The First Rule of Impactful Content: Show, Don’t Tell

“Show, Don’t Tell” is one of the most important principles of content marketing.

But this idea actually finds its roots in creative writing. 

Content marketing expert Neil Patel uses a quote from playwright Anton Chekov to illustrate this concept: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 

In fiction, this principle simply means targeting more descriptive language. Instead of saying the “the man was worried,” we would target something more like “the man furrowed his brow and took a long drink.”

So what does this mean for marketing?

Today’s online consumer is inundated with advertising, sales pitches, and content marketing schemes. We spend lots of time online, and much of that time is filled with (direct or indirect) marketing.

Consequently, today’s online consumer is growing increasingly savvy at filtering out direct sales messages.

Amid this sea of attempted persuasion, consumers are starving for content that’s genuinely informative, provides new data, and helps this solve real problems. 

Potential customers need to be shown why a product is right for them rather than told that it is right for them. 

This fact is only more salient for potential B2B technology customers. Business leaders want compelling information that helps pinpoint real solutions, not slick sales copy.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a direct sales pitch. Every marketing to sales funnel will eventually need to communicate some variant of “Buy now!” But we need to adjust our vision to reflect the digital environment.

In a pre-internet marketing world, companies had short, predefined snippets of media space to make their sales pitch. From radio spots, to billboards, to print magazine ads, marketing efforts needed to focus on directly communicating basic information alongside an explicit sales pitch.

In fact, these traditional marketing venues still have real value. But they work very differently from digital content, which provides a user-directed marketing experience that unfolds over time, rather than over a single 30-second interaction.

And yet, far too many websites today are structured and written as if they’re a print advertisement:  a few bullet points on basic product benefits and a buy now button. Even when deeper content like blogs are created, they often rely on simple re-framing of the same basic sales pitch from the home page.

Imagine we’re marketing a new app that helps automate SEO administration tasks. Consider two options for a blog post.

  1. 5 Reasons Why Our Technology is the Best Option for SEO Automation
  2. Is SEO Automation Right for You? The Ultimate Guide

The first blog post may be read by a few prospective customers who already understand the product and are deciding whether to buy. There’s a place for content like this.

But the second option drives much more value over the long term. And it does much more to nurture potential customers who don’t quite know what they’re looking for, just that there’s a problem they need solved.

If the underlying content delivers on the title’s promise for a truly informative guide, it’s likely to be:

  1. Bookmarked and returned to over time.
  2. Shared across professional networks.
  3. Shared on websites like LinkedIN.
  4. Used to educate customers who didn’t even know they needed this product.

Most of all, this guide will be a long term asset for building your brand’s reputation for authoritative knowledge and genuine dedication to solving problems. 

A reader who trusts you to “tell it like it is” as an expert in your field is a reader who is more likely to make a purchase.

At Stage 2, the “show don’t tell” approach stands at the core of our content marketing services. It’s an essential first step for building content marketing assets that generate organic SEO results while maximizing their ROI over the long term. 


Building Content Marketing Assets That Drive Value Beyond SEO

Content should be built with an eye towards not just search, but building industry authority as a thought leader, supporting business development, and facilitating customer success.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) should be at the core of any serious digital marketing strategy, and SEO is an essential part of Stage2’s overall digital marketing services. Developing high quality content that’s carefully tailored to target keywords is the only realistic path to a sustainable flow of organic long-term search traffic. 

Creating quality content comes with real costs, however (whether that’s time for busy internal professionals or fees for content marketing services). To maximize the ROI of the time and money spent on content development, we have to think “beyond SEO.” The organic search traffic provided by a well executed SEO strategy can be crafted into a gold-mine for highly relevant leads. These leads, however, are not the only objective of a high quality digital marketing presence. 

High-value content should not only center on carefully targeted keywords, but be built to: 

  • Demonstrate knowledge, thoughtful engagement with relevant business problems, and awareness of other quality content on the topic. Truly informative content doesn’t just earn search traffic—it helps demonstrate authority on topics of vital importance to your target audience. 
  • Provide quality that goes beyond skeletal keyword-oriented pages. Truly deep, informative content earns bookmarks, social media shares, and raised eyebrows (not to mention search rankings).
  • Be thoughtfully integrated with a web of related content. Each piece of content should be built to not just earn traffic in isolation, but direct users further into a web of helpful content—content that offers not only the ability to make a purchase directly, but learn more over time.
  • Be coordinated with non-digital sales and marketing opportunities. For example, a white paper building off a conference presentation has a ready-made audience—include a link to learn more at the end of the presentation. High quality content shouldn’t just sit on the website, but be actively promoted as a useful resource for supporting and leveraging broader business development work. 

Building multi-faceted content also helps digital marketing spending generate some returns sooner rather than later. A white paper, for instance, might start generating serious organic search action over a 6–12 month timespan. But, if distributed by employees and executives through channels like LinkedIN, this asset can start generating real value far sooner than that.

Building content with this sort of depth takes substantial writing time, and even more careful planning. Each new asset needs to thoughtfully build on the existing web of digital marketing content.

This detailed-oriented execution can be troublesome to support in-house. 

Executives and technical resources at growth stage companies often struggle to find  time to write even a rough drafts, much less polished documents worthy of proudly distributing to industry executives. Which is precisely why Stage2 offers content writing, planning, and strategy as a key component of our core SEO and digital marketing offerings.

Targeted interview sessions with client subject matter experts (SME’s) and executives help turn your ideas into content using only a brief meeting or rough notes, saving busy team members hours of hard writing and editing work. Initial drafts can then be tweaked as necessary to ensure a high quality final product. Our writing team conducts independent background research as needed to deliver quality insight on even dense, highly technical topics, no hand-holding required. 

Get in touch with Stage2 Marketing here to discuss your digital marketing strategy and content needs. Through our CMO and marketing consulting services, you can not only get help building great content, but scaling up the digital marketing strategy you need to put it to work.


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