Marketing by helping, not selling

The future of marketing is helping, not selling.

Those were the words of content strategist Jay Baer at the recent Content Marketing World conference, an event focused on helping brands become better content marketers. So what exactly does it mean to market by helping? On September 15, Internet security firm McAfee showed us by announcing the results of its annual “McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities” study.

McAfee is a lot like its owner Intel. Both companies provide services that are essential but kind of boring to talk about. McAfee provides unsexy but important security products and services to safeguard your personal and business computers. It’s the kind of company whose website features stock photos of bland, smiling corporate types dressed in power suits out of the 1980s.

That’s why the McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities surprises and delights. Each year, McAfee analyzes which celebrities are most dangerous to search for on the web – in other words, the names most often used by cybercriminals to lure web searchers to sites containing computer viruses and spam.

This year, McAfee revealed that searching for Heidi Klum’s name yields a nearly one-in-ten chance of landing you on a malicious site. So take a bow, Heidi Klum: you’re the most dangerous celebrity in cyberspace for 2011, unseating Cameron Diaz. The most dangerous male celebrity, by the way, is Piers Morgan. Ironically Lady Gaga ranks a relatively tame 58.

The McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities list qualifies as helpful content marketing for two reasons:

It’s useful

McAfee raises awareness about the vulnerabilities of web surfing for celebrity names. Searching for phrases like “Heidi Klum” and “free downloads,” for instance, expose you to risks for encountering sites that will steal personal information.

In a press release, Paula Greve, director of Web security research at McAfee, comments, “Consumers should be particularly aware of malicious content hiding in ‘tiny’ places like shortened URLs that can spread virally in social networking sites, or through e-mails and text messages from friends.”

You might think you’re beyond falling for malware traps, but in our multi-tasking society, even the most savvy among us can be vulnerable. McAfee earns our attention by helping us understand an important issue.

It’s engaging

McAfee could have relied on a perfectly functional but boring video featuring a security expert to remind us of the dangers of reckless web surfing – perhaps valuable but not very helpful if the video fails to engage you.

Instead, McAfee finds a fun way to keep our attention by tapping into our national fascination with celebrity culture. McAfee gives us an amusing version of the Vanity Fair annual New Establishment list, providing little tidbits of fun trivia that manage to educate. For instance, although Charlie Sheen might post a danger to himself (and his publicist), he’s not too dangerous in cyberspace.

“Hot movies and TV shows, awards and industry accolades seem to be more of a factor than headline-grabbing activity,” explains Greve.

The McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities List works as content marketing also for what it does not do: hit you over the head with a hard sell for McAfee. To be sure, McAfee slips in a reminder to use McAfee security software to safeguard our computers by performing a variety of tasks such as blocking risky websites. But the message feels earned in context of a larger and informative discussion about Internet security.

Since McAfee published its 2011 Most Dangerous Celebrities List on September 15, McAfee has quickly gained attention on news outlets ranging from CNN to Entertainment Weekly.  The PR returns alone, gained in a matter of hours, are priceless.

By sharing useful and engaging information instead of pushing product at us, McAfee defines helpful content marketing.

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