Every marketer can learn a lot from Content Inc., Joe Pulizzi’s new book on content marketing. The book advances one Big Idea:
Most start-ups fail because old business models simply don’t work anymore. The new business model in Content Inc. is to build your audience first, and define your products and services second.
As founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), Joe has proven the success of this formula. CMI rose from a near-death experience to become one of Inc.’s fastest-growing companies for 3 years in a row, with revenue up 50% a year.
And CMI is not the only organization to prove that this new model works. The book offers dozens of stories about entrepreneurs who have used the Content Inc. formula with success. Among them are Brian Clark at Copyblogger, Rand Fishkin at Moz and Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer.
Yet the Content Inc. model goes well beyond entrepreneurs. It applies to start-ups in big companies and to any business that faces a slowdown in growth.
I learned 7 key lessons from Content Inc., as you see in this message map:
1. Improve your odds of success by 33%: write down your goals. Write down your goals, look at them every day, share them with a friend and update your friend weekly. Address the whole range of your goals – including financial goals, family goals, spiritual goals, mental goals, physical goals and philanthropic goals.
Written goals work, and content marketing proves it. Studies show that content marketers with a written content mission and written content marketing strategy outperform those who lack a plan by as much as 4 times.
Content marketing fits entrepreneurs because they pursue opportunities without regard to the resources they currently control. With all of today’s media channels, anyone can become the best publisher of content on a topic.
Joe advises: Be clear with yourself about why you’re starting your business, and what you want to become. Understand that you may face higher career risk by sticking with your “real job” than by starting your own business.
2. Find your sweet spot and add an audience. Build at the intersection of your competency and your passion. You can become your audience’s leading expert in a niche that’s targeted enough for you to own.
For example, Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, created a meet-up in Atlanta for people who wanted to raise chickens in their backyards, but didn’t know how. As his club grew, a TV station and a local newspaper wrote stories about it. Over time, he grew his platform with a book, a magazine with over 60,000 subscribers and a radio show with 20,000 weekly subscribers.
Here’s a second approach to finding your sweet spot: find where your knowledge and authority intersect with your customers’ pain points. Build your content there.
Answer every one of your customers’ questions with content, as Marcus Sheridan of River Pools & Spas did. By answering all his customers’ questions, he not only rescued his fiberglass pool business from the brink of failure, he grew it into one of the biggest pool installers and manufacturers on the East Coast. And he’s become a leading speaker and consultant on content marketing.
3. Find your unique content tilt (or hook). In a world of abundant content, start with your audience’s needs. Then figure out how will you differentiate your content from others.
For example, identify a niche with little to no competition. Then give your content a unique point of view, as Ann Reardon, the baking queen of YouTube, did by focusing on impossible food creations.
You also can reposition an existing content area, in the same way that “content marketing” has repositioned the practice of marketing.
4. Build your base. Start by building your minimum viable audience.
Be patient. Don’t give up too soon. Too many promising content-based businesses fail because they didn’t take the time to build a base.
Pick a single channel and generate your content consistently in that one channel. Make a regular date with your audience, for instance, by publishing your blog on the same day every week. For its first 4 years, CMI focused solely on its blog before adding other channels.
Make mindful choices about whether to build on owned ground such as your blog on your website. Or whether to build on leased ground such as social media, where the rules can change in a heartbeat.
Plan the right content schedule. Use professionals in precisely defined roles to execute; the book offers a model of roles and responsibilities for large content teams based on CMI’s team.
Plan from the get-go to repurpose your content. Start with one story, then figure out how else you can deliver it – as a blog, a video, a podcast, a book?
5. Harvest audience. Your overarching content marketing goal is to turn one-time readers into subscribers. But be careful: not all subscribers are created equal. Here is Joe’s subscriber hierarchy, which places higher value on the channels you control and the subscribers you know.
Steal your audience from others through influencer marketing.
Use tools such as keywords, search engine optimization (SEO), social media and A/B testing to gain audience. Study your data and do analytics to improve performance over time.
6. Diversify. Now that you’ve built a sizeable following, it’s time to branch out into other digital, in-person and print media. You can build your own content extensions and/or acquire relevant assets.
The most successful Content Inc. entrepreneurs are those who started with 3 channels: a blog, a book and public speaking.
7. Monetize. Now that you have an audience, listen closely for what products and services your audience needs: perhaps consulting, software or events?
Plan to have more than one revenue source. Consider revenue sources such as sponsorships, advertising, subscriptions, conferences, events and paid content.
Be ready to make an unexpected pivot. Why? It often turns out that your audience wants to buy something from you that’s different from what you initially offered.
For example, when CMI pivoted from selling consulting services to educating content marketers, revenues took off. Similarly, when Rand Fishkin at Moz pivoted from consulting to software, revenues grew from $450,000 in 2007 to $29 million in 2013.
In case you don’t have the time to read this 300+ page book, I boiled it down into a free 1-page Message Map for you. The PDF is here. If you want to print it out, large-format paper such as 11″ x 17″ works best.
This short blog can only touch the tops of the waves in Content Inc. If content marketing is what you do for a living, it’s worth buying your own copy of the book.
True story: When Joe told me at Content Marketing World, “I wrote this book for you,” he left me speechless. That’s a first!
Now I can say, “Thanks, Joe, for sharing the content marketing lessons you learned the hard way. I’m putting your ideas to work in my business and in my client’s businesses. Much appreciated!”
For a one-page version of Content Inc., download my free message map here.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.