You Are Not the Star of Your Content Marketing

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I talk a lot about the principle of “Marketing Sideways” – content marketing that is inherently useful (a Youtility) but is NOT about your products and services per se. This type of content marketing transcends the transaction, and creates awareness for your brand at the top of the funnel – among potential customers that otherwise might not be introduced to your company and its offerings.

Many companies do this today, including Columbia Sportswear’s “What Knot to Do in the Greater Outdoors” mobile application. It tells you how to tie knots right on your phone. It transcends the transaction because Columbia doesn’t sell rope. Yet, the content execution is of interest to the company’s target market of outdoors enthusiasts because it is inherently useful and topically relevant.

While the increase in interest around “content marketing” has made this sideways approach a frequent topic of conversation, the premise has been around for at least 100 years and probably much longer than that. Daniel Lemin, a senior strategist here at Convince & Convert, sent me a link to this incredible example of Youtility using sideways marketing from Gallaher, Ltd. cigarettes in the U.K. from the 1910s. All are useful, although some are perhaps intended for unlikely scenarios in the every day (even then). Note that none of these talk about the companies or brands, other than mentioning their names on the fronts of the cards.

Marketing Sideways: How to Remove a Splinter

How to extract a splinter. Digital ID: 1643068. New York Public Library

Marketing Sideways: How to Stop a Mad Dog

How to stop a mad dog. Digital ID: 1135951. New York Public Library


Marketing Sideways: How to Keep Plants Watered While on Holiday

Keeping plants watered while a... Digital ID: 1641614. New York Public Library


This one is particularly remarkable because Lowe’s created almost the same content marketing with their Fix in Six series, itself a fantastic example of sideways marketing (and atomization of Youtility):

Marketing Sideways: How to Rescue Someone From Electric Shock

Electric Shock. Digital ID: 1136376. New York Public Library


I just love that this exists, and I can envision the long-ago staff meeting where it was devised. “Say Alistair, it appears as though we have a fine series of advice for the fellows that smoke Gallaher’s. But one more to complete the set do we need. Perhaps some sound counsel for those afflicted by electric shock?”

In the 100 years since these cards were distributed, content marketing has become more common and more digital but the core premise of transcending the transaction with your Youtility remains:

Remember: the reality is that your products and services aren’t that interesting. Build relationships with information that is useful and relevant, even if that means you are not the star of that show.


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