By Joe Pulizzi published October 19, 2007

42 Content Building Ways to Attract and Retain Customers

Valuable and relevant content delivered to prospects and customers (called content marketing or custom publishing) is one of the best marketing methods on the planet. Here are 42 ways you can generate great content for your customers. These are applicable for small, medium and large-sized businesses and associations. If you have any additional, please let me know.

On the Web

  1. A Blog: It’s not sexy, but there may be no better way to deliver consistently valuable information to your targeted buyers. Also, each blog post is another page that search engines can index, and another page that can be helpful to your customers. A blog can be just one person from your organization or a collaboration effort. See the Four Labs blog for a collaboration sample.
  2. White Paper Series: The key here is not just to create a white paper, but a white paper series. When you do some research on your customers’ informational needs, create an ongoing program of thought leadership content. For starters, try quarterly. White papers are generally 8 to 20 page pdf style documents with minimal graphics.
  3. eBooks: The hipper version of the white paper, the eBook is generally a self-contained 20 – 50 page document with larger copy, graphics and charts. In the past, many eBook programs were sent to customers in chapters. Now, more companies are creating a larger eBook around one topic. For samples, see our Content Marketing eBook, David Scott’s on “The New PR”, or this great piece on MarketingApple.
  4. Case Studies: Always powerful, case studies give your customers an idea of what you can do. Add visuals whenever possible and try to have at least two per area of expertise.
  5. Vertical Search: Position yourself as an expert around a particular topic by creating a defined search tool on your Web site. Using Google Co-op, you can create a Google of your own around a topic meaningful to your customers. We do this around content marketing and use Google Co-op on Junta42. Intuit’s content microsite JumpUp also uses the technology for its’ small business/startup portal.
  6. Content Microsites/Content Portal: Create a Web site devoted to a particular topic and create great content on the site. Custom publishing microsites are still all the rage and are more common than ever – because they work! For some examples of microsites, check out these B2B case studies or these consumer case studies.
  7. Online Quizzes: Create a quiz to get customers to interact with your web site. A great example is the Copernicus Marketing IQ Test.
  8. Digital Magazines: Digital magazines, produced as extensions of print magazines, or as stand-alone pieces, can be a great way to deliver editorial content to customers. Check out a couple samples from the nxtbook blog.
  9. Community Forums: Develop a forum for your customers to talk about your product, services, or even about key industry issues. Check out Cisco’s forum for networking professionals.
  10. eNewsletters: An eNewsletter is generally a collection of five to seven story abstracts, which drive users back to a corporate Web site or microsite. If you decide to do one, make sure it’s at least monthly. Weekly eNewsletters are the most popular. Tendo Communications creates a great enewsletter called the Tendo View.
  11. Variable eNewsletters: Same as above, except that customers are segmented and delivered different content depending on their specific informational needs.
  12. eZines: Magazine-type content delivered to customers via a website or in eNewsletter form. Most are html-based, but many continue to send text-only eZines. Check out the eZine Directory for some samples.
  13. Podcasts: A podcast is an audio program with a subscription component. This means that your audio program will be delivered to subscribers via email or RSS feed to download into their MP3 player or iPod. Tons of sample podcasts are available at Podcast Alley.
  14. Audio Books: Instead of an eBook, you may want to allow customers to download an audio version. A good example of this is Copyblogger Brian Clark’s release of Teaching Sells, which has a standard eBook and an audio book available to customers.
  15. Vodcasts (Video podcasts): Same as podcasts, but instead of delivering an audio file via subscription, you deliver a video program. Vodcasts.TV has a full directory available.
  16. Video Portals: A content-based microsite or web portal dedicated to delivering quality video content. For an interesting example, check out Blendtec’s “Will It Blend? Video Portal.
  17. Website RSS Feeds: A bit basic, but if you have regular, quality content on your website in the form of news or articles, be sure to include an RSS component.
  18. Social Networking Sites: Social networking sites are all the rage, and even you can create your own. If you are interested, check out Ning.com.
  19. Webcasts/Webinars: Generally, a 45 minute PowerPoint type presentation accompanied by audio (and sometimes video). Although the technology has been around for a while, many companies still use webcasts for both customer presentations, customer acquisition campaigns, and employee communications. If you are planning on doing one, make sure the content matches the informational needs of the target audience, not what you want to sell them. For more, check out the Webinar Blog.
  20. Virtual Trade Shows: A trade show, without the travel and time commitment. Virtual Trade Shows have everything you would find at a traditional trade show, without the in-person interaction. Check out Scrap-A-Faire, an online trade show for scrap bookers, as an example.
  21. Online Games: This all depends on what you sell and what your expertise is, but online games can be a great way to entertain and educate your customer base. For example, Shell created a game on their microsite called Energy Drive.

