Excerpt from Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses by Joe Pulizzi.
THE CONTENT INC. MODEL
In my experience working with hundreds of businesses, and the dozens of interviews associated with this book, weve found that there are six distinct steps to the Content Inc. model.
1. The Sweet Spot
Simply put, the entrepreneur needs to uncover a content area that the business model will be based around. To make this happen, we need to identify a sweet spot that will attract an audience over time. This sweet spot is the intersection of a knowledge or skill set (something the entrepreneur or business has a competency in) and a passion area (something the entrepreneur or business feels is of great value to he or she personally or to society at large).
For example, Andy Schneider has built an entire business around his celebrity persona, the Chicken Whisperer. Andys knowledge area is backyard poultry. To put it mildly, Andy knows more about raising chickens in a backyard than just about anyone else on the planet. At the same time, Andy has a passion for teaching. Andy loves helping his friends with their backyard chicken-raising whenever he can.
2. Content Tilt
Once the sweet spot is identified, the entrepreneur needs to determine the tilt, or the differentiation factor, to find an area of little to no competition.
Claus Pilgaard is one of the most well-known celebrity figures in Denmark, all because of the extraordinary way he talks about chili peppers. Clauss YouTube videos have garnered millions of views, including one where Claus conducts the Danish National Chamber Orchestra playing Tango Jalousie while eating the worlds hottest chili peppers. That video alone (http://cmi.media/CI-ChiliKlaus) has seen more than 3 million views (note that this is more than half the population of Denmark).
Clauss sweet spot was the intersection of his skill at performance art and his passion for chili peppers. But what Claus realized was there was an abundance of content and experts around the heat behind chili peppers, but a content gap around the taste of peppers. As he explains in an interview:
I was actually sitting there in this little summer house getting a little bored and I had my camera with me and thought, What if you talked about chili peppers in the same way as you were told about raising wine? You talk about all the different kinds of tastes, not about the alcohol but what it tastes like. Is it coffee, or is it food? What is it? So instead of telling about how hot these peppers were, I was getting around the peppers and talking about the different varieties. And then my body started to tell another story [while eating the peppers]. Maybe thats why they [the videos] became so popular.
Claus always had a passion for chili peppers, but it wasnt until he started telling a different story around taste that the business model grew legs. The tasting addition to the sweet spot (what we call the tilt) is what made the difference.
3. Building the Base
Once the sweet spot is found and the tilt occurs, a platform is chosen and a content base is constructed. This is exactly like building a house. Before we get into all the paint and fixtures and flooring options, we have to plan and install the foundation. This is done by consistently generating valuable content through one key channel (a blog, a podcast, YouTube, etc.).
Today, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) offers a print magazine, research papers, podcasts, ongoing workshops, and more . . . but for the first four years, it was just a blog. The blog became the core channel that initially drew in the original audience. The blog originally started as just me, blogging approximately three times per week. In 2010, we opened up the blog to additional contributors at five times per week. In 2011, the blog went daily, even on weekends.
Not until success was found in the blog (the platform) did CMI diversify to other channels.
4. Harvesting Audience
After the platform is chosen and the content base is built, the opportunity presents itself to increase the audience and convert one-time readers into ongoing subscribers.
This is where we leverage social media as key distribution tools and take search engine optimization seriously. At this point, our job is not just to increase web traffic. By itself, web traffic is a meaningless metric. Our goal is to increase traffic to increase the opportunity to acquire an audience.
Heres how Michael Stelzner, CEO of Social Media Examiner, explains this step in the process:
We were arguably late to the game, because by the time we launched SME [Social Media Examiner] there were thousands of other blogs that were dedicated to social, but I saw that as marketplace justification more than anything else. But I didnt doubt once I began, because I knew how to track metrics; I knew what mattered. I knew email acquisition was the key metric and I had decided that we werent going to promote (meaning sell) anything until we had at least 10,000 email subscribers. And we got to that number so quickly that I knew we were really onto something.
. . . last year we had 15 million unique people visit SME. We have 340,000 people that we email every single day. We currently publish 810 original articles every single week.
The critical acknowledgment for this area: while there are many metrics to analyze content success, the number one metric is the subscriber. Its almost impossible to monetize and grow your audience without first getting the reader to take action and actually subscribe to your content.
Once the model has built a strong, loyal, and growing audience, its time to diversify from the main content stream. Think of the model like an octopus, with each content channel being one of the eight arms. How many of those arms can we wrap our readers in to keep them close to us (and coming back for more)?
ESPN, originally started as a sports-only cable television station in 1979, began with a $9,000 investment by Bill and Scott Rasmussen. Now, almost 40 years later, ESPN is the worlds most profitable media brand with operating earnings of more than $4 billion according to Forbes.com.
For 13 years, ESPN directed its attention on only one channel for 100 percent of its audience-building focuscable television. Then, starting in 1992, the floodgates opened on diversification, first with the launch of ESPN radio. Then ESPN.com (originally called ESPN SportsZone) launched in 1995, followed three years later by ESPN the Magazine.
Today, ESPN has a property in almost every channel available on the planet, from Twitter to podcasts to documentaries. Even though the channels were limited in the 1980s and 1990s (compared with today), ESPN didnt diversify until the core platform (cable television) was successful.
Its time. Youve identified your sweet spot. Youve tilted to find an area of content noncompetition. Youve selected the platform and built the base. Youve started to build subscribers, and youve even begun to launch content on additional platforms. Now is when the model monetizes against the platform.
By this time, you are armed with enough subscriber information (both qualitative and quantitative) that a multitude of opportunities will present themselves to generate revenue. This could be consulting or software or events or more.
Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz (originally called SEOMoz), started his blog on search engine optimization insights back in 2004. In less than five years, Moz had over 100,000 e-mail subscribers.
Rand originally monetized the audience through consulting services, but in 2007, Moz launched a beta subscription service for software tools and reports. By 2009, Moz closed the consulting business entirely and focused on selling software to its audience.
The best part? Rands success looks amazingly unusual, but it isnt.The more Ive researched this, the more Ive found that these are typical numbers for a Content Inc.based business. The key is following the six steps as outlined above and being patient enough for the model to work.
Joe Pulizzi is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and podcaster. He’s the founder of multiple startups, including the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), the leading content marketing educational resource for enterprise brands, recognized as the fastest growing business media company by Inc. magazine in 2014 and 2015.