How to Launch a “Content-First” Business with Joe Pulizzi

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If you’re a marketer, you’ve probably heard of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). With it’s quick tips and thoughtful lessons, this website is full of advice for startups, freelancers, and corporations who are looking to learn how content can help grow their businesses. We recently chatted with Joe Pulizzi, CMI’s founder and the man who coined the term “content marketing,” to discuss the content marketing revolution and what’s next for him and this fast-growing industry.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in your career? What inspired you to launch the Content Marketing Institute?

For seven years, I was an executive at the largest independent business media company in North America. I worked with brands around the country, helping them publish and distribute their own stories to attract and retain customers. By 2001, it was easy to see that effective marketing was starting to look more and more like publishing.

That’s when I started to use the term “content marketing.” Then, Google became more popular and social media started to take hold, the informational power switched from companies to consumers. To take advantage of that as brands, it meant we need to be amazing content producers (instead of advertisers).

In 2007, we launched what is now the Content Marketing Institute as there were so many educational needs around content marketing (brands needed to learn how to become publishers). In 2010, things really took off. Now CMI is totally focused on education and training around the discipline of content marketing.

Today, content marketing is a core initiative for most organizations. I am extremely passionate about the present and future of the industry, and the opportunities for marketers to truly make an impact on the lives and jobs of their customers through epic content creation and distribution.

What is content marketing and why is it a critical part of the marketing mix for businesses today?

Here at CMI we define content marketing as: A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Why is it so important? Consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages a day and it’s easier than ever for them to avoid your marketing. How do we stand out and reach customers with our message? Don Schultz, the father of integrated marketing, says your competitors can copy everything you do as an organization. They can copy your products, your services, you processes. The only thing they can’t copy is how you communicate. This is why content marketing has become so important. It’s really the only way we can differentiate ourselves, and it may be the only way that we can get included in the buying process—the buying journey. If we don’t have worthwhile content, we’re probably going to be left out of the decision-making process altogether.

If a startup or small business is just getting their content marketing off the ground, what are a few things they should know?

Small businesses and startups obviously don’t have the same resources compared to a larger business. But what they do have is passion and patience and that can make all the difference. To get started, they need of focus on a simple formula that’s followed by all the examples in my new book Content Inc.: (you can see 20 examples in this Slideshare). Below are some tips:

    • Focus on one content type—for example, textual content as in a blog, audio content as in a podcast or video content etc.
    • Focus on one main platform (a blog, YouTube, iTunes, etc.).
    • Have consistent delivery (no campaigns, just a commitment to deliver amazing information on a regular basis).
    • Be patient. You are not going to see content marketing success overnight—it will take time to see results if you stick with it.

What’s the key to excellent content marketing?

I actually believe there are six principles to creating EPIC content marketing. They are:

    • Fills a Need – You content should answer some unmet need or question for your customer. It needs to be useful in some way to the customer, over and above what you can offer as a product or service.
    • Consistent – The great hallmark of a successful publisher is consistency. Whether you subscribe to a monthly magazine or daily email newsletter, the content is always delivered on-time and as expected. This is where so many companies fall down. Whatever you commit to in your content marketing, you must consistently deliver.
    • Be Human –The benefits of not being a journalistic entity is that you have nothing to hold you back from being…well…you. Find what you voice is and share it. If your company’s story is all about humor, share that. If it’s a bit sarcastic, that’s okay too.
      Has a Point of View – This is not encyclopedia content. You are not giving a history report. Don’t be afraid to take sides on matters that can position you and your company as an expert.
    • Far Removed from Sales Speak – When we create a piece of content that is about us (Content Marketing Institute) versus an educational post, it only garners 25% of the regular amount of page views and social shares. That point is, the more you talk about yourself, the fewer people will value your content.
    • Best of Breed – Although you might not be able to reach this goal at the very beginning, the ultimate goal for your content is that it needs to be best of breed. This means that, for your content niche, what you are distributing is the very best of what is found and is available. I know this may sound overly simplified, but if you expect your customers to spend time with your content, you must deliver them amazing value.

What’s the future of content marketing? How do you see the next 5-10 years playing out?

I see a future where brands/companies are publishers. We are already seeing this evolution of the marketing department within enterprises. A few years ago, this would have been truly unbelievable. Getting and keeping an audience is key. And now, publishers are moving to sell products and services directly, so literally there is no structural difference between a publisher and a marketer. Over the next couple of years, we will start to see serious buying interest and activity from brands of all sizes in the purchasing of niche media and blogger sites. Yes, building an owned media platform takes time, so some will short circuit the process and just buy the asset.

Tell us about your book, Content Inc.. What problem do you think it’s solving in the business world?

If you are an entrepreneur or startup, you probably know that the odds are stacked against you. And you’d be right, if you start your business the way nearly every business in the world launches: create a product first, and then try to find your customer base and market fit.

I believe there is a better way to significantly increase the odds of your startup success. Over the past year, we’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of the fastest-growing businesses led by entrepreneurs who used a “content-first” business model (more on that in a second). The more we interviewed, the more similarities we found among their business models. Actually, as we analyzed the businesses, we discovered that each followed the same six steps to building industry-leading platforms. This is what we dubbed the Content Inc. model.

The short story is this – each and every business followed the exact same model and these same six steps. Simply put – they built an audience first and then launched a product or service.

In the future, thousands of businesses from around the globe will be leveraging a Content Inc. go-to-market strategy. Why? Because having a singular focus on audience, and building a loyal audience directly, gives you the best understanding of what products ultimately make the most sense to sell.

What’s next for you? Any new projects you’re excited about?

We just launched a documentary on the rise of content marketing called, The Story of Content. If you have no idea what content marketing is then you should check it out. Additionally, we here at CMI are just gearing up for our big conferences, Intelligent Content Conference, March 7-9, 2016 in Las Vegas and Content Marketing World, September 6-9, 2016 in Cleveland Ohio.

Watch Joe Pulizzi discuss “How to Launch a Content-First Business,” on General Assembly’s YouTube channel.

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