In his popular book, The 10 Rules of Writing, American novelist Elmore Leonard lays down an important rule that he picked up in his career:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Counterintuitive as it may sound, this is also what effective marketing is all about. In other words, and borrowing from marketer and cartoonist Tom Fishburne, “the best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.”

My explorations in both fields have led me to believe that content writing and marketing have a lot to learn from each other.

We recently published a piece on what marketers can learn from a writer’s failure, but what about the other way around? As a content writer or blogger, how do you draw inspiration from marketing?

Based on success stories, here are a few counterintuitive marketing lessons that I urge you to explore in your content writing.

Don’t give them what they expect

A decade ago, a leading soap brand came out with a campaign that challenged the concept of “real” beauty. At a time when most cosmetic brand advertising focused on physical flaws and how their product could correct these, this brand did the exact opposite. Their advertisements featured ordinary women who appeared happy in their own skin.

By using thought-provoking taglines such as “Does true beauty only squeeze into a size 8? Join the beauty debate,” the brand encouraged women all over the world to rethink their concept of beauty and to be confident in their own skin. It fetched the brand a special place in the consumer’s heart – from $200 million in the 90s, it’s now valued at about $4 billion dollars.

Take a leaf out of their book and write about a topic in a way that it has never been written about. In other words, go the unconventional route.

Going against the grain by Jon Nelson is licensed under CCBY 2.0

As long as the content is not offensive and imparts value to the reader, it is bound to get the attention it deserves. Think of a catchy title and you have pretty much nailed it. We did exactly this for one of our posts, and it continues to receive a substantial number of hits.

Be a snob

While visiting the store of a high-end cosmetic brand, I was taken aback by the staff’s demeanor. The sales girls hardly smiled and were not exactly what one would call friendly. And yet there were shoppers trying out and even buying their products.

A week later, I happened to visit another cosmetic store and was surprised to find a very similar product at almost half the price. The packaging of course varied and the staff appeared warm and approachable. Strangely, I found myself putting the product back thinking the quality may not be just as good.

Believe it or not, condescending staff “can actually help to increase luxury sales,” says marketing and behavioral scientist Darren Dahl. In the Journal of Consumer Research, Dahl reveals this counterintuitive truth: Luxury brands train their staff to speak and act in a particular manner in order to create a sense of superiority, or shall I say, snob value. And we customers often fall for it.

Strangely this technique works when it comes to writing as well.

When you write about a challenging topic, which your readers would usually shy away from reading, it gives your writing a sense of superiority that automatically makes it stand out.

Focus on the people who don’t come to you

A popular food and beverages company discovered that that they were losing market share as calorie-conscious consumers steered clear of their aerated soft drinks. To give these consumers what they were missing, and to improve their brand image, the company decided to expand their range to include bottled water, health drinks, fruit juices, and oatmeal.

This makes me wonder:

How many of us actually write for the folks who are not interested in reading our articles?

A little effort spent on research can go a long way in understanding more about the non-reader and their reason for not visiting your site.

It need not always be your content; it could be the time you publish content, your layout, your publishing platform or which social media option you use. Why not put this information to good use and ensure that your readership increases?

I’m going to end, not with another lesson from marketing, but with some counterintuitive life advice from author Liz Gilbert.