What It Takes to Succeed in Content Marketing: 9 Lessons from Joe Pulizzi

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what it takes to succeed in content marketing

The web. It’s both the boon and the bane of marketing.

Gone are the days when big brands and media companies controlled all the messaging through the nice and distinct world of radio, print, and TV.

Now, the users own the channels.

The boundaries aren’t as pronounced as they used to be - marketers can communicate directly with audiences through web sites and social media.

The downside is, channels are now noisier than they have ever been. And customers can choose what to engage in and what to ignore.

In a webinar with SiteTuners, Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi shared invaluable lessons on how to get the most out of content marketing efforts in the age of the attention economy.

1. Address audience’s pain points

Customers often don’t care about what most brands have to say.

Putting just brand content on a site means there’s another web site out there that no one will care about. Tweeting about product features means there are a few more tweets among billions that nobody engages with.

Content marketing is not talking about your brand or what you’re selling.

Joe stresses that it’s about creating ‘valuable, relevant, compelling content on a consistent basis.’

To be relevant, you need to talk about the user’s pain points - the things that they care about.

2. Document your strategy

Nine out of 10 businesses say that they use some form of content marketing. However, only 8% of companies say that they’re effective at it.

Marketers who have a documented content strategy and follow it consistently are just plain better at getting results. When surveyed, those with documented strategies say they …

  • are 8X more successful at measuring.
  • look at more metrics (6 versus 4).
  • put less emphasis on web traffic and put more weight to sales, cost savings, and customer satisfaction.

If you document your strategy, in essence, you understand your core audience, your niche, and how you execute content marketing.

3. Identify the ‘why’ for each channel

In an era where it takes great content to cut through the clutter, you can’t afford to spread your efforts thinly - you need to invest in the right areas.

You need to identify the reason you’re on a particular channel, so you can focus on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Joe suggests …

  • listing all the ways you create content and how you distribute it (e.g. eBooks, whitepaper, e-mail newsletters, social media, etc.), then
  • writing the corresponding business reason (e.g. to drive sales, save costs, increase customer satisfaction and retention) behind each initiative, and
  • identifying the metrics you’re using to measure the results.

4. Create a mission statement

Marketers will do well to copy what great media companies always start with: an editorial mission statement to guide the entire content creation process.

The statement should include the …

Core target audience

There’s a lot of competition, so you need to focus your mission statement on one specific audience; otherwise, you’ll fail.

For example, Indium Corporation Blogs’ mission statement, “To help engineers answer the most challenging industrial solder questions,” indicates that their content is not targeted to CFOs or managers; they’re talking specifically to engineers.

What will be delivered

Inc. Magazine’s ‘About us’ says, “ … the page where entrepreneurs and business owners can find useful information, advice, insights, resources and inspiration for running and growing their businesses.”

The keyword here is useful. Through their mission statement, you know that each piece of content aims to educate the audience and not to sell to readers.

The outcome for the audience

An editorial calendar, should have an ‘outcome’ column where you put what you want the audience to get out of a specific piece of content, and that should tie back to the mission statement.

5. Differentiate yourself

So you’re not creating content that’s like everyone else’s, you’ve got to have your ‘content tilt.’

Find a content niche where you can be the informational expert on.

One way of determining those areas is through Google Trends:

  1. Type your keyword in, and then scroll to the bottom.
  2. On the right side, under Related Searches, hit the Rising Tab.

That’s how you find Breakout terms that people are typing for that competitors are probably not covering.

6. Focus on Owned Media

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be marketing on rented channels like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You should definitely be working on your social media presence.

However, these are platforms you do not control, so it would be unwise to invest more resources here than on owned channels.

For instance, you might have a million fans on Facebook, but less than 1% of them are actually going to see your organic updates.

Plus, social media changes their algorithm every so often. If you build your asset on something you cannot control, there’s always the uncertainty that you may no longer have access to your audience in the future.

Use opt-in subscribers as your key metric instead of what you’re looking at on social. If you get people’s opt-in permission, you can communicate with them directly.

Copyblogger, for example, built a 10-million dollar business in a fairly short amount of time because they have over 200,000 subscribers.

7. Leverage influencers to build audience

After you’ve identified why you’re doing content marketing, crafted an editorial mission statement, and built in the ability for subscribers to opt in, it’s time to build your audience.

Here’s what you can do if you neither have neither subscribers nor budget:

Put together an influencer list

The goal is to ultimately reach their audience. You can use tools like Klout.com and Getlittlebird.com to find influencers - they can be bloggers, media sites, and even competitors.

Do Andrew Davis’s social media 4:1:1.

On Twitter, for example, this means that for every 6 tweets you send out

  • 1 can be about yourself ( e.g. an award you’ve won, a new widget you’ve created)
  • 1 content marketing tweet (e.g. your blog post, podcast, whitepaper, etc.)
  • 4 tweets about other people’s content

So 67% of the time, you’re sharing other people’s content.

Pick 5 to 10 influencers and religiously share a piece of their content that’s relevant to your mission statement.

Be sure to tag the influencers, so you get in their radar and ultimately build a relationship with them.

Bake influencer content into your pillar content.

If you have an eBook, for instance, indicate whom a particular case study is from, and link back to the influencer. If influencers know they’re in your eBook, there’s a very good chance that they’ll share it, which in turn will increase your downloads.

8. Increase subscribers

Downloads are great, but for you to establish a long-term connection with your audience, you need them to subscribe.

To get more people to opt in, have …

  • Social proof. This is to assure people that they’re exchanging their e-mail address for high-quality content.
  • Pop-ups/popovers. Joe shares that he was initially against pop-ups, but 65% of CMI’s subscribers come from their popover form. CMI has grown from 2,000 to over 130,000 subscribers in 2 years time by using this tactic.
  • Slideshare. People can download your content here, and you can ask them if they want to subscribe. It’s CMI’s 3rd best subscription generator.

9. Consider purchasing assets

If you build content right, you’ll be successful. However, it takes well over a year to get this done.

If you want to accelerate the cycle, you can buy assets from influencers who have great subscription database but don’t know how to monetize it.

Joe notes that deals from 10 thousand to 10 million dollars are happening between small bloggers and brands that have the money but don’t have the patience to build content.

Making Your Content Count

If you’re spending on content creation without a mission statement and documented strategy, you’re basically throwing away money.

You can spend that on more lucrative efforts, like buying ads and leading them to your best-converting pages, for now. That’s fine, up to a point, but eventually, you’ll want to do content right - there’s SEO, there’s growing your top of the funnel visits, and a whole range of other reasons you’ll need to.

To succeed in the attention economy, you need to put in the time to understand what each channel can do for you. Direct your content effort and resources on the ones that can give you results. And consistently create content that's valuable and relevant for your audience.