5 Ways to Drive Business With Content Marketing [Examples]

When It’s Good To Give Away Your Content For Free

Free Content Many businesses are reticent to give their content away for free. Their dilemma is that strong, useful information doesn’t just happen. Despite relatively low-cost social media and internal media distribution, the combination of deep knowledge and great content development require both human and financial resources.

Unfortunately in a multi-screen economy, attention is a finite commodity where content’s concerned. Businesses, whether they’re B2C, B2B, not-for-profit (aka NFP) or solopreneur, must break through the massive amount of information available everywhere to attract and keep their target audience’s interest long enough to answer their questions and persuade them to buy.

While firms squirm when it comes to sharing their content for free, they wouldn’t hesitate to allow customers try free samples the way Trader Joe’s does if they sold low-cost tangible products. Online you have to build your digital footprint by sharing your content for free. Think of it as feeding the social media beast to generate leads and sales.

Here are fives cases with real business examples highlighting when it’s good to give your content away for free.

  1. Pull back the curtain to share your insider knowledge that’s not core to your business. Both Brian Clark of Copyblogger and Darren Rowse of ProBlogger give away amazing content on the topic of blogging (BTW—If you’re not reading these blogs, you should be!) While both bloggers make money from their must-read blogs, the blogs aren’t the core business. Actionable Marketing Tip: Step back from your business to determine where your organization has information and expertise it can share to help prospects and the public. This information can support your users the way Hubspot’s small business targeted blog   does.
  2. Use your content to start a conversation related to your business focus. Photographer Scott Schuman, whose work is featured in top fashion magazines, started The Satorialist to create “a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life.” His images from the streets of high profile fashion cities are eye candy for anyone in fashion or related fields. Schuman’s work from his blog was collected into a coffee table book. Actionable Marketing Tip: Before you skip this point because Schuman is a photographer and you’ve got a business that’s more tangible, consider how Marcus Sheridan (aka TheSalesLion) used his River Pools and Spa’s blog to answer every question his prospects had about buying a pool. (Read how to get the secret sauce for your blog!)
  3. Distribute your thought leadership to position your business and show your deep expertise. While many businesses would develop proprietary research as a paid offering or a benefit for top tier clients, the Altimeter Group led by social media super stars Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owang and Brian Solis, distributes its research through their blog and Slideshare. Altimeter’s research is flawlessly produced by their top analysts. They share a lot of useful information, not just a few top line results! This turns the approach of many consultancies on its head. Actionable Marketing Tip: Become the go-to person in your category by creating stellar content. This approach isn’t just for consultants and solopreneurs. Owen Blevins brings passion, energy and inspiration to the task of providing the best guidance, services and equipment for concrete operations. To help concrete businesses, Blevins created Concrete.tv (Hat tip to Ann Handley for the example!)
  4. Build a community by sharing some of your content for free. Photographer Ron Diorio shares some of his images on his website for free while maintaining his copyright. Concurrently, the Peter Hay Halpert Gallery in New York represents him and sells his photographs based on the social media credibility Diorio built. Actionable Marketing Tip: Use your content to attract and build a community. While not every member of your community will buy from you, they do help expand your reach with a house file and by sharing your content to create earned media. Fiskars, the scissors company, created a blog / community called Fiskateers in 2006 that’s still going strong. As a result, they’ve got a vibrant community online that’s extended to other social media platforms.
  5. Display your unique perspective by thinking inside the square. Enchanted by how Instagram helped him see sports with a fresh eye, professional sports photographer Brad Mangin shared his Instagram images for free. As a result, eighteen of Mangin’s baseball iPhone Instagrams were published in Sports Illustrated. Actionable Marketing Tip: Make your product into a star with amazing images. You may need to approach your products as if they were models sitting for a photo shoot. GE has done this with an array of B2C and B2B products on Instagram.

To attract attention, you must provide remarkable content for free that pulls prospects and customers in and allows them to engage with your firm. To this end, develop a strategy around this free content with measurable goals, an understanding of your target audience, and the ability to track your efforts to your business objectives. Before you start your free content marketing strategy, check that the cost of your content creation efforts are less than the revenues they bring in.

Have you given away your content for free? If so, how effective were the content creation costs at driving business and sales?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Note: This post was inspired by a student in my Content Marketing 101 class at Content Marketing World 2012.

Here are some related articles you may find of interest.

Context is key to content marketing  [Research]

Photo credit: HeidiCohen.com

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