A Publisher’s Guide to Inbound and Content Marketing

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It’s no secret that advertisers are diverting dollars from print and digital with publishers into inbound and content marketing. Likewise, agencies tell their clients that they can handle all of their marketing needs and that they don’t need to spend money with publishers.

What can we as media companies do to combat this trend? Or even better, how can we embrace and capitalize on it?

Become the Best Inbound / Content Marketing Firm in Your Market

Publishers are uniquely equipped to be the best inbound / content marketing firms in their markets for several reasons:

  1. We have incredibly strong content expertise and resources.
  2. We have a highly targeted audience that’s taken a lot of time and money to develop.
  3. We have (or can quickly develop) the market data necessary for these programs.
  4. We have (or can quickly acquire) the marketing technology necessary.
  5. And most importantly, we’ve cultivated a unique and powerful awareness and trust with our market that no advertiser or agency can duplicate.

However, as I work with publishers in all different markets, it is clear that most do not understand what content marketing and inbound marketing really are.

In this guide, we’ll demystify how inbound and content marketing work and how you as a publisher can use them to grow your business.

The Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing

There is a lot of confusion about inbound and content marketing. You’ve likely heard dozens of different terms that add to this confusion: conversion funnel, lead magnet, ROAS, tagging, lookalike, remarketing, TOFU / MOFU / BOFU, CTA, CRO, LTV, etc.

To boil it all down, inbound marketing is the use of content and marketing automation tools to attract, engage, and nurture prospects through to conversion and then to help retain them as customers.

How it works:

  • Inbound marketing starts with creating valuable content (not a sales pitch) that attracts your target audience.
  • People see your content and view you as a helpful expert making them more likely to engage or buy from you.
  • Your content can lead to customers engaging with you for additional information (lead generation).
  • Marketing automation helps nurtures leads with follow-up information via “drip” emails and other methods to the point of “sales-ready” prospects.
  • After conversion, content and automation are used to retain customers through regular, valuable content.

So, what is content marketing? Some people distinguish content marketing as only the creation of content while inbound marketing includes both content and the associated tools. However, in practice, content marketing and inbound marketing are fundamentally the same thing.

Inbound Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret

Outbound marketing (e.g. advertising) is often criticized by inbound marketers. You’ll see infographics showing inbound marketing with smiley faces, warm colors, and magnets while outbound marketing is portrayed by sad faces, cold colors, and megaphones.

But the reality is that inbound / content marketing is much more successful when combined with outbound marketing. No matter how good your inbound / content marketing strategy is, you still need to make your audience aware of your content. That’s outbound marketing.

Outbound marketing / advertising also keeps your brand in front of potential customers. This builds recognition and trust that helps inbound campaigns work better.

The single biggest predictor of whether people will become a customer is whether they’ve heard of you before. To be the most successful with an inbound / content marketing campaign, it is critical that companies have a continual presence in front of potential customers.

WordStream, a programmatic advertising management platform, found that consistent branding leads to 2-3X greater conversion rates. And a study by Red C found that 82% of people searching choose a familiar brand for their first click.

Bottom line, advertisers still need to promote their amazing content to the right audience. Most advertisers and agencies will use programmatic networks for this and try to home in on the right demographic. But you, the publisher, already have the right demographic.

Native Advertising

Native advertising is the most basic form of content marketing. Instead of a graphical display ad, the advertiser uses a combination of image, headline, and text.

Native advertising is integrated into the look and feel of the site where it is placed. You can also run native ads in your email or social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Native ads typically link to a landing page on the advertiser’s site, but they can also be the start of a more sophisticated content distribution, lead generation, or lead nurturing program.

The key metrics in native advertising are how many times the promotion was viewed and the clicks to the landing page.

Content Distribution / Sponsored Posts

Advertisers spend a lot of money developing content marketing assets, but they often have a hard time generating views or downloads. Help them get more mileage out of these assets by distributing them to your audience and increasing the content’s visibility and impact.

Typically, you would publish the content as a “sponsored post” on your website. This leverages your publication’s brand trust and gives the content more credibility. The content could be text and images or could be an embedded video.

Do not put any other advertising or promotion around the sponsored post. If they’re paying for the placement, they want 100% share of voice. The sponsored post should also stay on your site forever with a “dofollow” link back to their website. This is a powerful inbound link to their site which they’ll value to help improve their own search engine optimization.

You then promote the sponsored post via native website ads, email, social media, and even your own programmatic remarketing. For an added cost, you can distribute this content via your print / digital magazine as well. The key metric, however, is how many people view the sponsor’s content so you should have a goal in mind that you’re targeting for them.

Not all advertisers have their own compelling content for a sponsored post. Don’t let this stop you. Leverage your market and editorial expertise to help them create a compelling article that can be used as a sponsored post both on your website and theirs. You can charge handsomely for this added service.

Lead Generation

As publishers, we’re familiar with lead generation already. We’ve been doing webinars, whitepapers, ebooks, market surveys, quizzes, sweepstakes, and contests for a long time. But most publishers need to tune how they execute these programs.

Advertisers may already have assets (e.g. “lead magnets”) that can be used for a lead generation program with you. However, you can provide an upsell service to create PDFs, webinars, surveys, quizzes, sweepstakes, or contests for them by leveraging your market knowledge and editorial expertise.

You’ll then create a registration or “landing page” on your site where people can sign up for the lead magnet. This must be on your site so that you can properly track metrics. Few publishers do these landing pages the right way, but that’s the subject for a future article.

Finally, it’s time to promote the lead magnet to your audience. You can do this through website promotions, email, social media, programmatic remarketing, and even print advertising. But you can also leverage lead generation ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google.

You should have a range in mind of how many leads you want to generate to deliver a good ROI for your advertiser. You then monitor and adjust to do only as much marketing as needed to hit that lead target.

The amount of marketing you do does not really matter. The key metric in a lead generation program is the quantity and quality of leads that you generate.

Lead Nurturing

While media companies have been relatively good at lead generation, not many have embraced lead nurturing — moving an initial registration through a process to turn them into sales-ready prospects.

Lead nurturing is built on top of lead generation. But while lead generation stops after the initial registration, lead nurturing includes an “upsell” call-to-action.

For example, one lead-nurturing program I worked on promoted an initial PDF showing private jet operators the cost and ROI for installing in-flight WiFi. The publisher helped the advertiser build the PDF and the landing page, marketed it to their audience, and captured the contact information of people who downloaded it.

But they then used the registration confirmation page to upsell visitors into a 15-minute call with the advertiser so that jet operators could see exactly what it would cost for WiFi in their specific aircraft type. The publisher also used marketing automation software to send a follow-up 3-email drip sequence to the leads with more information and the same upsell call-to-action.

Lead-nurturing programs can run in the 5-6 digits depending on the market. And you only need to deliver a handful of nurtured, sales-ready prospects to the advertiser. The key is working with the advertiser to know what their conversion rate is for the prospects and what the lifetime value (LTV) is of each new customer.

Another publisher I worked with in the agriculture market charged $25K for a lead-nurturing program. They delivered only 8 sales-ready prospects to the advertiser. However, 3 of these prospects converted into sales and each sale was worth over $150K. The advertiser was thrilled with the program.

Provide the Complete Marketing Funnel

Marketing Funnel

If you implement these programs, you can provide a complete marketing funnel for your advertisers. And you can be the best inbound / content marketing agency in your market.

You can provide “top of funnel” solutions (TOFU) like brand and direct response advertising. You can generate leads and nurture them to sales-ready prospects (“middle of funnel” / MOFU). The only thing you can’t do is actually close the sale … the advertiser has to do something after all.

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