Content Marketing Business Models are often misunderstood to be either Content Marketing strategy plans or Content Creation plans. What exactly is a Business Model? It is a the description of the method by which you’re going to make money. In the case of a Content Marketing Business Model, it should be a plan of how you are going to make money either using content as a means to making money on other products and services, or using content itself as a saleable product or service.
Deciding your Content Marketing Business Model is a key part of the Content Marketing basics you have to get savvy with. Of course, great content, given free is a brand builder and an authority-creation aid, but in the end it has to help sell something – a product, or your influence, or parts of content itself, for it to be business that earns you a living, right? Let’s see the ways this can be done …
2 Content Marketing Models based on your knowing – or not knowing – what to sell
Very few entrepreneurs and marketers realize that there are two broad Content Marketing Business Models that work in diametrically opposite – but equally successful – ways. Content Marketing can work for businesspeople who already know what they want to sell. It can also work for those who don’t yet know what they want to sell.
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #1: When you know what you want to sell:
One model of Content Marketing is to decide first what your specialization niche is, and decide what products and services you want to sell to your chosen target audiences. You then first build the products and services, and set up good conversion sales funnels on your site, to make buying a choreographed experience for your site visitors.
Having put all this in place, you now focus on getting people (traffic) in droves to your site with Content Marketing – so that you can get your site visitors to enter and go through the sales funnels you have created.
Your blog – and your Content Marketing as a whole – becomes the vehicle of your selling process. You regularly publish and promote valuable articles that inform, guide, advice and mentor people on your niche topic, so that you become a go-to resource for both information and products in your space.
Here, in this model, Content Marketing supports the sale of predetermined products and services.
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #2: When you don’t know what you want to sell:
The second way to use Content Marketing can be followed by marketers who have no idea yet what they want to sell as products and services, but still want to get started with Content Marketing (for its own benefits in audience-building).
You decide on a niche you are attracted to, and start writing blog posts and other content with a view to build the “community” you’d like to cultivate. The idea here is not to sell anything yet, until you have wooed enough targeted subscribers to opt in to your mailing list. Here, in this model, Content Marketing supports the cultivation of a “Minimum Viable Audience” (or MVA).
You build enough subscribers to make any selling effort, of anything in your niche, risk-free and cost-effective.
The subscriber list is your veritable goldmine. It not only builds a bonded community for your authoritative writing, but also converts these readers into fans and avid followers, who increasingly trust your word.
Once you have built this solid franchise with an audience that laps up your every word, you can then plan what you’d like to sell to them. Often, they will show you the way themselves, for you will learn their tastes and preferences first hand.
Both these methods have worked spectacularly for successful online marketers. While almost 90% of content marketers use the first model, Brian Clark of Copyblogger made his millions by the second model.
Also in his book “Content Inc”, Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, strongly advocates the second model. I guess it’s not about the method you choose, but the consistency and vigor with which you work it.
3 Content Marketing Models where content creates revenues from the sale of itself
Content Marketing, as well all know, can be successfully used to sell other products and services – that, is other that itself. You could have physical or digital products to sell, or physical or digital services to sell. In such cases, content can be used to attract audiences to gain awareness of your products and services, consider them for purchase, and eventually make these purchases based on the quality of your Content Marketing.
But more interestingly, content can sell itself too as a product or service. Here are 3 ways it can do that:
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #1: Content sold as a product in and of itself
You may have often come across the concept of “gated content” or “content sold as premium content” for paying members on membership sites. The business model used in such cases is to offer some content free. But if people want to read more (or watch videos) of the really worthwhile actionable stuff, they have to pay to see the rest of the content.
Here’s an example of the ReflexionYoga site where some basic yoga asanas are shown free while others have to be paid for as a monthly membership.
Remember one thing, though: people may charge payment in many ways. Sometimes you may have get to see premium content for a monetary fee. Sometimes, they may ask you to give your name and email address in exchange for some “gated content”. And sometimes, it’s as simple as “Please pay with a Tweet to proceed and read the rest of this article”.
