There are a lot of business books that claim to have something for everyone – from beginner to expert. Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi, is one of the few that fulfills that promise.
Recently I finished his book, and as it is with many books I consume these days, I listened to the audio version – all 8.5 hours of it – over the course of several long drives. It was well worth the time invested and I’d recommend it to anyone in marketing, if you consume one book by year’s end, make Epic Content Marketing that book.
Pulizzi says he first started using the phrase “content marketing” in 2001 when working for a custom publisher. Few marketing executives had an interest in “custom publishing” but the term content marketing seemed to resonate.
The founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), Pulizzi also diligently practices what he preaches. Since founding the company in 2007, he says, (at the time he published this book) he has spent just $40k on marketing, yet the success of the company is clear. Indeed CMI’s premier event, Content Marketing World, has grown tremendously; I hope to attend the conference this fall.
In the course of listening to the audio version, I paused to take notes in the form “voice memos” on my iPhone and have transcribed them for this post. There’s way more than just eight nuggets though in the book; and don’t miss the 24+ “content marketing commandments” — quick and useful bytes — at the bottom of this post!
Eight takeaways from Epic Content Marketing
1. What’s different is the focus. The biggest difference in content marketing is in the philosophy: Instead of focusing content on the products, it is content focused on customers because customers care about themselves: To sell more, we’ve got to sell less.
2. Good marketing looks like publishing. Instead of advertising around other people’s content, content marketing means being the publisher and created your own content. In many ways this is a key reason why I believe PR is adept at balancing content marketing: PR has been engaged in the very difficult business of getting things published on other sites – publishing on your own site is a cinch. After all, content marketing is PR.
3. Competing with traditional publishers. Brands are realizing they can create content of equal or greater quality than the traditional publishers. In other words, who will write a more informed review for a pair of running shoes: the journalist that has never run competitively and picks up a story (or five) for a day, or the competitive runner with some writing skill?
people interact with 10 pieces of content before making a purchase decision.
4. Customers require 10 touches. Citing Google’s Zero Moment of Truth research, Pulizzi says people interact with 10 pieces of content before making a purchase decision (I’ve seen more recent research that puts this number at 12; rest assured, it’s not declining). Yet the options for content – the sheer deluge of content competition – has grown tremendously. Citing research from Yankelovich he says in the late 1970s, consumers experienced as many as 500 messages a day. Today that number is closer to 5,000.
5. Content marketing is a process. Content marketing isn’t a campaign, it’s a continuous process to attract, retain and convert customers. His advice is to be wary of any marketing or PR agency that is pitching content marketing as a campaign, rather than an approach. It is a philosophy and a business strategy; content marketing does not have an end date.
Content marketing is an approach, a philosophy, and a business strategy, not a campaign; it has no end date.
6. Commitment counts. Citing IBM research, Pulizzi says 85% of corporate blogs have five or fewer posts; commitment and consistency are valuable attributes. This means brands are very good at starting a dialogue, or a content marketing project, but lousy at following through.
7. Gated content doesn’t go viral. Most brands want their content, and by extension ideas, to spread as far and wide as possible. Bloggers and influencers are instrumental in facilitating a broad reach. Guess what groups do not download gated content? Bloggers and influencers. To be clear, Pulizzi isn’t completely opposed to the idea of gates, rather he notes it depends on the business objectives and the understanding that when content is gated the tradeoff is in awareness, reach and exposure. He’s never seen a piece of gated content go viral…unless of course, you use this one weird trick.
8. Content marketing measurement. Pulizzi has a simple and straight-forward and pragmatic framework for measuring the effectiveness of content marketing. He recommends focusing on four key areas: Consumption, shares, leads, sales.
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Don’t wait for perfection, content doesn’t have to be perfect and it never will be.
24+ Content Marketing Commandments
In the final pages of the book, or in the last 10 minutes of the audio version, Pulizzi offers perhaps 30 “content marketing commandments.” I found this to be an effective way to drive home the message throughout his book and went back and listened to this section again in the process of writing this post.
These rules alone might merit an entire separate blog post, but then, that might mean this post wouldn’t be epic. Here are the commandments – with some minor editorial liberty – that stood out for me:
- Customer relationships. Content is more important than the offer; the customer relationship doesn’t end with the payment.
- Engagement. Printed marketing doesn’t stop with the full page advertisement; being the content is more important than surrounding the content; interruption isn’t valued, but engagement is valued.
- Corporate blog as the center. A blog can be and should be a core part of communicating with and marketing to your customers. I couldn’t agree more with the framework.
- Internal vs. external. Internal marketing always takes precedence over external marketing.
- Focus on the customer. A brand is a relationship, not a tag line. Focusing on what the customer wants is more important than what you have to sell.
- Press releases are content. A news release intended to be picked up by the press, but rather to help customers find you from great content on the web; communicating directly with customers is the best choice. (And for all you press release naysayers, the press release’s first observable death was in 1979).
- Content builds community. Marketers can and should be publishers; without content, community is improbable, if not impossible.
- End of the brochure. Marketing brochures should be stricken from all strategic marketing plans.
- Creative design is paramount. Content without design doesn’t look appetizing and doesn’t deliver on marketing goals.
- Leads are one part. Lead generation is only one small part of the marketing picture.
- Editorial help. Hiring an editor is not a want, but a must for all organizations.
- Everyone’s cross to bear. No matter the medium, or the provider, someone is always selling something.
- Content and search marketing. The long tail of SEO is driven by consistent content on your corporate blog or website; don’t rely too much on search engines to bring traffic to your site.
- Brochureware. Ninety percent of all corporate websites talk about how great the company or the product is and forget about the customer; 90% of all corporate websites are terrible.
- Think circles not funnels. Buyers are in control, the traditional sales process has changed and relevant content allows organizations into the buying process.
- Long live long form. Long form branded content can be created anywhere your customers work, live or play; customers want to be inspired; be the inspiration.
- Future marketing leaders. The chief content officer is the CMO of the future.
- Experiment. There’s no one right way to do content marketing; be willing to experiment.
- Event marketing. In person events continue to be one of the best ways to connect with your audience.
- Process-driven. Content marketing in your organization means having the right process; there are no short cuts to content marketing; it requires a lot of elbow grease.
- Curation. Content curation is important, but it’s not a strategy; to be the trusted expert in your industry you must create some of your own content.
- Imperfection. Don’t wait for perfection, content doesn’t have to be perfect and it never will be.
- Insource or outsource. Outsource effectively, or be effectively outsourced; if you don’t have scaling problems with your content, you aren’t moving fast enough.
- Where the content spreads. Before you create your content master piece, first consider how you are going to market it.
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You can find Joe Pulizzi on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn. He is a frequent contributor to the CMI Blog, which you can subscribe to by email or RSS.
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