, different fields to include on the form, and different language and designs for the CTAs you use to direct people to your gated content. It’s hard to predict what people will respond to and what wording or design elements will make a difference. You won’t know for sure what matters most unless you test it out.

Make sure you follow up with relevant messaging.

Once a person takes the step of providing their information to download your content, you have an opportunity to keep the relationship going. Don’t bombard them with email marketing, but do work up some follow-up emails that are relevant to the content they downloaded. Use those emails to see about getting them to sign up for your email list or urge them to take further action, like starting a trial or checking out relevant product pages.

Someone who goes so far as to provide you information in order to access your content is usually going to be a valuable lead, so figure out the best strategy for nurturing those leads once you have them.

 

Gated content may not be right for every brand, and no brand should make it 100% of their content strategy. But if you do decide it’s right for you, it may be a good way to bring in new, relevant leads that are likely to turn into customers. You just have to make sure you do it right.

 

 

How to Write When You Don’t Have the Energy

Unfortunately, this is a personal subject for me. For the past three years, I’ve dealt with a thyroid-related issue that causes me frequent fatigue (less so now that I have the right meds). On top of that, I’ve had many days where my brain was foiled by allergies (a bigger deal in Austin than the word “allergies” communicates to most people). But I run a business based around writing and I’ve had to keep it up on the bad days as well as the good.

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

Over time, I’ve become used to keeping my work going when my brain and body just want to curl up in bed and avoid anything that requires mental energy. And writing takes a lot of mental energy. Yet, somehow I still meet my deadlines.

Some days I’m amazed that’s the case, but apparently I’ve figured something out that works. Suspecting that there are others that struggle with similar issues or different ones that affect your productivity in similar ways, I’m sharing what’s worked for me in the hopes that it might work for you.

It’s unlikely that every item on this list will be useful for every person reading it. But if you find that even just one thing here makes a difference, then that’s something.

  1. Re-shape your to-do list based on priority.

Most of us start off each day aiming to do more than we absolutely have to get done. A lot of the time, that ambition serves us well and helps us stay productive. But some days it can feel like a burden pressing down on us making it harder to get anything on the list done.

When you’re having an off day an overwhelming to-do list isn’t doing you any favors. Carefully review the list and figure out which items on it can wait. You need the sparse energy you have for the writing that has to get done today. Move that to the top of the list, do it first, and then do whatever else you can manage after.

  1. Analyze where your energy goes.

This one’s personal, and extremely useful over the long term. Every person’s going to have different types of work and activities that require a lot of energy from them, while others require less. When you deal with any kind of issue that causes you lower energy levels for certain days or periods of time, knowing how to re-shape your calendar based on the amount of energy you’ll have available is a useful skill.

This is valuable even if you don’t struggle with depression or illness – tracking how your energy levels relate to the work (and play even) that you tackle each day can help you plan your weeks more efficiently. You can minimize tasks that require a disproportionate amount of energy for the value they bring to your work.

For instance, I’m extremely introverted. Adding a networking event into my day is going to use up a lot of the energy I have for work that day, even on a good day. So I know to be strategic in when I plan to attend social events, and know when to forego those plans when the energy just isn’t there. Figure out how the typical tasks you have to deal with in a week compare in this regard so you know which ones to cut down on to conserve the energy you have.

  1. Leave wiggle room in your schedule.

If you’re freelance like me, that will mean leaving money on the table. Sorry.

But when you can’t predict what your days will be like, you have to plan your life in a way that anticipates at least some bad days.

This isn’t a tip that will help much if you woke up this morning feeling fatigued or depressed for the first time, but if it becomes something that happens at all regularly, then you have to start planning on it. Worst-case scenario, if you have nothing but good days for a while, that extra wiggle room gives you time to tackle all those tasks that tend to get put off to later when you’re busy.

  1. Use a social media blocker.

Seriously, it helps. When your brain wants to be focusing on anything but the thing you know you most need to be doing, it can fall into the well of endless social media messages. That’s probably not the only distraction in your life you have to grapple with, but it’s one you can do something about.

I use Focus. It costs a small fee, but it’s probably improved my productivity enough to cover its cost several times over. When you genuinely want to be focusing and your brain won’t cooperate for whatever reason, getting a message that reminds you of your good intentions the moment you go to pull up Facebook can be a helpful reminder to get back on track.