In Print

  1. Print Custom Magazines: Generally, a 24+ page document in magazine form that houses a collection of expert articles. A good example is the USPS magazine Deliver.
  2. Newsletters: 16 pages or less, digest or standard size. Contains more news-oriented information, or shorter abstracts with links or sources to access more about a particular topic. Check out The Edge newsletter from Guzzler, as an example.
  3. Variable Newsletters: Same as above, but content is segmented by the needs of the customer. Rockwell Automation Asia Pacific creates eight international versions of their newsletter/magazine.
  4. White Paper Series: Same rationale as the online papers, but delivered to customers via mail or in-person. Can sometimes make a difference on a sales call. I’m more in favor of electronic white papers…but why not do both?
  5. Case Studies: Many companies create one page case studies called “flash sheets” that can be printed on-demand and edited at will.
  6. Magalogs: Exactly as it sounds, a magalog is a combination magazine and catalog (a mixture of article content and products). LEGO produces one of the best magalogs I’ve seen.
  7. Comic Books: Want to try the magazine concept with some flair? PIVMAN, a security device company, did so with the release of their comic book, aptly named PIVMAN. Sometimes a product can be best explained through the use of colorful pictures…who knew?
  8. Books: Yes, businesses can write books as well. Show off your expertise about a certain topic and self-publish a book. Truthfully, it’s not much different than technical guides many companies put out to their customers…just with a different feel.
  9. Annual Reports: Annual reports are where the most improvement could take place from a communications perspective. Most companies focus on flashy graphics with little substance. Use the opportunity of an annual report to position yourself as a true industry expert (along with your financial results).
  10. Event Show Dailies/Event Companion Pieces: We’ve all seen show dailies before. When you go to a trade show, usually the organizer or a sponsoring magazine produces adaily printed magazine of the previous day’s events, as well as what’s to come. Well, what if you did? How much would it do for your visibility at the event to have a run down of the important conference events coming directly from you? If that doesn’t work, try to create a special magazine-type issue specific to an important event you are associated with. Possibly offer a content giveaway at your booth that is inserted or discussed in the magazine.
  11. Calendars: Same boring calendar got you down? Try creating a calendar with class and substance. Use the non-calendar portion of the piece to help educate your customer base. Possibly include key industry events, or other places where customers can access cutting-edge content. Why do you think those daily desk calendars are so popular?
  12. Anniversary/Celebration Magazines: Do you have a special occasion coming up in the industry, or a company anniversary? Commemorate it with a magazine and then distribute it to all your customers. You can even partner with key suppliers to help you (vendors usually love anniversary issues). American Red Cross did a fantastic one with their 125th Anniversary Issue.

In Person

  1. Executive Roundtable: Usually a day to day-and-a-half event where you gather your current customers and prospects around a key issue. The best ones involve a little dinner and golf, with a full day discussing key industry challenges. Try having about 6 good customers, 4 good prospects, an editor and an industry expert to help your discussions along. The ones I’ve been involved with have always been a hit, and always resulted in new business for the company. Be sure to transcribe and record the event to create additional content products for your larger customer base.
  2. Roadshow: Think trade show sponsored by a business. Most roadshows are just one full day focused around a particular topic, and are free to attendees. HP has always been very successful at producing these. I’ve seen them as small as 30 people and as large as 1,000. The larger ones include table-tops from partners. Industry experts are key to have as guest speakers.

Other/Integrated

  1. CD Resource Center: Some customers still like CDs. If so, and you are in a technical industry, try packaging some content together on a CD, including white papers, technical reports, spreadsheets and presentations into a CD package. Use them as direct mails or giveaways at shows. Have someone program it so that the CD launches automatically into a menu screen (if for use on the computer).
  2. Book/Audio on Tape/CD: Once you create that book you are working on, be sure to repurpose the content in audio form. Also, you could create original content, or take your article content, and create CDs for your customers. The cost to do this has come down dramatically. I’ve heard of some people creating high-quality audio sessions for well under $300 (not including CD production).
  3. Mobile/iPhone Content: That’s right! It’s time to start thinking about mobile content, and even content specific to the iPhone. Think of ways to target your customers with content via their mobile devices, or even look into getting a .mobi extension for your Web site. Digital magazine provider, Texterity, has developed their digital magazine technology for the iPhone. Stay focused on this distribution vehicle…more and more customers are accessing information through their mobile devices.

