Joe Pulizzi quit a six-figure executive publishing position in 2007 to start a business, and he did it backwards. Rather than launching with a product or a service, he spent his time growing an audience first, and then later defined what products and services he would sell.
This happened to work out well for Joe and his team. His business, the Content Marketing Institute, has been on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in the United States for three years running.
He wrote the book Content Inc. to show you how to use content marketing to grow your business in this new world we find ourselves in.
There are 6 areas you need to focus on. Let’s look at them in turn.
1. The Sweet Spot
The first thing you need to do in order to develop a content marketing strategy (or start from scratch) is to uncover a content area that you can base your business model on.
Pulizzi calls this the sweet spot, and it’s the intersection of knowledge or skill, and something you are incredibly passionate about. You can pick knowledge (something you know a a lot about), or you can pick a skill (something that you are very proficient at). Most of us have no trouble coming up with a list of those.
For instance, Michelle Phan combined her love of makeup and her skill as an artist into a Youtube channel that has been viewed over a billion times. She has also earned a book deal, and used her popularity to launch a beauty product sampling business worth $500 million. Not bad for a business launched with a makeup tutorial with a grainy webcam video.
But as Michelle and any other person who has built a Content Inc. business will tell you, it’s the second part – the passion – that makes this work. If you don’t have the passion required to put in the hard work when the going gets tough, you’ll never make it.
An alternative sweet spot that makes sense for more established businesses is the intersection of an authority area, and your customer pain points. Creating content that your customers will engage in, and that fills a need, will work too.
Which brings us to the next point – your content needs an audience, and you need to understand that audience more than they understand themselves. This is the only way you are going to be able to craft your message in a way that resonates deeply with your audience, and that will keep them coming back week after week.
2. The Content Tilt
Now that you’ve found what type of content you want to produce for your audience, you need to ensure that it’s different and better than what’s already out on the market.
Interestingly, this is exactly how Readitfor.me was born. These Book Briefs were originally designed to attract marketing clients for our marketing agency. Here’s the quick version of the story.
About 5 years ago, when social media for business was just starting to take off, I had a bunch of meetings with marketing leaders about how they might use social media to help grow their business. This was before there were any case studies to help pave the way, and nobody wanted to be the first person to sign a cheque.
At the same time I was in these meetings, I would notice a bunch of books on the shelves of these marketing leaders, many of which I had read. When I started asking them what they thought about “X idea from Y book”, they stared at me blankly and eventually admitted that they didn’t have time to read the book.
Then I asked them if they ever considered a subscription to a book summary service, and most of them said yes, but that they didn’t feel like reading another pdf document at the end of a long day.
So, we combined that customer pain point, a passion of mine (reading books), a skill that I had (reading and summarizing books quickly – which I had picked up in law school), and finally created a more engaging way of producing the content – through video.
We sent the first video that we ever did (on Jack Welch’s Winning) out to 10 people, who in turned passed it on to 20 more, which turned into hundreds and then thousands very quickly. We realized we had something when we started to get calls from venture capital firms, and turned it into a full-time business that now serves thousands of customers around the world.
We don’t say all this to brag – we just want to point out that what you are consuming right now started off as a content marketing strategy that was never intended to be a standalone business – and here we are. If we can do it, you can do it too.
3. Building the Base
Now that you have a content creation strategy in place, it’s time to get to work. The first thing you’ll need to figure out is where your ideas and stories are going to live.
In order to decide, you’ll need to figure out which medium you’ll use to tell your stories. Will it be through writing, video, audio, or in person? As Pulizzi points out, the vast majority of content marketing success stories fall into one of the following categories:
- Articles or blogs. The Content Marketing Institute uses a blog as their main platform.
- E-newsletter programs. Social Media Examiner delivers daily content over email to 300,000 + subscribers.
- Videos. Gary Vaynerchuk generates an incredible amount of video content to grow his brand and marketing agency.
- Podcasts. John Lee Dumas releases a new podcast interview every single day
In making this decision, you need to ask yourself two very important questions.