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #2: Service productized to use as saleable content
We’ve all seen plenty of examples of ebooks, templates, courses, licensed content and other “info-products” being sold via ecommerce. A lot of businesses that have good topic depth in their niches, are tempted at some time or other, to sell their knowledge as “packaged content”.
In fact, a lot of consultants have found that rather than limit themselves to four of five clients a month (whom they can physically service), they can “productise” what they teach as courses, software or apps, that can become sources of “passive income” i.e. they can sell at scale, endlessly, night or day, 24x7x365, even as the business owner sleeps!
One small business example I love to tell people about is Sweater Babe. See their site below:
It’s a simple enough idea set up by an entrepreneur who loves knitting. The owner’s creativity is “productized” as content – largely knitting patterns. But see this wizardry … when you buy the the knitting patterns you’ll also end up buying the wool and the knitting needles, and when you have leftover yarn, you’ll buy more knitting patterns.
Readers of the site soon can’t tell if they’re shopping for the “content” or the products!
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #3: Content used to monetize authority and eminence
One of the advantages of Content Marketing is the fact that you can build your brand eminence by purveying content with depth and authority. But that not only helps you sell products or content, but also sell your influence. See the site of the Content Marketing expert Jeff Bullas below.
Notice how he is able to monetize his content by selling the creation of more content e.g. Recommendations of Tools, his Speaking Engagements, his Influencer Services and through the Sponsored Content he allows big brands to post on his site, which he annotates.
He gets the price he asks for as a result of his content being so popular (he gets 25 million annual visitors to his site, and has 700,000+ followers on social media and more than 70,000 email subscribers).
5 Content Marketing Models where content is supported by other revenues
There can be five different business models by which content creates the background – or milieu – while products related to the content can piggyback on the content and be sold. Here are five examples of how this works …
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #1: Content used for the aggregator business model
What is the Content Aggregator Business Model? It is a Content Marketing model where a firm collects information about various good/service providers in a niche, makes the providers their partners, bargains rates and prices with them, and markets their services under its own content brand.
Since the aggregator is a brand, it has to provide the content which it creates in a way unique to itself … but it also maintains content uniformity across all the products it shows and sold.
A classic example of this kind of content is visible on the site Trivago which acts as an aggregator of hotels that can booked across the world for travellers.
In this business model, the quality of content aggregated, and the user-experience design in which content is presented, helps sell the partner products better than they could themselves. Even though people may have an option to book hotel rooms directly from the websites of the hotels, they may prefer to shop from an aggregator site like Trivago.
This does not happen just because Trivago may be able to offer the same rooms at lower rates than the hotels themselves would. Often people prefer shopping from aggregator sites like Trivago’s because their content offers comparison tables, and creates the variety of choices and prices that make shopping attractive. The revenue of a site like Trivago is contingent on how it presents its content in a differentiated way … different from other aggregator sites or even the direct hotel sites.
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #2: Free content supported by ad revenues
Gone are the days when banner ads and sidebar ads used to rotate atop of and alongside content. There are now lots of ways in advertising is insidiously mixed in with content so it’s hard to separate the two. Just a small example below from a blog post, shows at least six areas where ads have been inserted, sometimes looking like ads, and sometimes looking like editorial content.
Some bloggers, for instance even include paid-for links to products, as part of their external links. These editorial links look natural in the content, but still earn money on the side. The moot point, though, is whether by allowing any form of insidious advertising, you are eroding content credibility and value – and earning short-term bucks while losing long-term trust.
Some bloggers think it’s okay, as long as the ads are relevant to the article they are situated in, and contribute some extra value to the content. For example, if you were paid to create content that contained a link to another author’s bestseller book on the same topic, would you call that insidious advertising, or contextually-relevant and valuable advertising?
Ultimately, with respect to the quality and quantity of in-content or with-content ads you allow, it’s a call you have to think hard about and take!