Thinking Internal

Nothing keeps customers better than a strong internal marketing campaign. For that reason, employee communications and internal branding initiatives are paramount!

  1. Company Magazine: Magazines aren’t just for customers. The majority of large companies in the world, Wal-Mart, Cisco, Microsoft, produce their own internal magazine. If you organization is large enough, it might not be a bad idea.
  2. Company Newsletter/eNewsletter: Corporate magazine just a bit over the top? Try an employee print newsletter or eNewsletter. Many companies send it to their employees’ houses so that family members have access to it (always important for retention purposes). Kenan Advantage Group (KAG), a large petroleum transporter out of Canton, OH (just outside Cleveland), has a nice collection of employee and customer newsletters.
  3. Company Forum: I suggest to most of my customers the idea of launching an internal forum, where employees can discuss key industry and company issues. The best part is that the threads are saved, unlike email, which is deleted or lost. After a few months, the knowledge base stored in these forums becomes a key strategic factor in bringing new employees up to speed. You can add a full review of the company forum to your list of new employee training initiatives.
  4. Social Networking Site: Tens of thousands of companies already have their social networking page up on Facebook. If you are a company of over 30 employees, you probably have a page and don’t even know it. Whether Facebook or some other application, find a community site that employees can socialize around via the Web. Or put it this way…your employees will whether you are involved or not.

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Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers. Joe's latest book is Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill). If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • http://www.articleckr.com/ Matt Ellsworth

    great list of content sources. We are always looking for more information on getting more content.

  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi, Junta42

    Thanks Matt…just caught your site. Very interesting concept!
    Best
    Joe

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    Market intelligence, knowledge management, surveys, networking, All business marketing starts from what you know, and who you…

  • Hans

    Love this list. And pleased to see that we’re already using or experimenting with most of the 42 methods. One I find missing though is rapid e-learning tools, i.e. howto manuals, faq-lists, etc. I.e. the kind of communication tools one would produce with the articulate.com suite.
    Dedicated software tools and flash animations to demonstrate phenomena or design principle are another one. For example
    http://www.leonardo-energy.org/drupal/node/743

  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi, Junta42

    Hans…thanks for the note. I agree on your e-Learning example…could have focused on that one a bit more. Ultimately, it may fall under webinars/webcasts..but may deserve its own category.
    Best
    Joe

  • Hans

    A few more content types:
    - application notes, close to white papers, but more of a technical nature
    - briefing papers, close to white papers, but less persuasion oriented.
    - conference papers: presenting a paper at a technical or scientific conference
    - in-depth reports
    - surveys: like quizzes, but in surveys, there is no right answer
    - trade press articles, not a new technique, but still widely used
    - seminars
    - rapid e-learning covers probably a series of types, from interactive animations over howto manuals, faq-lists, glossaries, …
    - your distinction of electronic newsletters in 3 types (#10-#12) is perceptive. Would add a 4th type of the email flash alert, that marketers can use, especially if they have a highly segmented mailing list.
    - finally referring to #27, the Magalog, I can imagine also the Magablog. But if we start on blended types, 2-digits are not going to be enough.

  • Howard

    I got to say guys – I’ve been thinking about this and even came up with a term – optimized content. You have slammed dunked this. I’m writing a market/content plan for two clients that will contain some of this excellent content. THANKS!

  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi, Junta42

    @ Hans – Excellent additions. Will be using some of those for the next version.
    @ Howard – Glad you found it valuable.
    Best
    Joe

  • http://www.letstalktradeshows.com Joyce McKee

    Thanks for the quality information! Our new site is using some of your suggestions and it is refreshing to know we are on track. Now there are others we will develop over time. Look forward to reading you on a regular basis!

  • http://blog.junta42.com/content_marketing_blog/2008/02/42-ways-to-cust.html Junta42 blog

    42 Ways to Custom Publish; Includes Examples

    Well, we’ve been working on a follow up to my blog posting from a few months ago, 42 Content Building Ways to Attract and Retain Customers. Part II of this is 42 Ways to Distribute Your Content, which pretty much

  • http://www.marketinginprogress.com Brett Duncan

    One of the most useful lists I’ve come across. Thanks!

  • http://www.casseracommunications.com Melissa Cassera

    great list!

  • http://www.martinkoss.com Martin Koss

    Wow what an informative and helpful list of tips for content marketing. Although the list of available platforms is changing constantly (and rapidly) this has to be one of the most complete lists that can help any business jump start their social media sharing ‘branding’ campaign.
    You are a very helpful chap for sharing such info…

  • Jonna Coja

    great and very helpful list….