Just before the holidays I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Pulizzi: founder of the Content Marketing Institute, author of Content Inc, and recipient of the informal (but weighty) moniker: “Godfather of Content Marketing.”
Joe’s background is in custom publishing for businesses and creating trade content that attracts an audience to a specific business. So it’s no surprise that content marketing is second nature to him.
I wanted to tap into the goldmine of his experience and knowledge about content marketing and find out how what business owners need to be doing in 2016 to succeed.
It’s a cracking interview and if you’d like to hear the full recording, head over to Hit Publish. For 7 fantastic highlights, keep reading…
1. In 2016, LESS is definitely MORE
For years, business owners were under pressure to churn out content like there was no tomorrow. Blogging daily, emailing weekly, not to mention getting out those monthly webinars, and more recently podcasts, live video hangouts and… you get the picture.
In the early days, more was more. The more content you produced, the more your online territory grew.
But, as with most trends, content production has reached a saturation point. It’s not just about creating ‘quality’ content that is valuable to your reader, now more than ever Joe says you need to put everything into establishing a voice distinct from your competitors.
And the best way to do this? In Joe’s own words:
“Focus on one key content type… and one key content platform and consistently deliver. If you say you do 2 blog posts a week, I’m going to say no you don’t. You do one blog post and you release it Tuesday at 1030am Eastern time and then you do one on Thursday at 1030am Eastern time”.
Your content goals should be an ingrained habit. In fact I’m going to say that just as you wouldn’t miss brushing your teeth at a set time each day, you should be committing to your content publication with the same diligence. Healthy teeth and gums, healthy content marketing. A perfect blend for success. 😉
I emphasise this because as my business has evolved over the years I have experimented with different content types and channels and what I have learned is this:
- There are some I enjoy more than others (and am usually better at those)
- No matter what channel or format I use, if I show up consistently, I see results
Consistent visibility with your content is key. It’s not just good enough to produce the content, you’ve also got to have a strategy for sharing content.
For any business exploring content marketing, a certain amount of evolution is natural. If you’ve never created content for your business before it might take some time before you finally decide which content marketing channels you should use.
Now, when you do commit to a method of content creation, you also need to remember this:
2. Don’t give up too soon (how soon is too soon? Read on…)
In the interview I admit that early on I tried certain content marketing channels in the past and then failed to pursue them as vigilantly as I should have because I thought the results weren’t ‘good enough’. Looking back I now have the wisdom (wisdom may be a stretch…) to know that they were absolutely good enough for where I was at the time.
Seriously, don’t give up too soon.
Don’t take my word for it, here’s Joe’s view, and what I love here is how small businesses have a content marketing advantage in this case over big businesses.
“Look at Brian Clark, whether he’s blogging for 19 months before really staking his own claim into his expertise area. And when we look at my new book Content Inc all the case studies in that book, the average time to monetisation was between 15 to 17 months. So you could be onto something fantastic and you look at it and you think we’re not making it and we need to be doing something else but you could be so close.
In hindsight it’s really not that long if you’re trying to build a business because what we see is that people who start to grow and audience actually build a future customer list and once you have an audience that knows likes and trusts you, you can pretty much sell them anything you want. And we see those businesses grow much faster whether we look at Copyblogger, or Hubspot or Moz that built their audience and then grow ridiculously fast.
Patience is key and that’s why small businesses have a better opportunity because they can afford to be much more patient and take more of a rebel framework to content marketing instead of where you have a large business looking at what they might call a content marketing campaign which is very short term which doesn’t focus on building long term relationships with an audience and I think it’s hurting a lot of businesses out there because they’re thinking short term and you have to think ‘hey, it takes time to build a relationship.’ You have to make sure you put patience into the equation.”
3. Serious about winning? Embrace your inner media company
You are not a business that publishes content.
You’re a media company with a business.
Or at least you are if you want to see real success with your content marketing. And I have to say, someone who has dreamed of being at the centre of a magazine, tv show, radio show and any other format where I get to take the stage, I love this idea.
There are organisations that have been around for hundreds of years that are excellent at this. Look at your traditional publishers and entertainment outlets: ESPN, New York Times and Washington Post are a few Joe mentions.
“Sending content is a promise to your audience and if you break that promise you will most likely not get that audience member back.”
Learn from them. And if there’s one thing you should remember: your asset is not your content but your audience.
“The asset is not the content, the asset is the audience. The content gets you to the audience. Look at The New York Times and you do an assessment of the value of that business. They don’t say well The New York Times is valuable because they have 1 million articles on the web. That’s not value. You know how they’re valuable? They’re valuable because they have millions and millions of subscribers that they monetise in X amount of ways. So that’s what we have to focus on.”
4. Even ‘valuable’ content can be mediocre (what?!)
Now is not the time to just produce content, Joe is adamant that what you have has to be distinct and ‘best-in-breed’.
But how do you know if your content IS that? I asked Joe this question and he surprised me by saying that most content actually has value and is useful to an audience.
A lot of content that fails is not ‘crappy’ by any means.
So wait… for years we’ve been told that they key to content marketing success is ‘valuable’ content. So why then, can companies produce useful content and still fail?
Well, one way is not having consistency. But another way is because it just doesn’t stand out. It’s vanilla content, it’s mediocre.
So, how can you tell if you’re creating mediocre content?
