In a nutshell: Don’t expect your content marketing efforts to yield huge profits right away. Take the time to develop a loyal following before you consider ways to make money.

Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, told American Marketing Association members that building a loyal audience with a “content-first” business strategy can transform marketing efforts into their own revenue sources.

The days of marketing as merely a driver of sales and cost savings may be numbered.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, recently told American Marketing Association (AMA) members that marketing teams can make money in the way they deliver value to their customers beyond the products they sell.

Marketing strategy going forward will have the same business model as the rest of the company, Pulizzi said at an AMA Tampa Bay Chapter event Aug. 17 in Tampa, Florida. His new book with co-author Robert Rose, “Killing Marketing: How Innovative Companies are Turning Marketing Cost Into Profit,” makes a case for transforming marketing into a profit center instead of a cost center.

Companies such as Red Bull and Salesforce have transformed what were originally marketing efforts to sell products into their own revenue sources, including advertising sponsorships (e.g., Red Bull’s Red Bulletin magazine), conferences and events (e.g., Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference), subscriptions and premium content.

But don’t expect your marketing efforts to yield huge profits right away. First, you need to build your audience. To do that requires taking a “content-first business strategy,” Pulizzi said.

That’s where content marketing comes in: telling stories to give people information they want without them being “sold” something. In other words, build a loyal audience with relevant content, then determine ways to make money from the value of your audience. And that takes time.

“So many of us want to monetize that relationship way too fast,” he said. “It takes a while to build a relationship with an audience.”

Start with one content type on one platform and deliver it consistently over time. Diversify once you have built your audience.

That’s how Pulizzi’s Content Marketing Institute (CMI) blog started in 2010: one post published at 6 a.m. every day. Five years later, CMI was generating $10 million a year in revenue. In addition to the blog, the institute now publishes a monthly magazine and hosts the annual Content Marketing World event, which brings professionals from around the world to Cleveland, Ohio.

Pulizzi said he’s thrilled content marketing is widely used, except that the success rate is about 3 in 10, according to CMI research.

“I’m really excited that we’re all using content marketing, but I’m not so excited that we’re batting 0.300. Now, if I’m with the Tampa Bay Rays and I’m batting 0.300, I’m probably going to the All-Star Game. If I’m batting 0.300 as a marketing executive, I’m getting fired. That’s a big difference.”

Pulizzi refers to his content marketing model as “building the base,” the third of six steps to content marketing mastery he covered in his book “Content Inc.”

Step 1, known as finding the “sweet spot,” is the intersection between a customer’s pain point (or passion) and your own area of expertise that you can communicate with authority. Step 2, “the content tilt,” is where marketers can get themselves in trouble. Most tend to focus only on the sweet spot and create a lot of content around that in hopes of attracting an audience, Pulizzi said.

What marketers need to do is find a niche with little or no competition where a company can cut through the clutter. That’s getting harder to do. Many companies tend to tell stories in the same way and the result is that no one pays attention.

“Think about your content. Is your content truly different in some way? Is it going to gather attention?” Pulizzi said.

For CMI, Step 4, or  “harvesting the audience,” was done via email, a platform that offered a level of control.

Email is at the top of Pulizzi’s “Yay!-Boo! scale for subscriber hierarchy.” At the bottom is Facebook, which he said has not worked well for organic content distribution. He sees social media as a good tool for promoting content but cautions about using social for audience-building, as you have no say over the algorithm.

“Don’t build on rented land,” he said.

Over time, success led CMI to the sixth step – diversification. The institute eventually launched CCO (Chief Content Officer) magazine, the Content Marketing World event, a podcast (This Old Marketing) and other ventures. In 2016, CMI was purchased by UBM, a corporate events firm.

Other companies have found success with the process outlined in “Content Inc.” Sony targeted photography enthusiasts with a blog that included how-to tips, then offered podcasts, in-person events at photography stores and later launched a training program.

“That’s how you do it,” Pulizzi told AMA Tampa Bay Chapter members. “You start with one, then you build out and diversify.”

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