I’ve always loved magazines—most of us do, right?
There’s something about scanning the headlines on the newsstand that I still enjoy, especially before getting on a plane or even when I’m killing time between meetings.
You can call me a magazine nerd if you want to, but I suggest I’m not alone given the sheer volume of publications presented every day on newsstands, despite the pronouncements of print being dead.
But have you ever thought about why magazines are so popular? The answer is critical for anyone in B2B marketing today. Content marketing uses the same skills and tactics as publishing a magazine—only the distribution methods, audience-building techniques, and analysis tools are different.
B2B content marketing today is really about generating leads for sales by replacing the one-to-one conversations that salespeople used to be able to get more predictably. But with everyone jumping on the content marketing bandwagon, it’s not enough to publish a blog or a white paper. There’s a lot of competition for that readership, and you’ve got to be better.
To cut to the chase: Your head of marketing must have the mindset of a publisher and not that of a branding and awareness expert, or else you’ll fall far short of your growth objectives.
So what can we learn from magazine publishers about content marketing?
#1 Magazines are all about the readers, not the advertisers.
If you’ve bought advertising from a magazine, you’re familiar with their “separation of church and state” policy. In other words, the advertisers have no say in the content—the publication does. Why?
Because they know what their readers want, and that’s really not about you.
Priority number one for a magazine is the reader, and so is your content marketing strategy. That means you need an editor who’s going to dig into your industry and develop relationships with readers. (Today’s marketing equivalent is the content strategist—trust me, the job description is exactly the same.)
A good editor must know more than simply who their readers are (and who they want to attract). They need to develop an intimate knowledge about the issues they care about so they can get their attention and add value.
And one more thing about your editor/content strategist: You’re going to have to give them some leeway. That means that every article they publish can’t go through tons of committee-based review cycles. You can’t edit the crap out of everything they produce, shifting their tone and injecting your “sales speak.”
You absolutely have to trust that your content strategist has your best interests at heart, and that they are always thinking about how to better engage the readership. That’s why you hire them in the first place, and if you can’t do that, they won’t work for you for long. Worse, they’ll go to your competitor, having developed keen insights into your industry and its readers’ interests.
#2. Magazine consumption is not linear—and neither is your content.
Think about how you consume a magazine. You scan through headlines, pull quotes, subheads, pictures and so on, reading only what interests you. So a magazine is laid out in such a way that it pulls the reader through the content. Most people don’t read a magazine cover to cover, though if that’s their preference they certainly can.
Publishers spend a lot of time thinking about the best placements for articles, not only to improve the reader experience but also to ensure they see the advertisements.
Sometimes they get it wrong. There was a movement at one time where many magazine publishers chose to put only the article topics on the cover. This forced the reader to search inside for the articles they wanted to read. I don’t see this as much anymore, mostly because it’s annoying to the reader, and that’s the last thing publishers want to do.
But the overall mindset about guiding your reader is important because they need to be able to quickly access the information they need on their own timeline.
When you develop your content, realize that most people are going to scan through your headlines, subheads, pictures and videos, making the determination of whether it’s worth their time to consume. In case it is, make sure you have a value-added conversion mechanism (like a download form for a meaty white paper) so you learn more about who they are and what they’re interested in.
#3. Magazine business models have always been about their database.
Remember when we used to buy targeted sales lists from magazines? It’s because they used to be the gatekeepers of the information compiled about their subscribers. The business model was really never about selling advertisements. It’s about selling access to the subscribers, which is why an advertising sales rep can tell you a lot of readership statistics in addition to demographics.
Magazines know who their subscribers are and what they care about—and so should you when it comes to developing your audience.
List vendors are a dime a dozen now, and most have similar information, such as contact info, industry, and job title. But what they don’t have is actionable sales intelligence about the people in those lists, and that’s where compiling information on your reader habits and interests comes into play. The more information we can compile on our readers, the greater knowledge we have in terms of catalyzing sales conversations.
If fact, the tools we use today in combination with a CRM can get very specific in terms of what readers are interested in, which articles resonated the best, and so on.
Gaining a competitive advantage over your competitors who are also developing content has everything to do with developing a seemingly one-to-one relationship with your reader.
#4. Good writing and pithy headlines are the key to success.
When you go to the newsstand, are there certain publications that you gravitate toward? Of course there are! I have my favorites, and so do you.
For content marketing, hire journalists and not MBAs. Content strategists like me are journalists first. Remember, you’re a publisher now—congratulations! Start acting like it and hire people who have experience getting people’s attention through content, developing relationships with readers, and determining what content needs to be developed to get them coming back for more.
Magazines have always been about niche audiences before the content marketing concept was en vogue. You’ve probably heard about the concept of the Long Tail, the retailing strategy of selling a large number of unique items with relatively small quantities sold of each. It has countless applications in the digital age because it’s about selling to niche audiences—which, if you’ve been paying attention, is the goal of a magazine and your content marketing strategy.
But take a look at who wrote the book—yep, Chris Anderson was the editor of two scientific journals and later held several editor titles with The Economist.
Subscribers expect you to stick with the regular publishing cycles you establish at the outset.
Which is why the words Monthly, Weekly, and Quarterly often show up in the names of publications. They’re setting your expectations as a reader about when you should look for the latest edition on the newsstand or to show up in the mail.
#5. The publishing mindset needs to be extended to your business development/inside sales team.
Go back and review point number 1. A consumer of your content is not a prospect—or not yet, anyway.
Many salespeople make the mistake of assuming that when someone reads your content, they immediately become a prospect. But if you go down this road too quickly, you’ll turn them off and lose them. This is the same mistake that publishers make by annoying readers when they can’t find the articles they want. And the result is that they’re going to think twice before ever reading anything from you again.
The right approach, again, is to think like a publisher. How can you add value? What additional information can you send to them that’s going to be helpful?
This is how you use content to get engaged in sales conversations, because we all do business with those we know, like, and trust. Once you’ve developed that kind of relationship, you’ll get a meeting.
More incredibly useful content that you’d kick yourself for not reading:
Feeding Sales is a Process, Not a Project (editor’s note—this could be the most important post you read for the next year!)
Demand More from Today’s B2B Marketer. (And you should. Right now.)
It’s Q4—Do You Know Where Your 2016 Revenue will Come From? (Hint: It’s not going to come from adding more sales people. You’ve tried that already, right?)