How Companies View Content as the Cornerstone of Their Marketing Activities: Interview with Joe Pulizzi

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Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Copyright 2016 McGraw Hill Education

Every company has blips of great content, but most of this is campaign-based. Content marketing is a marathon and not a sprint. It evolves, but never stops.

Talk to nearly any marketing professional who works today and before too long, the word content will surely come up in the conversation. Content is so much on our minds that it might be easy to relegate the whole subject to the fickle domain of trend or buzzword.

That would be a mistake. There is a lot going on with content, and it’s making some very real waves in the world of marketing.

If “content is king” of marketing, author Joe Pulizzi might just be the king of content. I recently talked with Joe about his new book, Content Inc., and how companies are looking at content as the cornerstone of their marketing activities.

Does everyone agree that “content is king”? They may say it, but is it manifested in a content-driven marketing strategy? Here’s what Pulizzi says about that:

No … I don’t believe so. Most companies are working to take the products and services they want to sell and make those a little bit more engaging. This simply doesn’t work. We need more focus on the needs of the audience first and the products we want to sell as secondary.

The audience-first theme is central to Joe’s message in Content Inc. This is a difficult concept for “results-now” managers who pound marketing and sales for near-instantaneous results.

For those of us who are tasked with marketing products, the common understanding would be that great content will stimulate interest in your company, confidence in your product and ultimately ensure your inclusion on a purchasing shortlist.

To this end, companies decide to give “content-driven” marketing a try. After several months, most begin to ask themselves, where are the leads?

I asked Joe Pulizzi about this as part of a larger question regarding inbound marketing, content quality and lead generation. Specifically I asked Joe if he hears the “where are our leads?” question frequently.

His answer was emphatic:

Yes, all the time. It’s like a broken record.

So, where do they go wrong? Where do companies fail?

Joe cites three main areas:

First, most of these companies don’t have any documented content marketing strategy. Sure, they are experimenting a lot, but strategy comes first. Second, they aren’t telling a differentiated story. Third, they aren’t consistent (like a media company) in delivering that story.

These three failures is largely what Content Inc. addresses. But, don’t be deceived; there is more to it than you might think. Don’t just jump on these three elements and call it done.

Strategy goes way beyond proofreading blog posts and hiring professional writers. Differentiation of your story must be more explicit than pricing discounts or extra quality control in your manufacturing processes. Consistency means more than updating your website and adding new stories each week.

The first clue to what is actually involved is mentioned in the book’s subtitle, How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses.

Notice the phrase, Build Massive Audiences; that is the basis, the foundation and key to successfully deploying a content marketing strategy. You will learn that as important as this is, it will not be accomplished overnight. As Joe tells us:

Every company has blips of great content, but most of this is campaign-based. Content marketing is a marathon and not a sprint. It evolves, but never stops. Most companies create some really good stuff for a short period of time and then either stop or give up too soon. You need a timeline longer than 18 months to really build a loyal audience over time.

You’ve got to get over the idea that the world will change in six months, a year or even longer.

Audience-building is an ongoing, never-ending process. It is what you are going to be doing day in and day out. Content Inc. tells us that getting this done is not about ramming the product, solution or even favorable institutional messaging down your audience’s collective throats.

Audience-building starts with identifying your specific market sweet spot. Joe defines this as the intersection of knowledge, specialized skill and your own unique passion related to those two factors.

Next is the audience and the communication platform.

Content Inc. tells us to pick one initially. Pick the audience with the communication channel in mind. Your program should be based on one message, one audience and one channel initially. You’ll grow it in the future, but for now, establish yourself with one. You might pick a blog, a social-media program or perhaps a white-paper series. Joe cites some specifics in our conversation:

When you begin a content-marketing approach, set a goal for an MVA or minimum viable audience. For us at CMI, that number was 10,000. For Matthew Patrick and his Game Theory brand, it was 500,000. When you begin, focus everything on growing that audience. That is your success metric, the subscriber, specifically the opt-in email subscriber.

If you decide to expand to a different audience, that is probably a separate initiative, strategy, mission, MVA goal, etc. It’s mutually exclusive from the first program … just like any media company would launch a separate content brand.

The point is, address your audience with messaging focused on them through a single, consistent channel, and don’t even think about pushing your product or solution message at this early time.

Marketing and Communication Require Listening as Well as Articulating

As you push out content through your special channel, listen to your audience for reaction and input—good and bad—and then tweak, expand and modify your message as needed. Technology can help in this process. Customer portals, marketing automation platforms and CRM systems can all facilitate monitoring and measuring your visitor activity. If nothing else, pay attention to the opt-in email subscriber, and always review what they have responded to. This will drive your future content selection.

This process will eventually help you uncover the real magic within content marketing.

Joe calls this Tilt. Tilt occurs when you uncover that space that is yours exclusively; it’s your true knowledge and message differentiator. Tilt is when you literally become THE authority in a given area.

Tilt delivers an exclusive audience to you; an audience that trusts you, likes you will follow you in the future. Joe has described Tilt and how it differs from mere differentiation:

The Content Tilt is all about finding an area of little to no competition where you can actually become the leading expert in the world at something. The Tilt depends on the audience you target and the content niche you are covering. I don’t think it matters ultimately what product or service you are offering. The goal is to create a subscriber to your content that knows, likes and trusts you, and ultimately leads to a behavior change that benefits the brand.

Once this occurs, you can start looking at other audiences, other messages and other channels, but they must be built and maintained individually. Think of it as a garden. Gardens grow a plant at a time. Each plant is slightly different and has different requirements.

Naturally, you will take some wrong turns along the way; you will want to tweak and change as your program evolves. I asked Joe about how that works, specifically, how long is long enough before reworking or making a change:

You have to at least give it 12 months I believe, and keep listening to the needs of the audience. Since most programs aren’t able to monetize until 15-18 months, it takes real commitment. If you aren’t seeing consistent subscriber growth, that is a core sign that something may be wrong. I would look at subscriber opt-in and opt-out rates as key to making any kind of decisions.

Let’s continue with our garden analogy. Much like the most beautiful gardens feature many beautiful individual plants, many small, specialized and loyal audiences make up the massive audience that will drive your success.

What about Sales and Marketing?

Finally I asked Joe about the role sales might play in this process. He sees sales as a valuable component in the content strategy because of its unique position relating to prospects and customers. Sales has firsthand communication with customers and prospects every day and has tools like CPQ, CRM and other technology that not only facilitate the conversation but also the collection and sharing of important information from that conversation. Joe elaborates:

Sales should be one of your listening posts. Since they have ears to the ground and are talking with the customers, they probably have some very good ideas as to customer challenges. This should be directed to the editorial department to discuss if there is a content gap that can be filled and placed into the editorial calendar
And it should not just be sales in this role.

I would formalize as part of your listening post process—sales, customer service, social media, other employees, surveys, etc.

Reader Recommendation

Your content program is like that garden. Over time, your audience will grow and your credibility and reliability as a trusted source will be the driver that ultimately propels you to success.

Joe Pulizzi does a masterful job of pulling this subject out of the haze of trending tactics and strategies and putting it together in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step program. I would particularly emphasize the importance of this book not only to folks who are at that “where are the leads” point, but also anyone who is contemplating a move to inbound or content-based marketing will find plenty of value between the covers of Content Inc.

Joe Pulizzi is a gifted, well-organized, knowledgeable writer, and Content Inc. His book is an informative and entertaining read.

I heartily recommend picking up a copy of Content Inc. at your favorite online source.

Buy Joe’s book from Content Marketing Institute.

Check out Joe Pulizzi’s website.


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