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #3: Free content supported by affiliate sales
Unlike in the case of advertising, the content industry as a whole is very supportive of “affiliate marketing” – even if affiliate marketing is indeed one form of subtle advertising. Below is an example from Wirecutter.com where an author, in order to recommend an affiliate product (Bluetooth speakers) has written a “review article”.
Whether the article idea sparked the inclusion of an affiliate product – or the affiliate product sparked the idea of the article – is irrelevant. In the rules of the affiliate marketing model, all’s okay if it’s a good article, and it’s a good product – and the author earns good money.
Affiliate marketing revenue can be earned tastefully and elegantly – it also be crass at times. All depends ultimately on who is recommending a product, and whether the author recommending has credibility, and the product too does.
Many content-creators believe their credibility will be enhanced if they make a disclosure that sounds sincere – like this: “I must mention I am an affiliate of this product, but I would never recommend something I don’t myself use. I would only vouch for a product I can lay my personal credibility and reputation on the line for.”
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #4: Branded content that openly, transparently sells a brand
Branded content is any content that is created and sponsored by a brand and it declares openly that it has created this content with this commercial intent. In the old days of printed magazines, “branded content” used to be known as “advertorials” (advertisements for brands that look like editorial pieces).
For instance a food product company may offer healthy recipes on a post for diabetics, and bear a label saying “This content is sponsored by: Organic Foods Inc.” That is a small example of how sponsored branded content may work. But these days, we’ve made huge strides.
For instance, Lego made an entire feature film for kids that was a runaway hit, and there cannot be a bigger Branded Content Marketing exercise than that, if only for the sheer size of the film’s budget! Here’s a teaser-trailer of the film, that kids all over the globe still talk about!
As the experts say, ” … you know you’ve succeeded at branded content when people are having so much fun, they don’t even notice they’re being marketed to.”
CONTENT MARKETING MODEL #5: Get paid to allow guest posts on your blog
With content marketers in droves wanting to guest post (for publicity or backlinks) many content marketers have taken to charging for carrying guest posts, if only to filter out too much badgering by wannabe guest-posters. Some sites, though have an honorable intention to support young writers and pay for their posts.
One such is the site below called The Write Life which is full of resources and articles – by writers and for writers.
The Write Life is a freelance writing site, which pays $35 for well-written reviews of helpful writers’ resources. If you’ve enjoyed your experience with a writing, blogging or publishing course, program or ebook, you can check out the website’s Resources page to see if it’s already been reviewed.
If not, contact the website, and share a bit about yourself and your experience with the product, to see if you can claim and write the review, and get paid for it.
Visualizing Your Content Marketing Model to have your “why, how and what” to hand
There is an excellent template for visualizing the key aspects of your Content Marketing Business Model in the site called Strategyzer.com. It’s called the Business Model Canvas and looks like the image below. (Download it from the Strategyzer site.)
You have to fill in all the sections, and you can have your business model to hand as a guide to align your business activities with. Fill in the following details …
- Customer Segments: List the clearly defined niches you serve.
- Value Propositions: List the specific products and services you offer and the value you promise to exchange with your customers for their payment.
- Channels: List the communication, distribution, and sales channels you use to reach customers (including social media).
- Customer Relationships: List the activities you do to maintain an ongoing relationship with each of the customer segments you serve.
- Revenue Streams: List the ways you make money based on the content, products and services you offer.
- Key Resources: Identify the resources you must have to run the business.
- Key Activities: Name the actions you must perform to run the business.
- Key Partnerships: Includes the vendors and partners you need to run the business.
- Cost Structure: Include all the expenditures you need to run the business.
Keep this canvas always before you, so you mind is focused on your Content Marketing Business Model.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Marketing Basics”:
- Content Marketing Definitions: 15 Smart, Thought-Provoking Angles!
- What Is Valuable Content? Well, It Depends On Who Is Reading It!