This special report from the 2017 High Five Conference was prepared by Holly Larson. Follow her on Twitter @HollyKLarson and connect with her on LinkedIn.
Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) delivered the opening keynote address, “The Content Brand: The Future of Content Marketing,” on Day 2 of the High Five conference on Thursday, March 02, 2017 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Pulizzi, who has more than 20 years of experience in content marketing, recently sold CMI to UBM to gain the platform and resources to grow the company and its services globally. CMI hosts Content Marketing World, the largest conference of its kind in Cleveland, Ohio, every September.
Pulizzi opened his speech with a joke: “There is one key to a successful presentation: setting extremely low expectations,” He said he would offer a six-step model for building content marketing, cautioning that not all steps would be relevant to every organization.
Before 1990, there were only eight ways consumers could get information. The media companies and brands had all the power. Now there are thousands of ways for consumers to get information. “You can ignore anything you get at will. You are interested in the things that will help you: your job, your life,” stated Pulizzi.
Why Companies Are Struggling with Content Marketing
Content marketing is about providing “valuable, relevant information” for consumers. While many brands have adopted this model, the success rate to-date is only 30%, according to CMI surveys. “If you batting .300 as a baseball player, you will go to the all-stars,” said Pulizzi. “If you do that as a CMO, you will probably get fired.”
So why are brands struggling so much? Pulizzi offered insights from his consulting and research work with global companies and other brands.
Companies focus on content marketing as a campaign, rather than an ongoing engagement model; deliver brand talk, rather than content that helps their consumers; lack a written content strategy; and focus on creating large content volumes. Robert Rose at CMI advises companies to create the minimum amount of content they need to generate their desired results.
Strategies for Winning with Content Marketing
Brands need to build their audience first before they think about monetizing it. The best way to accomplish that goals with a content brand.
CMI analyzed the best media and content marketing in the world and reverse-engineered their approach. As a result of that study, CMI realized that these companies followed a six-step model. Pulizzi outlined this approach, while providing case studies the audience could learn from.
- Find the sweet spot.
Know why are you creating content in the first place. Understand your customers’ pain points and what keeps them up at night. Focus on just one audience before you expand.
Understand where you have authority. “If you run pet stores and talk about RFID, no one will believe you,” said Pulizzi. One of Pulizzi’s favorite case studies is John Deere. The company has been producing a print magazine, Furrow, since the late 1880s, and sends it to 1.5M farmers around the world. John Deere’s authority is they know more about agriculture and farming than anyone in the world.
- Do a content tilt.
Ann Reardon is a content marketer in Sydney, Australia. In January 2012, Reardon wanted to leave her job and start a video blog on food nutrition, which is an extremely crowded space. She began with 100 YouTube subscribers in 2012 and now has three million.
So how did she do that? Reardon realized she needed to change her focus to break through, as she had no budget and very few followers. She tilted her content by talking about something different. Her brand is How to Cook That, and she demonstrates how to create impossible food creations like a five-pound Snickers cake.
When Pulizzi did a content audit recently of two global companies, he could not tell the difference between them. In a marketplace of noise, me-too content won’t win.
So how do you find your content tilt?
Every media brand starts with an editorial mission statement. However, most companies don’t work through that step. Indium Corp, which manufactures industrial soldering equipment, says its editorial mission is “Helping Engineers Answer the Most Challenging Industrial Solder Questions.” The company’s 21 engineers blog on 70 different blogs and has seen huge success from this strategy.
- Define your audience.
Know who they are, what you will deliver, and what your outcome will be,” said Pulizzi. If you have multiple audiences, you will need to follow this process for each one. One of the largest technology companies in the world was having trouble with its blog. Pulizzi asked them how many audiences they had. “We have 18 different personas,” said a marketer. Pulizzi said, “I have found your problem.” They broke the audiences apart and then created a strategy for each one.
A lot of teams focus on content repurposing: taking a piece of content and splitting it up 20 different ways. Successful media companies do something different: They develop a content type, deliver it on their primary platform, and provide consistent delivery over a long period of time. That is their base.
For example, if you are doing video blogging, you might deliver a new video every Monday at 6 pm.
- Focus and deliver.
If a client says to Pulizzi, “‘What can I do it in six months?’ “I say, “Go buy advertising. The average time cycle to build an audience is 18 months.” When he worked in trade marketing, Pulizzi created three-year plans.
Copyblogger sells Rainmaker CSS system. They did a daily blog, every work day. This approach brought them 100,000 subscribers. Now Copyblogger is one of the fastest growing software as a service companies.
Jyskebank TV, a bank, set up a media company. Now it is one of the leading financial services media companies in Denmark.
John Lee Dumas does an Entrepreneur on Fire podcast every day and delivers it at 3:30 AM on EST. He has a multi-million-dollar business now.
Whatever you do, do it consistently. You don’t need to be on every platform, said Pulizzi.
- Harvest the audience.
Toyota has 3M likes on Facebook. “If they put up a post, how many will see it?” asked Pulizzi. The answer: less than 1%. “I know there are a lot of advantages to Facebook, but from an organic perspective it is terrible,” he said.
Google doesn’t know what is doing with Google+ and a lot of marketers have moved away from the platform
“I am not saying you shouldn’t use social media. CMI does Twitter chats,” said Pulizzi, “and they are very successful.” But CMI is focused on building its email subscription list.
Copyblogger now has 200,000 subscribers, and 99% of their revenue comes from these subscribers. Ameritrade’s thinkMoney publication goes to 20,000 active super traders, who create five times the revenue than less active traders. And Buzzfeed pivoted from depending heavily on Facebook to building its own email list.
When he is doing a podcast, John Lee Dumas will send people to his website where they see an immediate opt-in pop-up. Pulizzi didn’t want to do a pop-up form for CMI. However, when the organization tested it, the team realized that they get 150 to 200 new subscribers every day from the pop-up, and that most of their best customers come from the immediate opt-in.
However, it’s not just about capturing emails. “To make this approach work, you need an amazing e-newsletter,” said Pulizzi. Give your audience something that is tremendously valuable, such as an eBook or research report.
After building a solid base, companies can diversify. Pulizzi asked his email team who the best customer is – someone who pays for training and goes to their conferences. They typically subscribe to three things: email newsletters, webinars, the print magazine, or something else. CMI has diversified to create stronger relationships with its subscriber base.
Moz started a blog when it was a consulting company. They’ve added a regular whiteboard video with Rand Fishkin and a conference.
For three years, CMI focused on delivering a great blog, then added the magazine, conference, and podcast.
“There is the only metric that matters – What is the difference between those who subscribe to a company’s content and those who don’t,” said Pulizzi.
Organizations that build a successful content brand can reap the rewards. Adorama bought JPG Magazine when it was about to go out of business because it had 300,000 subscribers. Arrow Electronics has spent more than $40M buying 51 media properties in the electronics media space, and now has the largest audience in this space.
Content marketing acquisitions will pick up over the next 18 months. “There is an opportunity there,” said Pulizzi.
CMI has done two deals itself: one in the five figures and one in the six figures. The leadership team now considers: Should we launch or buy this?
Pulizzi concluded by exhorting his audience to create value first and extract it second.
CMI has produced a 43-minute documentary, The Story of Content, for marketing professionals to share with their leadership team to educate them and get buy-in for launching an ongoing content marketing program.
Follow the conversation on Twitter at #High5Conf.