Understanding the Benchmarks of the Content Inc. Model with Joe Pulizzi

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Recently, Joe and I came together to talk about Content Inc. and the Content Inc. model. Although the interview took place during a podcast, Joe says he was, in fact, wearing his trademark orange.

 

Here are the highlights for this great Q&A session with the Godfather of Content Marketing: 

 

DR: Why does content marketing work for both small and large companies?

JP: I have a goal of writing a book every two years. As you said, I wrote Epic Content Marketing in 2013. After that, a lot of people came up to me and told me that they loved it, but that is was really geared toward larger businesses- and it was.  So this one was for smaller companies, start-ups, and entrepreneurs. We researched and found 40 amazing examples of businesses that became successful using content marketing approach. In most cases, the companies had no budget or a shoestring budget. Then, the team and I reverse engineered the model and looked for what was predictable in the study models. Were there things in common? If we took the programs and followed the model, could we monetize that content in some way? The answer was yes. We found that all the case studies took the same 6 steps, not all at the same time, but they all took the same steps:

6 STEPS FOR SUCCESSFUL CONTENT MARKETING APPROACH

  1. Find the story you should be telling
  2. Tell a different story that can break through all the content clutter
  3. Build the base
  4. Harvest an audience
  5. Diversify the audience
  6. Monetization 

The first two steps are strategies. In the first step, you find the sweet spot, the story you should be telling.

The second portion is the content tilt, or telling a different story that can break through all the content clutter.

The third step is building the base. Instead of telling your story on every channel you can possibly think of, you actually focus on one content type, and one platform, and consistently deliver on time. The greatest media companies of all time have done this and the best content marketing companies are doing the same. 

Instead of telling your story on every channel you can possibly think of, you actually focus on one content type, and one platform, and consistently deliver on time. The greatest media companies of all time have done this and the best content marketing companies are doing the same.

The fourth step is harvesting an audience.  What we see around very successful case studies is that email and print subscribers are critical. 

The fifth step is to diversify the audience. That’s where you see things like moving from a blog, a Youtube video series, or an iTunes podcast to launching a print magazine.  Maybe it’s launching a webinar series.  It’s starting to do other things to expand reach. We know if we do this correctly, our customers will like, know, and trust us more.

The final step is monetization

8 WAYS TO MONETIZE YOUR BUSINESS

  1. Advertising
  2. Sponsorship
  3. Events
  4. Sell more products  
  5. Sell more service
  6. Create more loyal customers
  7. Data to launch new products
  8. Donations

There are a lot of ways to make money.  What was exciting is that there is actually a model out there for this. We know that it works and we don’t have to guess.

The only caveat it that is content marketing takes time- usually over twelve months. He told listeners that if they are seeking to build a loyal relationship with an audience, it takes time, and added that if businesses are looking to do something in 6 months or less, he recommends they do something else more short term- interrupting people with advertising, etc. If you want to build an asset over time, the Content Inc. model is something you want to take a look at.

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DR: I’ve seen this work. We started with a content strategy for Shweiki Media five or six years ago, and now it’s the lifeblood of the company. If a day or two goes by without a few leads coming in, I know something is wrong!

JP: The point you make is really incredible because you’re taking control of your marketing and your business. You’re using your platforms you’ve already built, and not leaving it up to communicating within other people’s.  You’re on autopilot for a lot of this.  At Content Marketing Institute, we get about 200 subscribers a day. Those subscribers end up buying a ton of stuff from us, going to Content Marketing World, and signing up for online training. But, that started in 2007, so we’ve been doing this for 9 years.

A lot of people think that you can throw money at something and build an audience overnight, but it doesn’t work that way- it takes time.

DR: Absolutely, and once you get into that jet stream, it’s glorious, but you’ve got to get there. With our firm, Magnificent Marketing, one challenge we face is dealing with smaller businesses.  Sometimes we’re starting from scratch- no email list, small presence, but an expected return right away. But, if you can convince them to use this model, all worries about sales dissipate, and businesses can just focus on the product or services they’re offering.