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  1. Give work out breaks a try.

I get it. I understand if you’re looking at the computer screen right now feeling so tired or overwhelmed or beat down by life that this is likely the last piece of advice you’ll want to hear.

It’s counterintuitive when it feels like you have so much to do and not enough energy to do it to take time out of your day for exercise. But I’ve found that it sometimes kick-starts my brain and gives me a couple of hours of productivity afterward. It might not do the same for you, but it’s worth a try.

  1. Watch what you eat.

Pay attention to insensitivities or ingredients that regularly make your drowsy or distracted. I know having a carb-heavy lunch brings my productivity down in the afternoon, for example. How people react to food varies, so saving carbs for dinnertime might not make a lick of difference to you. But do some experimenting with cutting certain ingredients out for a period of time to see if you see any difference. Or start making notes of how you feel throughout the day and what you ate so you can see if there’s a relationship.

Changing your diet won’t make something like a thyroid problem or depression disappear entirely, but cutting out something that makes you feel a little bit worse will help you feel a little bit better. When you’re starting from a place of feeling crummy, that little bit of difference can help.

  1. Try supplements or herbal teas.

Look, for all I know it may be the placebo affect, but I’ve found this tea helps when I’m really struggling to focus. And making tea out of fresh ginger (I add in some mint and lemon or lime) seems to help with headaches or allergy-induced brain fog. Ginseng or gingko supplements work for some people. B-12 or vitamin D supplements may work for others.

Your doctor can run some tests to see if you’re low on any supplements that are good for energy and brain health. And you can try out some different options to see if something works for you.

  1. Give yourself a break.

The inspirational stuff you see on social media or in productivity articles for people that don’t have illnesses/depression/whatever you’re dealing with right now may be good for other people, but they can make those of us struggling to finish the bare minimum feel rotten. Know that it’s ok not to hold yourself to someone else’s standard when you’re having a bad day (or week, or month).

Feeling stressed out and hopeless won’t help you get the things you need to done. Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up what you accomplished today is less than you’d hoped.

 

I’m not a doctor or medical expert, so if you’re dealing with something that you think may benefit from talking to someone who is, don’t let this post be a substitute. Getting the right meds made a huge difference in my ability to get work done without having to lean on these tips and tricks quite so often. But having a few more tricks in your bag besides to help out when things are hard doesn’t hurt. I hope these can help you get through the writing that has to get done today and that your tomorrow is better.

 

 

 

 

6 Great Content Writing Examples

Anyone who works in content marketing is used to encountering bad examples. You get better at noticing the stuff that doesn’t work when it’s your job to make stuff that does. Because we’re so used to seeing bad examples, it feels really good to encounter examples of content writing done right.

It can give is some inspiration in our work and, if we’re the target audience, be directly useful to us as well. To provide some of you with that feeling today, I’ve collected a few examples of great content writing I’ve encountered. Enjoy.

Great Business Blogging Examples

For most companies that do content marketing, blogging is the biggest part of the job. Blogs give you the opportunity to provide fresh, useful content to your audience on a regular basis and they’re one of the best tools you’ve got for SEO.

But they’re also hungry beasts that demand lots of work and never let you take a break. That’s caused far too many businesses to try to settle for lazy, cheap content on their blogs – or give up on them entirely within a few months of not seeing immediate results.

The brands that stick with it and provide consistently helpful and high-quality content are therefore in the minority.

HomeAdvisor

Homeowners tend to have a lot of ideas for projects they want to try and questions about how to handle everyday fixes. The Home Advisor blog HomeSource is packed full of answers and tips. The blog is a mix of practical tips like how to hire a good contractor or pack for a move, along with more fun topics like decorating your home and yard.

