In the eyes of customers, who does your content appear to come from — a guru, guide, partner or helper? Ask this key question as you develop your brand and content marketing strategies.
What kind of customer relationship are you aiming for? Make sure the relationship you want is apparent in the voice of your brand and the nature of your content.
Imagine that your brand is going for a walk with a new customer through an unknown place. Which way does your brand walk with customers?
- Guru: Does your brand lead the way by walking a few steps ahead? Do you blaze new trails, and let customers catch up?
- Guide: Does your brand lead by staying just one step ahead of customers? When a customer hesitates or slows down, do you match his pace?
- Partner: Does your brand walk side by side with customers? Does the brand show up as a companion or friend?
- Helper: Does your brand follow customers’ lead, just a step behind? Does the brand show up as a helper you can count on?
First, clarify which of these roles your brand plays. Then, act to align brand and content marketing with that type of customer relationship.
Guru brands succeed by generating original, thought-provoking content. Over time, they may earn gravitas through speaking, books and thought leadership.
Gurus challenge the way you think. They identify new problems that are just over the horizon. They propose new ways to approach problems and opportunities.
Their messages can be deep. It may take weeks or months for their ideas to fully sink in.
Some of my favorite guru brands include:
- Authors and speakers Seth Godin and Sally Hogshead. Sources of seminal marketing ideas.
- Patagonia, a clothier that leads in sustainability. For example, it’s leading a crusade to remove unneeded dams from rivers.
- IBM with Smarter Planet.
Guides lead the way. They set the pace, stay one step ahead, and always keep an eye on whether customers are keeping up. Compared with a guru, guides’ advice is less “big picture,” more concrete and easier to follow.
My favorite guide brands include:
- REI. When I was new to kayaking, I’ll never forget how well REI treated me. My REI salesperson, an experienced kayaker, walked out to look at my car before recommending which kayak rack to buy. He showed me his favorite gear. REI rounds out the experience with kayaking content, events, lessons and donations.
- Apple, especially at the Genius Bar. It’s actually helpful! Geniuses don’t expect me to learn how to program a computer. Instead they help me make it work.
- Walt Mossberg. He’s crystal-clear about technology.
Some guides are intermediaries whose goal is to help you, without trying to sell you anything. One example is Jen Miller. Here’s her guide on choosing a kayak.
Partners are always there to support you. Professional services firms in law, engineering, construction and finance often position themselves as partners. I think of the relationship that Charles Schwab fosters with clients.
Helpers (good ones) support you by doing what you tell them to. For example, UPS, your phone company or your bank.
Many BtoB brands show up as a guru, guide, partner or helper.How about yours?
Don’t try to fake it. If you’re a helper, don’t pretend to be a guru. That won’t wash with customers or employees. Be authentic.
To be sure, brands can play many roles besides gurus, guides, partners and helpers. For example, design-oriented brands such as architects and interior designers show up as models, commanding attention with style and beauty.
Some brands show up as barkers, always promoting new products. Other brands come across as dealers, always discounting. But those roles may not fit your content marketing strategy.
How does your content show up with customers?
Next blog: 5 ways to adopt the “guru” position in your content marketing.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.