By Joe Pulizzi published March 30, 2013

Your Epic Content Marketing Plan: 3 Steps for Driving Subscriptions

epic-content-subscription-formNearly 200,000 people have signed up to receive regular content updates from Brian Clark and his software business, Copyblogger Media.

Kraft Foods has over 1 million people who request and pay to receive its print magazine, Kraft Food & Family.

OpenView Venture Partners now has approximately 20,000 business owners and CEOs who have requested a subscription to its weekly eNewsletter.

Two individuals known as Smosh started developing and distributing videos on YouTube back in 2005. Eight years later, Smosh runs the most popular YouTube channel, with 8 million subscribers.

Copyblogger sells software to bloggers. Kraft is one of the largest food companies in the world. OpenView is a venture capital company. Smosh is a comedy network. Even though their businesses couldn’t be any more different, they share a business model imperative: Subscription is key to a successful content marketing plan.

The forgotten goal of subscription

I’ve talked with dozens of marketers over the last month about their content marketing programs. While collecting email addresses is often cited as an important priority, rarely do I find a content marketer who talks about generating subscribers as key to achieving their content marketing goals.

This is a major problem.

If a prospect appreciates and values your content in some way, the next and easiest behavior for them to take is to affirm that they want more of that great content.

Begin with the end in mind

In 2008, the Content Marketing Institute was just a year old. We had a few thousand subscribers to our weekly eNewsletter, which was sent out each Friday. As we were becoming more sophisticated with our marketing, we decided to do an analysis of our subscribers.

What we found both surprised and delighted us. The average CMI subscriber:

  • Was more likely to attend our events and purchase our products
  • Was more likely to share our content with their networks
  • Closed three times faster than a non-subscriber, once he or she had entered our sales process (for our consulting service).

We had the goals of brand awareness, lead generation, and thought leadership — just like your organization most likely does (see all the available content marketing goals in this content marketing research). But what we didn’t realize until this analysis was that we could accomplish a number of marketing goals through the one, unified goal of subscription.

We found that by developing epic content marketing on a consistent basis, we were creating better customers for our business, as well as accomplishing a number of marketing goals.

Our understanding of the value of our subscribers transformed our little business that was just surviving into a thriving and growing brand. Yes, it’s that important.

The digital footprint

In 2009, I had the pleasure of hearing Dan McCarthy speak, then CEO of Network Communications and now a partner with DeSilva & Phillips, a leading media investment bank. Fittingly, Dan spoke about the changing mentality of his media company and how it had expanded its definition of subscription.

Subscription, for most media companies, is better known as circulation. The circulation of a magazine or newsletter is what you can sell against. For example, our magazine, Chief Content Officer, is delivered to 22,000 marketing executives every quarter. This reach of 22,000 is what we charge our sponsors for (which generally calculates to around $7,000 per full-page advertisement). If we only had an audience of 10,000, we would have to charge much less for a full page of advertising.

Dan said that his media company was evolving away from this mentality and focusing on offering subscriptions around the places where customers were hanging out — known as the digital footprint.

Owned subscription sources (i.e., print and email) are still primary because we can actually own the data from those channels. Secondary subscription sources, such as Twitter followers or YouTube subscribers, are important as well; but since that data is owned by those companies (and not ours), we can’t place as high an emphasis on those.

The point is this: You are your own media company. As a media company, you need to focus on your subscription channels in order to deliver on your marketing goals. And the only thing that keeps those subscription channels growing and vibrant is consistent amounts of epic content.

Some tips to drive subscription:

  1. Make content-for-content offers: As readers are engaging in your content, be sure you have a clear offer that takes your content to the next level. This means offering a valued eBook, research report, or white paper, in exchange for subscribing to your email list. You’ll see that we do this on the upper right hand corner of this page.
  2. Pop-ups work: As much as I loathe pop-ups or pop-overs as a reader, I LOVE them as a content marketer. We use Pippity as our pop-over service, where we offer an eBook on 100 Content Marketing Examples. Over 50 percent of our daily sign-ups come from Pippity (Pippity also integrates nicely with WordPress).
  3. Focus: So many companies want to throw 100 offers in front of their readers. Don’t confuse the issue. If your goal is subscription, that should be your main (and only) call to action.

Once you focus on subscription as your goal, make it a priority to find out what makes a subscriber different to your business than a non-subscriber. Once you find that little piece of secret sauce, everything will start coming together for your top-of-the-funnel content marketing program.

For more tips on creating an epic content marketing plan, register to attend Content Marketing World, September 9-11, 2013. Early-bird pricing is available until March 31.

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.

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  • cottageguru

    Amazing post – thank you. I have already downloaded your marketing examples which is a great ebook with a ton of ideas. Have also gone to Pippity and will be buying that too. Getting new subscribers to our list is our #1 goal at the moment and these suggestions are very helpful.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Wonderful. Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://www.Smead.com/ John F. Hunt

    What is equally important is how you treat your subscription after they subscribe. Just because they “sign up” with you doesn’t mean they want to be puked on with all your sales messages. The subscription is just the first step in a successful process where you add value, build loyalty, and earn respect by providing content worth subscribing to, otherwise the subscriber has been caught in a spam trap that will do you more harm than good.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Excellent point John. So true.

  • http://twitter.com/GaryHyman Gary Hyman

    Fantastic post Joe. Clear and concise & puts the important pieces into perspective. Thanks for sharing. Perhaps I’ll become a loyal subscriber too :)

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Excellent Gary. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggie.harryman.9 Maggie Harryman

    Thanks for the enlightening post. Here’s my question…what’s the difference (or is there one) between capturing email addresses and signing up subscribers?

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Maggie…good question. As you know, you can acquire someone’s email a number of ways…contact us, ebook or white paper download, etc. A subscriber is someone who opts-in to receive regular content updates from you. If they don’t opt-in to receive regular updates, they aren’t a subscriber. Hope that makes sense.

  • Ryan Reynolds

    Great Content…Like it

  • Apache43

    Reading this post made me sign up for your newsletter. So, there’s that.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Nice!