And more than 30 years ago he proved how even a simple content marketing technique can lead to a $500,000 opportunity.
One Weekly Tip…
After a short career as a journalist, Cramer went to law school where he developed an interest in the stock market. He maxed out his academic loans to raise money for investing and though he was doing well, he only thought of himself as an amateur. So instead of registering to be an investment adviser, he decided to share his knowledge another way:
Every Sunday night he left a stock tip for the week on his answering machine.
It wasn’t exactly a targeted campaign, but one day Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic and a Harvard Professor happened to call. He was trying to track down Jim to put on his journalist hat once more and write a book review for his magazine.
Instead, he got the stock tip.
He liked it, used it and made money, so for weeks he kept calling back, picking up the tips and profiting from them.
One day he approached Cramer and handed him a check for $500,000 to invest on his behalf. A move that would propel him on a career path of broker, hedge fund owner and TV personality with an estimated wealth of between $50-$100 million.
So what can we learn about content-marketing from this unusual story?
1. Don’t be afraid of free (but know what is ‘fee’)
A lot of businesses worry about the level of free content they give away, thinking:
“If I give all of this information away, won’t my customers just do it themselves?”
The truth is, those people who look through your content to do it themselves were never going to be your customer. They were just looking for free information on the internet.
And that’s fine.
What you need to remember is this:
Most customers DON’T want to add to their to-do list when they can find a trusted company or service professional to do it for them.
And more importantly:
The free content you give away is just one piece of the package
Free content can do a lot for your customer, but remember, your business provides so much more.
Paying customers can access your expertise directly, or use your software to reduce hours of manual tasks into minutes. And if you are in a creative field such as web-design or copywriting, no matter how many free reports prospects read, they’ll never be able to produce the work you do.
Initially, Peretz took Jim’s stock tips and used them himself, but ultimately it was much better value to hire Cramer, after seeing proof that he knew what he was doing.
Which, if you think about it, is the same goal for your content marketing.
Where will you draw the line?
Some businesses decide between ‘free’ and ‘fee’ based on what the content can do for a customer. For example, free might explain a problem and include steps to solve it, while paid content or services actually ‘fix’ the problem for the customer.
However, just because you’re now no longer afraid of ‘free’ doesn’t mean you can ignore this next lesson which is:
2. Offer real value and proof
By providing stock tips, people who received Jim’s answering machine message had an opportunity to test the tips and see the results. Had he been giving out free tips that were no good, that $500,000 check would have never materialized.
In the last 7 years, online content marketing has exploded. Sites are flooded with ‘free’ content, which means if you really want to stand out, you’ve got to be offering something of value.
Think about the content you provide for free. Does it help customers:
- Do something they couldn’t do before?
- Identify problems that need to be fixed?
- Make an informed decision
- Tell them something new?
- Save them time?
- Save or make them money?
If not, are you holding back the good stuff until they pay? (Revisit lesson 1 if it’s because you’re afraid to give too much away).
Or is it because you’re not quite sure what your customer really wants? If so it’s useful to understand a couple of different buying stages of customers, and what their content needs are at each stage.
One of the first phases is awareness of the problem. At this stage, try and create content that answers the following questions for your prospect:
- What is the problem? What does it look like?
- How important is it to solve?
- What benefits will happen if I do solve the problem?
- Is there a cost of not solving the problem?
So if you were a copywriter, you might issue free reports about how poor web content can make you look unprofessional and even lose you clients.
Another stage is when your prospect researches how to fix the problem and looks for help. Here you can create content that outlines:
- What methods are there for fixing this?
- Are there short term affordable solutions?
- What is the difference between a free and paid solution?
- How quickly can I solve the problem and see results?
So an example of content in this category might be: “How to choose the best hosting company for your website”
If you want a really simple way of creating valuable content, simply look at the most common questions your customers ask you about your product and publish content that answers them!
3. Show what it’s like to work with you
Jim’s content marketing did more than make Martin Peretz like his free, valuable content.
It helped Peretz visualize what it would be like to work with him.
Your content marketing does the same in that it builds a picture in your prospects mind of:
- Your level of expertise
- Your knowledge base
- Your personality / company ethos
Your content is a shortcut for your customer to picture what it would be like to engage in your paid services. Whether that’s using your software, hiring you one to one or downloading your app or eBook.
By listening to a personally recorded message by Jim Cramer every week, by the time Peretz asked him to handle a portfolio he was already comfortable with the idea of working with him. As Peretz stated: “He seemed to know very deeply so many stocks”
There are a number of ways to build an experience of working with your business through content. Consider which of the following you already use, and which you can put into practice in the future:
- A free trial
- Behind-the-scenes videos of the office or warehouse
- Interviews with employees
- An FAQ sheet about working with you
- A step-by-step process of how you work
- Case studies of previous customers
Remember to be descriptive when you talk about your services and make it easy for them to imagine working with you.
4. Do something crazy (amidst a sea of hard work)
Jim Cramer’s answering machine technique is just one hint at a man who does not think like most.
Even today he is known for his bold and brash personality. (He once donned a matador’s suit on an episode of Mad Money to illustrate the importance of buying stocks in the Spanish Banco Santander).
Not only does he do things differently, but this type of action gets people talking and gets you noticed.
But wacky alone isn’t enough. Cramer spent thousands of hours studying stocks and investing his own money. While the $500,000 check from Peretz was a significant boost in his career, I bet that even without it, Jim would have found a way to succeed.
Think about your own content marketing.
While it’s important to master the tried and tested methods, if you have the time and resources to experiment then try something unusual.
If all of your marketing is online, can you test something offline in a local publication or trade magazine?
Do you send every customer a thank you card? Could you?
Could you send customers a postcard from your holidays?
Could you create a personalized birthday message with tips for customers and email it at the right date?
Of course, you don’t want to get distracted. Cramer wasn’t relying solely on those answering machine tips, it was just a bit of fun. Can you find something similar for your business?
5. Think big, start small and be consistent
Cramer was definitely thinking big.
He spent hours studying stocks and making picks and monitoring their progress. But he wasn’t going to wait until everything fell in place for him to show people he could do what he could do.
Instead he started with something he could implement in seconds and was easy to repeat: his answering machine message.
It was this small, consistent snippet of content marketing that took him directly to managing a $500,000 portfolio.
If you’re just starting in content marketing, it can be tempting to plan a huge content-marketing push and go all out to catch-up more experienced companies. If you have the resources, that’s great, but if you don’t, you can find yourself overwhelmed and left behind.
When choosing a content marketing strategy ask yourself, is this something where I can:
- Compete: Does it use the best strengths for you and your team?
- Complete: Can you get it finished and shipped?
- Repeat: Can you keep it going consistently to build up a reputation and a visible presence?
(If those sound familiar it’s because you heard them here first)
It would be easy to dismiss the story of Cramer’s answering machine tips as ‘lucky-for-him’ but there is plenty to be learned and applied from this seemingly small piece of content marketing. What else do you think you could apply from Cramer’s approach? I’d love to know in the comments below.