Consumers recognize and reward authenticity from brands — probably because it’s so rare. It’s rare because being authentic can be really uncomfortable. Authenticity requires a willingness to be vulnerable and take risks — and to accept that your company isn’t always perfect.
We firmly believe that the vast majority of clients we work with would seriously benefit from addressing more controversial topics through their content: talking about what competitors are doing well, addressing their own missteps, or fielding customer questions that may lead to unfavorable answers. This approach can dramatically increase their appeal with audiences, build trust, and differentiate them from everyone else.
Most choose not to, though, because they’re afraid.
If your mindset as a company is always “sell, sell, sell,” it feels very counterintuitive to talk about things that may turn people off of your product or service. Most of our clients instinctively avoid any content topics that might be seen as “controversial,” and they generally prefer not to share their perspectives on current events or issues that may not specifically relate to their company.
Understandably, clients don’t want their rivals “stealing” customers, so they also tend to avoid acknowledging competitor successes or avoid mentioning the competition altogether. They don’t like the idea of providing free promotion for companies in their industry.
We get that. Most of our clients operate within highly competitive industries, and content that may alienate customers or draw criticism doesn’t appear to move the needle in the right direction.
By avoiding tough topics, companies can minimize risk. But they also inevitably miss out on big opportunities. In fact, in our experience, clients that address the following five "taboo" topics in their content earn more respect from customers, which ultimately assists in the sales process.
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When we recommend that clients address pricing through their content, the most common response is “Our service/product is customized, so we can’t talk about it.” Discussions about price don’t have to be highly specific. It can be helpful for customers to understand the range of prices you offer and what’s behind those numbers. Likewise, discussing pricing in your industry in general can give audiences a better understanding of the playing field.
The keyword research we do for clients tells us that price is something that people search for, regardless of the product or service they’re after. As consumers, I'm sure we can all agree that price plays a role in our research and decision-making process, but the common fear among our clients is putting people off with big numbers or giving competitors insight into their pricing structure. If people are deterred by your prices, it’s usually because they either don’t have the budget for or don’t see the value of your offering — two entirely different concerns that can also be addressed through content.
Highlighting your competition does a couple of things for you. First, it shows that you’re a valuable thought leader who's keyed into what’s happening in your industry — you know the major players and their strengths and weaknesses. This boosts your credibility. Second, it allows you to highlight where and how you may be different from direct competitors (and how you might be similar). This enables audience members to make a more informed decision about whether your product or service is the right one for their needs. If you’re upfront with them about how you stack up against the competition — about what you do better and vice versa — you help potential customers avoid subjecting themselves to a long sales process only to find that one product or the other just isn’t the right fit. Whether or not they purchase from you, they’ll appreciate and remember your candor.
Want to learn more about how to face off against your competition using thought leadership? Everything you need to know is right here:
Like talking about your competitors, being clear about what your product or service doesn’t do and who it isn't a good fit for can be tough. Ultimately, though, it benefits both you and your potential customers. Providing prospects with examples of problems your product isn’t meant to solve is a great way to establish a baseline of transparency as a company. Potential customers who know you’re trying to sell them something they need, rather than something they don’t, are far more likely to trust you in the future. Just because certain prospects aren't good candidates for your service now doesn’t mean they won’t be at some future date. When their needs change, you’ll be the first one to pop back onto their radar.
Clients often want to show customers that they’re staying abreast of industry issues, but they rarely want to take a strong stance on those issues. Offering a firm opinion rather than regurgitating widely held, well-known viewpoints is a critical aspect of true thought leadership — especially when creating guest posts or off-site content. Your distinctive insights help elevate your content, make it more sharable, and potentially make it more suited to popular online publications.
Many of our clients work in industries that are changing rapidly. Oftentimes, they’ll talk with us about important challenges that they and their competitors are facing but that no one wants to address directly. We always ask new clients about the “elephant in the room” within their industry because it leads to insights that customers and prospects want and need to hear — if only someone would be brave enough to voice them. If you address the elephant in the room when no one else will, you’ll quickly position yourself as a brand with nothing to hide. You'll show that your company is honest and knowledgeable about the issues impacting your industry.
In the modern world, transparency matters — whether it’s about the ingredients in our food or a company’s diversity practices. Consumers today want to be able to trust the brands that they purchase from, and they don’t easily forgive those brands when their trust is breached. Content that tactfully addresses tough topics can go a long way toward building your credibility with audiences.
Nine times out of 10, our clients will push back when we suggest addressing one of the topics above. When they’re spending money on content marketing, they understandably want it to go toward highlighting the great things they’ve worked really hard to accomplish. It feels counterproductive to point out uncomfortable things, but we do it anyway because we know what audiences want. The internet is full of promotional content, and your audience members are bombarded by sales pitches and advertising nearly 24/7. Stand out by saying something that provides them with real value, even when it’s hard. You will be rewarded.