A lot of people think that you can throw money at something and build an audience overnight, but it doesn’t work that way- it takes time.

 

DR: If someone wanted to get started, and really needed sales in 6 months, is there a smaller model you would recommend?

JP: You could start out with a 6-month pilot program, and in fact, we talk about this in the book. You could start with:

  • One audience
  • One content type
  • Focus on a pain point that particular audience has
  • Figure out a model where you can deliver consistently

If you want more reach sooner, you might want to put some paid advertising- pay per click, influencers, etc. around that content.

When I started the blog for what is now the Content Marketing Institute, for the first 6 months, there was radio silence. But, we started to see some things happen between month six and month nine. However, we didn’t generate direct revenue until after 12 months.  If you’re a small business, do one thing really well, on one channel, and you’ll start to see progress sooner. You’ll see lower level indicators sooner than twelve months- web traffic, downloads of e-books, e-newsletter subscribers. I would say to set expectations in your company, to see sales or behavior changes in your current customers- it’s going to take longer than 6 months.

 

DR: Let’s circle back to building a strategy, and talk about sculpting a buyer persona. In our experience, content marketing takes off a lot quicker when it’s not about a higher consideration, big ticket sale, which is no surprise. But for a big decision, C-suite level decision makers, we’re seeing it take quite a bit longer. Do you always see this as well?

JP:  When we have people come to us and talk about the timetable, I always want to know about the buyer’s journey.  Depending on the product or service, most B2B sales take longer, some major industrial level purchases take well over a year. You have to at least go through one buyer’s journey to make sure this will work.  You can’t expect something to work in 6 months that has an average buyer’s journey of 12 to 18 months. Don’t set yourself up for failure!

Let’s go back to B2B. Any B2B company has 7-9 people decision makers, influencers, and gatekeepers. As you create your content marketing approach, what you want to do is focus on one of those roles. It’s important to figure out who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to a CEO and a CFO at the same time, good luck with that! They have very different needs, different pain points, and you’re never going to be relevant enough if you focus on more than one. Be the leading expert in a very small particular niche. That’s where you’ll have to most impact.

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DR: For the strategy part of the of the Content Inc. model, you recommend a content marketing mission statement. Can you explain what that is, and why companies should create one?

JP: As you know, I come from the publishing arena, and I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of launching 35-40 media products- print magazines, newsletters, webinar programs, content platforms. Every time we launch one, we always start in the first day or two, as we create the strategy, with an editorial mission statement. Why do we do that?

  • We want to know exactly what’s in it
  • Exactly who we’re targeting
  • Exactly what we’re going to deliver

If we stay on point over a long period of time, we’ll be successful as a media company.

As I started to do research into all of these different brands, and it didn’t’ matter if they were small, medium, or large, hardly any of them created editorial mission statements. We can focus so much on what we want to sell, we don’t create a singular editorial mission statement for every initiative. We need to ask what does the content look like, and feel like? Who, specifically are we targeting? What are we going to deliver? The most important thing is to know what’s in it for the audience. If we can put this document together and get it front of everyone who creates content for us, everybody will be one the same page. You’ll immediately see an ROI in editing costs. You’ll have an expected outcome for every piece of content.

 

DR: Do you have a place where people can see examples of this?

 JP: Just type in “Content Marketing Mission Statement” in Google, and I’ve probably written ten articles on the topic!

 

DR: Let’s talk about your 3rd step, building the base.  This isn’t something that most companies do. Why is that and why do you recommend simplifying your approach here?

 JP: We had 8 different channels before 1990. Today, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of different ways to communicate.  In a lot of those cases, there are almost no hard costs associated with these channels. I think we’ve gotten into a rut of believing that just because we should, just because we can.

Content marketing approaches from companies like Red Bull, Marriott, or Proctor and Gamble- they all started the same way- they focus on one content type and one content channel, and they consistently deliver- to the minute. That means if someone says to me that they will produce three blog posts a week, I tell them instead to post one at 7am on Monday, one at 7am on Wednesday, and one at 7am on Friday- that kind of consistency.