First, which channel offers you the best opportunity to reach your audience? Some networks come along with a built in audience, like Youtube and some new blogging platforms like Medium. In other platforms, like hosting a blog on your website using a tool like WordPress, will require you to build your audience from scratch.
Second, what channel gives you the most control over presenting your content and building your audience? Here, the answers from the previous question are reversed. While you don’t get the built in audience if you use something like WordPress, you get complete creative control, and you control the relationship with your subscribers.
On sites like YouTube, you don’t have control over the relationship with your subscribers – Youtube could decide at any moment to erase your channel and your access to your audience could be eliminated. Unlikely, but possible.
Now that you’ve got your platform set up, it’s time to start producing content. A critical element to your success is going to be content consistency. The more consistent you are with your publishing schedule, the more likely you are to succeed. Your best friend here is the content calendar. Mapping out what and when you will publish is the only way to stay on track.
4. Harvesting Audience
Now that you’ve built the platform and decided when you’ll publish your content, you need to figure out how to start building your audience.
In the Content Inc. model, there is only one number that should matter to you – the number of loyal subscribers you have. You should be trying to generate subscribers in almost every channel where your content lives, but there is a hierarchy to which channels will hold the most value for you.
Email still remains the most important channel for you to use. It provides you with the most control, and believe it or not, it still provides massive returns. Print subscribers come in second, followed by LinkedIn and then Twitter. At the bottom of the list is Facebook fans, because of how hard it is to actually get in front of your Facebook fans, even after they like your page.
Because email is so important, you’ll want to make your email subscription option very prominent on your website, and consider the use of pop-ups to capture new subscribers. If you hear people tell you that they find these things annoying and that they would “never sign up to a list on a website that used one”, ignore them. They work, really, really well.
Another way you can start building your audience is to build your content so that it’s search engine optimized. Ensure that you are focussing on the keywords in your niche, and that you take the steps required to rank well for that term. We won’t cover those steps here. There are plenty of resources online for you to get the latest advice.
When you are just starting out and don’t have a large budget to pay for traffic to your content, influencer marketing is your best bet. Essentially, you’ll be looking for other people who have an already large audience to share your content with their subscribers.
In order to get an influencer program off the ground, you need to take three steps: (1) build a small pool of potential partners and learn more about them; (2) begin your outreach, (3) test, assess and optimize.
There are a few ways you can get an influencer to work for you. You could ask them for a quote for an article you are writing. After posting it, you could ask them to share it. Second, you could suggest that you create custom content for their audience. Third, you could get straight to the point and simply ask them to share something you’ve already produced with their audience.
We’ve used this strategy multiple times at Readitfor.me, and even once got a group of influencers to share multiple pieces of our content over a two week period. It simply works.
Now that you’ve started to get some content marketing success, you might consider branching out into other areas. One of the most common paths that successful content creators over the past few years have taken is to branch out from their blog, then to a book, then to a speaking career. This is the same strategy that people like Tony Robbins have used in order to get to where they are today. The only difference is that while Tony Robbins built his career using informercials, you’ll be using your blog.
We won’t get much into the diversification issue here in this summary, because most of you will be using content marketing to grow your existing business, not to start a new one. But, if you do want to take this route, you should head out and buy the book and take a deeper dive.
Finally, we are at the step where all of your hard work pays off – making money. There are two ways to make money with content marketing – converting traffic from your content into customers of your current business. In this case, you should be setting up calls-to-action in each of your content properties that link back to becoming a customer. However, if you are building a Content Inc. business like Pulizzi created with the Content Marketing Institute, you’ll need to generate new products and services to sell your audience. Here are some ways you can do it:
- Creating live events that you charge for.
- Getting sponsors to pay to exhibit at those events.
- Creating online training that you charge for.
- Delivering in-person corporate workshops.
- Getting sponsors for your podcast.
It’s a brand new world out there. Today, if you can build content that is good enough, you can build a business that makes millions of dollars. You don’t have to wait for people to choose you, get funding from a VC, or spend millions on advertising. You simply have to put in the hard work to provide value to your audience. Do that, and we just might see you as a case study in Pulizzi’s next book.