After 20 years of writing this column, I’ve decided it’s time to step aside and let someone else share their wisdom. My final four columns are focused on what I believe are the four most important elements of marketing. Get these four correct and the rest is just details.


The four cornerstones of marketing are:

  • Your brand.
  • Your audience.
  • Giving first.
  • Surrounding yourself with the right people.

This week we’ll tackle the idea of who blinks first. What I mean by that is that in every transaction or relationship, someone must be the one who extends themselves and gives first. I believe that in today’s environment, that is one of the roles of marketing.


In the “good old days” we sold by dominating the potential channels. Back then that was print, radio and TV. Now, TV meant three to five channels, so it was relatively easy to be a dominant player. You could broadcast your message to just about everyone with just a few tactics. On top of that, marketing was a monologue back then. Other than your 800 number, consumers didn’t really have a way of influencing brands. There was no social media or ways to review a brand’s products. There was no Twitter or TikTok. The brands were clearly in total control of the message.


But that’s not the way of the world anymore. Now, for the most part, the consumer has far more control than the brand. It’s absolutely a dialogue, and they’re the ones starting and managing the conversation.


That reality changes everything for us. Their ability to shop us on the web and make initial buying decisions long before we even know they’re looking, look at other people’s reviews, and interact with us on social media means they’re driving the interaction.


So how do we regain some of that control?


That’s where the give-first strategy comes in. We can be incredibly helpful to our prospects long before they’re ready to become customers. We can share our expertise, experience and knowledge. We can step into the role of teacher and guide. We can become a resource they rely on. That’s what I mean by giving first.


Why would you do that? Several reasons. 

  • You create a relationship with the prospect before they’re ready to spend a dime.
  • You earn their trust and confidence by consistently being helpful.
  • It makes marketing much easier – you simply teach what you know.
  • You shorten the buying cycle because when they are ready to buy, you’ve already proved yourself to them.
  • It allows your brand to step back into the conversation in a power position – the teacher.

Why wouldn’t a brand embrace this strategy?

  • They’re afraid their competitors will see their “secret sauce.”
  • They want to sell the old-school way.
  • They have more confidence in traditional advertising than a content marketing strategy.
  • They believe they don’t have the resources to pull off a content marketing strategy.
  • Marketing believes this is the way to go but the C-suite does not.

I get it. Change is challenging, and the bigger and more established your organization is, the more so. It would be easier to do it the way we’ve always done it. 


But there’s a reality we need to acknowledge. Old-school marketing was born in a very different moment in time. There simply weren’t technologies to make content marketing connections possible. 


Today, not only are they possible, but they’re also incredibly mainstream. Our consumers are asking for, if not demanding, a different kind of relationship with the brands they’re considering or already supporting.


If we want to have long-term success, I believe we’ve got to get on board with leveraging content marketing to position ourselves as the helpers, not the sellers.