I think what a lot of businesses are doing out there today is having lots of stories they want to tell, and spreading those stories all over the place. Instead, they should be building that core, that hub, and that’s what’s proven to be successful. 

 

DR: To clarify, you’re saying that if you’re doing one type of communication- you’re not saying not to push it out through multiple channels, but focus on one channel. You can still push out content in multiple platforms, right?

JP: Yes, I’m not talking about content marketing promotion. I’m saying that you’re not going to launch a blog, a magazine, a podcast, a webinar series all at the same time.

 

DR: You often say “Don’t build your home on rented land.” What do you mean by that?

JP: If you are a brand and you have over 10,000 people who like your page, less than 1% of those people will ever see an organic update from you.

Facebook wants to make money and they’ve done a masterful job of making money! They told brands that if they wanted to get in touch with people on their platform, they would have to pay- and the brands absolutely paid. Linkedin is going this direction- you now won’t see updates from every connection you have. And I’m sure Twitter will go that direction, too. And as far as Google, they don’t even know what to do with Google Plus!

 The point is, use social media, and leverage it, but you should wake up every day with the mentality that it could be gone. We don’t have control over those platforms.  That’s why I love email. For instance, in the hierarchy of subscribers that we have for the Content Marketing Institute, email is at the top, followed by print subscribers.  That’s where we have the most control.

 

DR: With regard to that, what about instant articles? What are your thoughts?

JP: I just saw where Facebook has opened instant articles up to brands, too. You’ve got the Washington Post publishing a thousand articles a day, the New York Times posting 500 articles a day. I’m concerned and I don’t know what to make of it. First of all, they aren’t making money off of instant articles, just hoping to drive traffic to the site, and drive revenue other ways. I think there is some value if you’re a brand and there is a certain story you want to tell, but I think it’s tough to measure, and I think it’s very cluttered on Facebook right now. As a marketer, it concerns me, I’m not sure what the future of instant articles will be.

 

DR: You recommend that companies, even small ones, should look at purchasing subscribers and websites. Is that really something a small business should do?

JP: I’m going to take you back to my publishing days again. Every time before we launched a new platform, we always looked to see if there was someone we could purchase. I’ve been involved in a number of deals, some only five figures. We’re talking about how much time it takes, so what if there were already a platform out there that you could purchase, and cut out a lot of the time?

  • It’s already built.
  • They already have subscribers.
  • You could get right to making an impact.

I would at least do the exercise to find out.

 We’re seeing a lot of brands purchasing media companies. L'Oreal purchased Makeup.com, Johnson and Johnson purchased BabyCenter.com. Brands have a lot of money and not a lot of patience. This is a great opportunity, and not just for large businesses. Content Marketing Institute has already done it three times, and we’re a relatively small company.

I think that’s just good strategy.

 

DR: What about building applicable lists? Building email subscribers- it takes time. Years ago, we got lists of publishers, from conferences, etc. and used those emails to kick start our email marketing campaign. I’m a little afraid to even bring it up to you because I’ll probably get egg on my face, but we made it extremely easy to unsubscribe and used a top email platform. We didn’t see any negative effects.

JP: Let’s say you rent a list- those people haven’t opted in, and the best way to get them to is to ask them if they want to subscribe. We could talk all day about the gray areas- but that’s the best way to do it. You can’t just subscribe someone. You can send them a promo, and then ask if they would like to subscribe.

 

DR: Any parting thoughts for small or medium businesses taking on content marketing?

JP: Make a decision whether or not you are going to commit to it. Focus on one audience, start small and focus on the one area where you can be the leading expert in the world on something. Then, follow the model. And make sure you set expectations with your team. Over time, you’ll build an audience that likes, knows, and trusts you, and they will be more willing to buy from you.

 

ABOUT JOE PULIZZI

Joe Pulizzi is the Godfather of content marketing and founder of Content Marketing Institute, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World.  Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council.   Joe’s fourth book Content Inc. was just released.  His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange.


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