Cartoonist and marketing savant Tom Fishburne coined the term “Trojan Horse Marketing” to describe the special kind of content that people actually want to engage and consume but still delivers an important marketing message. In essence, this represents nirvana for content marketers: content that consumers will gleefully consume and even seek out. But how does a content marketer begin on their path towards the El Dorado of the marketing discipline? Marketers, content or otherwise, must always begin from a consumer-focused perspective. Without adopting that perspective, marketers are doomed to delivering messages to consumers that they have no desire or intention of consuming.

Content marketing expert Ann Handley advocates for the transition of a content-mindset to a customer-mindset when setting out to create marketing content. As consumers are inundated by more and more pieces of unrequested content every day, through online platforms on social media, it is only logical that they move to avoid pieces that carry heavy-handed sales pitches. This is why marketers must focus on what consumers want out of the content they consume in order to create, as Fishburne puts it, “content so good, the audience will welcome it for its own sake.” If marketers can effectively meet consumers where they are in their needs and desires, they can generate stronger customer relationships and build brand equity.

However, as marketers continue to diversify their toolbox with indirect marketing techniques, it is normal, and frankly good, that an ethical question arises from these new practices. Tom Fishburne has emphasized that when you create effective marketing content, it “doesn’t feel like marketing.” But, should consumers be made aware that they are effectively being sold? As a marketer, just because you can, does it mean you should?

In his 2011 Harvard Business Review article, author Bill Taylor ponders this very question centered around the events of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Taylor states, “Real leadership is about embracing the ‘values proposition’ — doing the right thing at all times, and figuring out how to build a great business around that unwavering promise.” In essence, as long as marketers maintain a long-term strategic view, based upon the strong values of their organization, they can endeavor to create effective marketing content that maintains ethical principles.

Ultimately, content marketing should be a long-term play designed to build relationships with consumers, and in turn, brand equity, over time by delivering to them content with which they themselves ultimately want to engage. Consumers must be allowed to decide when they want to be sold to, not the other way around.

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