Probably the most common questions homeowners have are those about cost. Many people – especially new homeowners – simply don’t know what’s normal to expect a home repair or update to cost. In addition to the blog itself, HomeAdvisor therefore offers a True Cost guide to give you an idea of what your budget should be before you start a project, and help you rule out any contractors that charge outside of the norm. And since the company’s business model is based on matching homeowners with the people who do those sorts of projects, they of course offer a handy CTA on the same page to help you find relevant professionals in your area.

content marketing example

Rover

Rover’s got a bit of advantage over most businesses when it comes to their content. The company is all about pets (mostly dogs) – and we all know pet pictures are one of the most popular things on the internet. But in addition to taking advantage of the love people have for pictures of cute animals, the Rover blog Daily Treat also provides a lot of useful information on topics important to pet owners, such as training and safety tips and answers to pressing questions like “do dogs recognize us on a phone screen?” (if you have a dog, you’ve probably wondered).

blogging example
They’re one of the companies that can most successfully get me to click on a link in an email, because they do a great job of figuring out the things pet owners really do want to know.

Ehrlich

If you’re thinking “sure, their content’s good, but Rover has it so much easier than those of us doing marketing in areas less compelling than the cute dog industry,” here’s an example for you. The pest control company Ehrlich has a great blog, deBugged that provides lots of useful information about bugs and other creepy crawly-adjacent subjects.

Bugs aren’t a subject most of us go out of our way to do some reading on each day, but when you need to know how concerned you should really be about Zika virus or what to do about bed bugs, those posts will come in handy. And the rest of the time, you may find posts on topics like how long wasps live to be interesting as well. Like Home Advisor, they include CTAs at the end of their content where relevant so that person trying to figure out what to do about bed bugs knows who to call to help.

blogging example

 Great Examples of Longform Content

As content marketing is adopted by more and more businesses in all sorts of industries, finding a way to stand out is a challenge. One route many businesses are taking is creating content that goes more in depth. It takes more work, but if you can pack more of the information your prospects need into one longform piece rather than spreading it over a number of shorter pieces, many people will find that more helpful.

Freshbooks

Freshbooks’ target audience for their accounting software is small businesses and freelancers. That’s a group of people that thinks a lot about pricing – figuring out how to charge for your services in a way that works for you and your customers is a fraught subject.

In order to provide them information so useful it could stand out in the marketing crowd, they put together an ebook that tackled the subject of how to switch from charging hourly to project-based pricing. The 70-page book is structured like a conversation between two relatable professionals and lays out the case for a different approach to pricing that can help service-based small business owners make more.

The book got reviewed around the web and collected positive testimonials from a number of key influencers. Not bad in our world of content saturation.

longform content writing example

Moz

I mentioned content saturation before, but arguably the industry that has it the worst is marketing. Many of the earliest adopters of content marketing were marketing agencies and marketing software companies. Producing content about marketing that doesn’t repeat what’s been said before and manages to provide something truly useful is a huge challenge businesses face. But Moz is consistently good at it.

Any time I encounter someone looking to learn the basics of SEO, I send them over to the The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz. It’s thorough, but manageable. It’s written in a way to be accessible to people new to the concept and it’s organized to make it easy to focus in on specific sections when you just need a refresher on, say, keyword research.

The guide was produced several years ago, but is updated regularly to make sure the information stays accurate. It’s been read over 3 million times and continues to generate new traffic for the site.

longform content writing example

Rodale’s

For people just getting started, gardening is both exciting and overwhelming. There’s a lot you need to know and figuring out both the answers to your questions and even what questions you should have can be challenging.

In addition to their usual helpful blog content, Rodale’s also provides some longform guides that help the people in their target audience – gardeners that care about the environment – learn all the most important basics to start out with.

Their Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening covers using seeds, using transplants, weeds, pest control, and basic gardening vocabulary. It ensures readers can go into their local nursery with all the 101-information covered.

longform content writing example

Content marketing is hard to do well, but seeing how other brands are pulling it off can help you to revisit your own strategy to consider ways to do better.

Hopefully these examples will provide some inspiration for your own content. And if you could use some extra help with content writing for your business, that’s what I do. Get in touch to see if we might be a good fit.

Want more examples of great content writing to check out? I collected 7 great examples of business blogs in a recent post and I’ve got a whole page of content writing links by me over on my writing samples page.

Should Your Marketing Take a Political Stand?

In spite of the old saying to avoid talking politics and religion at the dinner table, politics has always been a topic that made its way into conversations in all sorts of contexts (not all of them appropriate to the topic). But this past November, for people in the United States in particular, it suddenly became much more difficult not to talk about politics.

The current political climate is more polarized than ever and inspires strong emotions from people on both sides. In response, some brands have seen it as an opportunity to be more open about their politics.

