I recently finished reading The Story Engine, Kyle Gray’s new book on content marketing. If you haven’t heard the term before, content marketing is a type of marketing that utilizes the creation of content (written articles, Youtube videos, social media posts, etc.) to generate interest in a brand.
The difference between content marketing and traditional advertising, however, is that while content marketing often stimulates interest in a company’s products or services, the content itself doesn’t explicitly promote the brand.
One example would be a personal trainer releasing videos on how to exercise with proper form or how you could make consistently exercising a habit. In fact, this is the primary way popular Youtube fitness instructor Elliott Hulse built up his brand to over 2,000,000 Youtube subscribers and nearly 400,000,000 views between his two channels.
Yet, growing a brand isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, and that’s why I was so excited to read Kyle’s new book. Kyle had been extremely successful building up tech startup WP Curve’s blog and growing the company’s revenue with his content marketing strategy.
Although I can’t give everything from the book away, in this post I wanted to share a few key insights I had from reading The Story Engine.
#1 Content Marketing is For Those In It For the Long Game
Like Kyle says in the book, content marketing won’t give you the immediate returns a Google or Facebook ad campaign hypothetically could. In fact, Kyle says it usually takes a great article 6-12 months to generate enough traffic just to offset the cost of creating it.
This is something that turns a lot of marketers and business owners off. Having to wait several months or years for content to have a positive ROI isn’t something most people are willing to do. Yet, the biggest benefit of content is that it becomes more valuable over time.
#2 Documentation is Important
When Kyle took over the content marketing operations at WP Curve he struggled. He had such a difficult time in his first few months at WP Curve that he almost quit. Part of the problem was that he lacked experience with Slack, Trello, and other communication tools remote teams often use to communicate. He was also inexperienced working remotely himself.
More than anything else, however, he cites his difficulties with lacking the proper documentation and processes for himself and his team of writers. The writers and other freelancers you hire will only be able to perform as well as the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) you’ve created for them.
If your processes aren’t well refined, you’re unlikely to get a polished result. Yet, there is one positive spin Kyle puts on this. He writes, ‘“…Every interactions with freelancers or team members will create an opportunity to improve your processes. Remember, “fix the process, not the person.”’
#3 Content Marketing Casts a Broad Net
As a content marketer, you’re not an archer shooting an arrow and aiming for a small bullseye. You’re more like a fisherman with a large net trying to catch all the fish he can. Many of the people that consume your content won’t be your ideal customers. Most of them won’t ever purchase anything from you.
That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable, however. People that consume your content are likely to become what Kyle calls “brand ambassadors”. Although brand ambassadors may not purchase from you directly, if they’re engaged with your content there’s a good chance they’ll refer ideal customers to you when the opportunity arises.
Though hard to track, these recommendations are incredibly valuable.
#4 Content as Recruiting
Kyle suggests that one possible way to approach your content marketing efforts is to write content that would inspire someone to want to join your team. Apart from making a future talented teammate more likely to want to join your organization, writing in this way may also improve the quality of your content. Gregory Ciotti from Help Scout is a big advocate of the content as recruiting frame saying that,
“With the ‘content as recruiting’ concept well understood, you’ll keep higher standards for your publishing, you’ll have an easier time encouraging your teammates to write, and you’ll be more deliberate with transparency…”
#5 Content Marketing Is Best For Certain Types of Businesses
While The Story Engine discusses many of the benefits of content marketing, it’s also transparent in that some businesses are more well suited to content marketing than others.
Content is best for businesses with digital products, recurring revenue streams (such as web hosting or other SAAS products), high-ticket items, and businesses that benefit from educating their consumers.
Content marketing options are more limited for local businesses, however, because their “net” for capturing attention is confined to the local audience. The big exception to this, however, is tourism.
Businesses working in local tourism can easily market to a wide audience by writing content to help potential tourists plan activities during their trip. This is extremely effective, because it sells something a consumer wants at precisely the moment they’re ready to purchase it.
(A high-ticket tourist destination like the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore would be the perfect candidate for content marketing.)
#6 Why Most Blogs Fail
In The Story Engine Kyle offers several reasons blogs commonly fail. I’ve listed his six reasons with a short summary of each (in my words) below.
I. Shiny Object Syndrome — Inexperienced content creators too often shift the tools they use or the topics they cover. This continually changing content makes it virtually impossible to build any traction or trust with an audience.
II. No Differentiation — Content marketing is competitive and “me-too” content simply won’t receive attention in most industries.
III. Isolation — The blog focuses too much on self-promotion.
IV. Keywords over Value — The marketer writes for search engines in an attempt to rank for keywords, rather than writing content that’ll help an audience solve a problem that’s relevant to them.
V. Burnout — People burn out on creating content because they don’t have context and a larger vision to feel certain they’re invested time and energy will have a positive ROI.
VI. Can’t Scale — A single founder creates content an audience loves, but later hires are unable to reproduce the voice of the founder.
#7 Why Retargeting Isn’t All You Need
Retargeting is a type of marketing that displays advertisements or offers to people that have seen your content before. These “warm leads” often do get high conversion rates. The problem is that you’ll quickly deplete your retargeting opportunities if you’re not receiving fresh traffic each month. As Kyle writes, “…Retargeting only appeals to the traffic you currently have.”
Creating new content will lead to new traffic. This steam of new traffic today will be the potential retargeting list of tomorrow. As a bonus, having a block filled with valuable content and being seen as an authority in your field will further increase the conversation rates of your retargeting efforts too!
Beyond all this, The Story Engine will also teach you more about how to manage writers, how to hire a content manager, getting ideas for content, and how to train your team so that you’re able to gradually remove yourself from the content creation process.
In short, reading The Story Engine will be an excellent use of your time. You’ll greatly deepen your knowledge of content marketing, developer new marketing strategies for your business, and become more profitable in the long-run.