July 8, 2021

Strike a balance with tone and style

Part I of “How to use content marketing to your advantage”

One of the major challenges that new content marketers often face is striking the balance between thought leadership and selling. It’s important that any selling being used is earned by the knowledge that’s shared. Your audience can ferret out a hard sell faster than you think, so by saving the sell for the end, you earn the right to mention your offerings. However, it’s still imperative that the vast majority of your content marketing is not about the sell, but rather about topics we discussed in a previous post.

Tone also differs between a hard sell and thought leadership, and if you start an article with a tone that suggests a future hard sell, readers will be less likely to get through the whole article or blog post. By varying your tone and style, your content will remain refreshing and make your customers more excited to work with you — since you’re the experts.

Here are some suggestions for keeping your tone authoritative and informative.


  • Keep things neutral: Rather than using a tone that aggressively pushes sales, focus on the problems the industry faces and how customers can identify solutions to those problems.
  • Stay on topic: Just because you have value propositions does not mean that they belong in every piece of content.
  • Express empathy: Acknowledge the problems that your customers face and the issues that are important and let them know you feel their pain.
  • Interview people outside your company and position them as experts: Rather than just using your sales reps or VPs, choose neutral experts familiar with the topic as your main speakers.
  • Use testimonial properly: When using testimonial language or superlatives, make sure that these are communicated via direct quotations, preferably from third parties
  • Let your customers be the hero: Position your customer as the hero of the story as much as possible; guide them to overcoming obstacles rather than rescuing them with solutions.


  • Ask for agreements: this sales tactic should be left to sales-oriented conversations rather than being the main method of communicating via content marketing.
  • Assume everyone reading the article is your customer: While it might not happen overnight, you will have members of your audience who would not purchase your product right now; by creating brand authority, you become the natural first choice if they’re ever in the position to need your products or services. 
  • Make grandiose claims, such as that your product is the best: allow the experts to speak to your success, if discussing innovations. Let the product speak for itself or stick to testimonials. Content marketing is not an infomercial.
  • Make it all about your company and innovations: While this is incredibly tempting, no one wants to read a sales pitch unless they’re in a buying conversation with a sales rep.
  • Make your company the hero all of the time: allow your readers and customers to make the choices as to their best paths forward instead of spoon-feeding them. The exception, of course, is with recommendations from third party experts.

Within the thought leadership framework, be sure to vary your styles for best results. A few styles we like to use include:

  1. Expository/informative. This style can be dry if not done well. Be sure to share information that your customers and readers can readily use —now (see this post for details about being timely)
  2. Narrative/interview based. Tell a story about a customer, a supplier or a brand you love.
  3. Listicle. Create a list of the top ways that people accomplish something or tips for success, include that number in the headline and limit extraneous text outside of that list. For these to be successful, they need to be able to be skimmed for the lists within the listicle. This section of this blog post could be considered a mini-listicle.
  4. How-to. Engaging tutorial on solving a problem your customers face, with or without using one of your products or services.
  5. Case study. This one is obviously going to be more product- or service-oriented than some of the other styles we’re mentioning. Be sure to provide the problem, the solution and the ROI calculation.
  6. Slightly argumentative. If you are using the other styles, it is ok to have the occasional argumentative piece, as long as other types are your primary styles of content. As we mentioned earlier, keep the testimonials and superlatives in quotes made by third parties.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series: pitfalls to avoid when creating content. Like this content? Sign up to get notified when we post something new here.

About the author

Jess Schmidt brings a creative writing degree and over a decade of professional writing experience to the team. As a career marketer with a background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language, technical details and marketing strategy. She writes content for all of the publications under the Great American Media Services umbrella and manages advertiser-driven projects. She’s also the in-house SEO and SEM guru. Learn more about our team here: smartsolutions.media/contact-us.