It’s a risky move.

On the one hand, making politics a part of your marketing message can inspire more loyalty from the customers who share your politics. But as a number of brands have seen in the past few months (and to a lesser extent, before as well), it can also provoke boycotts from those who oppose the politics you purport.

Worse, if your attempt isn’t thought through or comes off as inauthentic (or both), you can end up driving away both sides at once. Pepsi got a serious lesson in that with its recent ad starring Kendall Jenner which made a tone-deaf attempt to capitalize on the Black Lives Matter movement.

But sometimes the risk does pay off and expressing your politics can help you gain a closer connection with your customers – something all brands hope and work so hard for. It’s tricky, but it can be done.

Here are few important guidelines you have to follow if you want to get it right.

Consider your audience.

The first rule of marketing in all contexts has to be given proper weight in considering how to address politics in your marketing as well. If your audience is predominately conservative and you take a liberal stand, or vice versa, you’ll be alienating the main people who buy from you.

If you know your business doesn’t really share the values of your target audience, then you’re better off steering clear of any political messaging altogether. If you have a pretty good idea that you and your customers are on the same page, then openly addressing political issues in your marketing could be a savvy move.

Thinx knows its audience is mostly young, mostly female, and mostly progressive in their politics. As a result, it can safely base the brand’s marketing newsletter entirely around feminist issues and trust that their customers will be more likely to nod their heads in agreement, rather than get angry at seeing politics they don’t relate to represented.

thinx

Thinx has a specific enough audience (people with periods – so mostly women under a certain age) that they have it easier than most brands when it comes to knowing how their customers are likely to respond to political messaging. If you’re less sure of how your audience will respond to a political message, consider doing some customer research before taking that step.

Note: If your brand feels that your political views are important enough that it’s worth taking the risk of losing some customers, then that’s another issue entirely. If you’re prepared to risk profits to stand up for something, then it may be ok to skip that customer research and just go for it.

Be thoughtful.

Any political messaging that’s built into marketing has to be authentic. If it seems like you’re trying to take advantage of a political moment that affects people’s lives in a significant way, you risk inspiring cynicism and anger rather than the sense of camaraderie you’re hoping for.

Penzey’s declared their opposition to the Republican party in clear terms back in November, fully expecting the move to be a risk, but clearly making the case for why they felt it was an important move to take in an email to their subscribers.

They did receive some angry responses, but the email ended up being the most shared email they’d ever sent and most of their email subscribers stuck with them.

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The message they sent made it clear that they really thought through the decision of taking this step. They worked out what they wanted to say and how, and crafted their message in a way that made where they stood clear.

And they tied it back to the brand by pointing to the larger culture of cooking: “The kindness of tens of thousands of generations of cooks created our humanity, but racism, sexism, and homophobia can all very quickly unravel all the goodness cooking puts out into the world. As the voice of cooks, we will never sit idly by while that happens.”

This wasn’t a blind grab for attention by referencing something in the news, it was smart, well thought-out marketing that took a risk, made a stand, and paid off.

Be ready to put your money where your mouth is.

Saying you back a particular issue or cause can let your customers know where you stand, but actively donating to that cause or showing a willingness to take steps that could lose you money in support of it tells your customers so much more.

Patagonia is a brand that appeals to people that love the outdoors – a group which has a big overlap with people who care about the environment, for obvious reasons. It makes a lot of sense for them as a company to take a stand for the environment. And their website puts their opinions on the subject front and center.

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But they’re still a brand out to make money and it could be easy for their customers to roll their eyes and see their mentions of environmental issues as pandering.

It becomes harder for customers to maintain that kind of cynicism when they see the company  put their money where their mouth is with their $10 Million for the Planet Initiative. The company committed to donating all their sales from Black Friday to grassroots organizations working on environmental issues. Their customers came out in droves that day and helped the brand make over $10 million to give to a good cause.

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The move showed their customers they were prepared to do more than just talk.

 

Addressing political issues is decidedly not a good move for every brand. But if you consider your audience and carefully think through both the how and why of taking a political stand, it could be worth it for your brand. In this political climate, it’s definitely a risk, but it’s one that could lead to a stronger connection with your audience, a more meaningful positioning for your brand, and the moral sense of doing something that matters – not a feeling that regularly comes with marketing work.