Be the media rather than surround the media

on October 17, 2008

Joe Pulizzi is the founder and Chief Content Officer for Junta42, a custom publishing and content marketing search engine and resource.

Joe Pulizzi, Junta42Summary (Joe Pulizzi):

  • Launch your own media network rather than surround somebody else’s voice (a traditional media outlet) with your messaging (ads).
  • You don’t NEED to advertise with a traditional media network. You might want to, but it’s no longer necessary. You can publish directly to your audience rather than place your messaging around someone else’s leading content.
  • Custom publishing is the answer to search engine optimization (SEO).
  • A custom publishing effort must focus on customer needs, not your company’s products and services.
  • 30% of B2B marketing budgets are going to content development and execution (source: Junta42 study).
  • If you just push product with poor content, you’re not going to have a good social media experience.
  • Talk to your customers, ask them what their needs are today, and then you need to predict what their needs are going to be tomorrow.
  • Learn the art of storytelling, hire people with journalistic talent, or contract out those services.
  • Before you launch a content project determine how you’re going to measure its success.
  • Be prepared to do lots and lots of work.

Full article:

Before the social and new media explosion, custom publishing was primarily about customer retention. Companies did not have conversations with customers, measurement was poor, rationalization to do custom publishing was poor, and in many cases, custom publishing happened because the CEO was so vain wanting nothing more than his or her picture on the cover of their magazine. This was custom publishing just ten years ago, said Joe Pulizzi (blog) founder and Chief Content Officer for Junta42, a custom publishing and content marketing search engine and resource. Pulizzi is also the founder of the consulting and custom publishing group Z Squared Media and author of “Get Content. Get Customers.” I spoke to Pulizzi about his believe that companies need to “be the media, rather than surround the media.” Translated, it means become the industry voice rather than surround somebody else’s leading voice (a traditional media outlet) with your messaging (ads).

Be discovered by search engines

“The biggest thing to happen to custom publishing and content marketing is search engine optimization,” said Pulizzi, “You get all these marketing people who want to be on that left side of that search engine. And what everybody’s realizing is what does it is great content. Because of the search engine and because of Google, people are starting to realize that maybe content is king. You really need to look at the type of information we’re communicating to our prospects and customers on a continuous basis.”

Produce content about and for your customers, not yourself

Companies that fail at custom publishing only focus on their products and services. “They want to tell, tell, tell. They want to talk about we’re great at this and we have this awesome product that. And when you have a client that starts there you have a little ways to go to get them to move around and really position it from the customer’s perspective. And that’s what content marketing is all about. It’s all about the customer,” said Pulizzi.

To get them there Pulizzi asks the common questions any marketer would ask of his client. “What are your customers’ pain points? What are your customers’ informational needs? What keeps your customer up at night,” said Pulizzi, “The answers to those questions are what you need to be communicating.” Pulizzi admits that this is not revolutionary thinking, but to his clients it is revolutionary because they have their marketing sales hats on all day long and all they think about is how they can sell more product. “You can’t just communicate about your products and services anymore and really grow your business. You really have to deliver consistent information to your customers’ pain points,” said Pulizzi.

During his days at Penton Publishing, Pulizzi had a tech client (couldn’t mention the name) that created a content strategy where the goal was NOT to sell. Up until that point, this company had been so focused on selling. In this instance, they just wanted to create some customer-focused content. All the editorial produced was focused on the needs of customers. The only reference to the company was a brief description and a mention that they were the sponsor of the publication. Pulizzi claims that nine months later (the time it takes to make a baby) they had millions of dollars in the pipeline (the cost of raising a baby) for an e-newsletter that was designed NOT to sell. One key to this growth was that the company was targeting a new market area, manufacturing, for which they had no foothold. They were simply exposing themselves to a new industry.

Be the media rather than surround someone else’s content

Any company can be their own media network thanks to the low to zero cost of publishing and distribution, brands can now communicate directly with their customers. Advertisers don’t NEED to spend money with a traditional media network. That’s not saying they don’t want to. They do still want to advertise with a traditional media outlet because they’ll have access to the media outlet’s distribution network and can align their brand with the media network’s brand. But given the leveling of the communications playing field, nobody really NEEDS to advertise with a traditional media brand. “You can be the thought leader. You can be the trusted expert resource for your industry,” said Pulizzi, “The most important thing is how are you going to be that trusted expert resource?”