Here’s a quick test:
“Take your content, take your blog post, take your podcast and put them up against a competitive set. Is it really different? Could you take your blog post, remove your blog and put it on your competitor’s blog, would anybody really notice? And the answer is probably not. Nobody would know it’s coming from you. If someone’s reading and engaging in that piece of content you really want them to feel that it’s coming from your company. And that’s not happening in most cases. Because we almost want to please everyone with our content and you really cannot do that.”
You need to be bold in your content marketing. You need to know the audience you want to go after, and also you need to have an opinion. Or as Joe puts it:
“Take a stance. Show them you’re a rockstar, don’t tell them you’re’a rockstar“
If you want to be useful to your audience you can’t just give them information. Information is a commodity. If you want to be seen as an expert you need to give your audience insight, opinion, analysis.
In short, you need to give them your unique expertise.
5. Don’t do this if you’re a small business
You’re a small business.
You’ve heard that content marketing works.
So you decide to blog.
Want to save yourself months if not years of content heartache? Follow this advice from Joe:
“Find an area of little, to no competition where you have a fighter’s chance to break through. Tell a different story to get there. That’s where most small businesses fall of right away because they’re telling stories just like everyone else…
If you’re a pet supplies company and you say you want to launch blog on pet supplies, I”m going to say there’s no possible way you’re going to be successful because of the fact that there’s just way too much competition in that area. Petco and Pet Smart and a hundred other businesses are spending billions of dollars in that area and it’s going to be very difficult for you to break through. So what can you solve better than anyone else? Let’s say that you have high-value products for people who like to travel with their pets. Then you can talk about pet supplies for people who like to travel with their pets. And maybe it’s more, maybe it’s not pets, maybe it’s dogs and maybe it’s not just travel, maybe it’s people who own recreational vehicles. We’re just spit balling here, but that’s how niched we would go. You know what? You could be the leading expert in the world in that!”
6. The most important column in your editorial calendar?
If you’re planning ahead with your content, choosing topics that relate to you niche and target market, Joe recommends that each single piece of content needs to have a field to be filled in under the title of:
“What is in it for the audience? Are you trying to help them live a better life, get a better job? What are you trying to do with that specific piece of content and if you can do that as part of a brief to your content creator, you will save so much time in the editing process because they will already understand the goal of the story. The goal of the story is not to sell more, the goal of the story is to have that audience DO something. If you don’t know what thing is that you want them to do it’s going to be killer on the entire editorial team.”
Think about the content you’re publishing. Are you doing it because you need to get a blog out that week? Or because what you have is going to make your reader’s life better? Are you going to save them time, effort or help them avoid a problem? If you can’t answer that, you need to go back and rethink what you’re about to create.
7. Know who’s getting it right today
It can be intimidating to look at the current ‘rockstars’ who are making content marketing work for their business. Instead of feeling inspired, many business owners see a chasm between themselves and said ‘rockstar.’ Pretty soon, doubtful thoughts are seeded:
- She’s so much younger than me
- He’s probably got a huge budget
- He’s a complete tech whizz – I couldn’t produce those kind of videos / graphics / applications
- Her personality is huge – I’m much more introverted, I could never be that magnetic
- She’s probably got a ton of time on her hands to create that…
And on and on it can go.
Which is why I love one of the case studies Joe presents.
One that has helped a grandmother turn a hobby into a multi-million dollar business.
Without high production values, without the need for a tech whizz, just a combination of the 2 keys to content marketing success:
- Solving a specific need (and thus offering value)
- Consistently publishing content
The Missouri Star Quilt Company
“Jenny Doan with the Missouri Star Quilting Company started a very small quilting company and they create little quilting patterns and whatnot. So this is a very small and ornate business. She started a quick quilting YouTube show a few years ago where every week, once a week she would basically talk about ‘here’s how you take this pattern and do things’ and every week she would do this and she’s become a rockstar. And it was a very low-tech, low-budget Youtube series and if you look she’s done one video a week for the last 2-3 years now. She’s built up over 290,000 subscribers on YouTube and in her city in Missouri they have created the DisneyLand of quick quilting and everyone comes from all over the world to see Jenny. Jenny is a rockstar. Every one of her videos gets 60-70,000 views she is a complete rockstar and what she did was very simple. All she did was very simply, focus on a need and a pain point, content that was not out there. She put it up there in a relatively easy how-to fashion she has her own personality about it. She did it once a week for along period of time and now I believe that Missouri Star Quilting company is the largest employer in her city and she’s basically taking over the city. I love that example because ANY company can do that. It doesn’t take a lot of money to do, it takes persistence, time and focus.”
Persistence, time and focus
That last line sums up the focus of how to be a successful content marketer in your business in 2016.
The barriers to entry are low, but once you’ve built and audience that loves what YOU do, you’ll find you’ve made it very hard for your competitor to take them away from you.
I recommend you listen to the podcast interview over on Hit Publish. With editing and writing about it, I’ve listened to it 5 or 6 times now and I’m still getting golden nuggets that will influence the Harrisonamy content marketing strategy for the next few years.
So what success are you planning for 2016? Let me know in the comments below!
Want to improve your chances of content marketing success by writing persuasive, compelling marketing copy? Consider signing up to Write With Influence. For a one-off payment you get lifetime access to this growing resource.