Custom publishing is not marketing. It’s not about your message points. It’s editorial. It’s storytelling

Pulizzi and I discussed that the “consulting” we do for custom publishing often falls into the trap of advising people on how to be a normal human being. Company people often get stuck in their marketing world and are incapable of having a conversation about their product or industry without hitting their product message points.

Pulizzi explains the dynamic of the traditional marketer trying to get into social media. They’re eager to get into it, so they ask, “How do we get our products and service information out there?” To which Pulizzi responds, “Social media is like having a one on one conversation with somebody. If you don’t have something valuable to say, how long does that conversation last?” If you just push product with poor content, you’re not going to have a good social media experience.

Pick up the phone and talk to your customers

Talk to your customers and ask them, “What is the information you need to do your job better?” When they give you that answer, use your wisdom of the industry and take it one step further. You can’t just give customers what they need because a lot of what they need they don’t know yet. Take what they think they need and then show them additional opportunities. This is where you can be seen as an industry leader. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if the traditional media covered an issue, you can’t. They’re not the only expert. You are too.

I told Joe the story of my days writing for eWEEK where companies would constantly pitch me stories to write for the magazine. Many of the pitches were very good, but I couldn’t accept them all. Either I couldn’t write another story or it wasn’t an appropriate fit for the editorial of the publication. Regardless, I always thought, if the story is that good, why don’t you just write it yourself? And no one ever did. The best you could ever hope for is a press release and who ever reads those, or reacts to them the same way they do to an article that tells a story?

The traditional media doesn’t have to be the only one who tells your story. “Why don’t you be the expert trusted resource on that content instead of somebody else? That means bringing in journalistic talent in your company,” said Pulizzi.

Learn the art of storytelling, or hire someone who knows it

Pulizzi said he’s starting to see companies hire marketing people with journalism backgrounds to be able to tell the company story. That surprised me that there would be any companies so hip to the trend of storytelling. It’s not happening on a widespread basis, but Pulizzi’s starting to see some movement.

More companies are creating their own media. According to an internal Junta42 study, close to one-third of all B2B marketing budgets are funding the creation and execution of content,  said Pulizzi. This increased funding to content is not coming from a growing budget, its coming from a reallocation of moneys, Pulizzi continued.

Impressive content plays

After I asked Pulizzi to give me some examples of his own content success stories, I asked him to point to some other impressive “content instead of marketing” examples. Here are three of his favorites: – A site from P&G that covers everything to do with making your home more appealing when it comes to cleaning and food. More than 1 million people have opted in for information and are in return offering feedback. As a result, this site has been one of the most popular research tools for P&G. – Another P&G site geared towards 11-16 year old girls. Pulizzi said a Forrester Research report shows the site has been three times more effective than any marketing P&G has ever done towards this demographic. – Adopting a little humor from Letterman, the blender company Blendtec posts humorous videos showing what it looks like when you blend various objects like golf balls and iPhones. Blendtec launched the site for less than $1000 and the compellingly silly videos have drawn millions of views. Blendtec says year over year revenues have grown 500% and they attribute all of that success to the videos.

Before you launch a custom publishing project decide how you’re going to measure success

When I asked Pulizzi about mistakes he’s made in custom publishing, he admitted that back in the day he used to launch custom magazines with no idea on how he was going to measure it. In the end, he never had any indication of how successful or unsuccessful a project was. He went fully on qualitative feedback. Today, Pulizzi determines what the measures of success will be before he launches a content project.

In one case, Pulizzi measured the success of an e-newsletter with a follow up courtesy call. That can be a success indicator if many people read it and take action on it. But to actually determine ROI off of a content campaign is not easy because it’s difficult to determine the causality of it. Today, content campaigns are integrated into overall marketing efforts unlike years ago when custom publishing sat out on an island, said Pulizzi.

The formula for creating your own media network

Here’s some basic advice from Pulizzi on launching your own media network:

  • Be prepared to create lots and lots of content. It’s an ongoing project that takes effort and money.
  • Learn as much as you can about your customers. Can you talk to them and find out what their needs are outside of your products and services?
  • Launch a blog. Commit to a consistent level of writing. You won’t get traffic initially, but it will grow over time.
  • Look at other blogs that your customers are on and get active in those communities.

If you own an area in your industry and create good content, you’re going to become successful, said Pulizzi, there’s no doubt about it.

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