By Heidi Cohen published February 23, 2015

12 Actionable Content Marketing Tips To Yield Sales

heidi-cohen-blog-post-coverContent marketing is transforming the information we consume as companies step into the role once reserved for professional media and publishers.

Here are five priceless content marketing lessons that will improve your results based on my experience working for global content titan Bertelsmann where I sold truckloads of books.

1. Give away your content for free

Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ve got to give all of your information away for free.

Offer just enough content to hook your prospect into wanting more. The amount of content needed depends on how big the information gap is and what is required to convince your audience to pay.

While Chris Anderson, author of Free, has popularized the idea of giving your content away, he didn’t originate this trend.

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To promote new books, publishers schedule live readings and tours where authors read an excerpt from their book, answer questions, and sign copies. Many mystery writers include at the end of their current book the first chapter of the next book in the series to encourage sales by hooking their potential readers. Think beyond the initial sale.

Content marketing takeaway – Let your audience test your content.

Take a page from Amazon’s playbook. Let prospects peek at your information as well as see customers’ ratings and reviews. B2B marketers use webinars to provide a similar experience without the need to leave your computer.

Actionable content marketing lessons:

  • Enhance the value of your gated or paid content. Create a tailored marketing persona so that you understand what will make your readers pay for additional information.
  • Encourage readers to purchase more of the same or similar product. Use your products to support future sales.

2. First impressions count

As your parents taught you, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. The same holds true for your content.

Walk through a newsstand at a busy train station or airport:

  • Which books and magazines pop out?
  • What brands get the best placement?
  • What images do they use?
  • What headlines catch your attention?

These newsstand attributes are similar to the content mechanics used to get your work to stand out in social media and newsfeeds.

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People expect quality content. They don’t have the time to wade through useless, boring, or poorly presented information. Many self-published books lack quality content, professional copy editing, and skillful presentation. It’s not that authors have bad intentions; they just haven’t invested in these related elements. This is a major reason authors prefer to use an established publisher.

Content marketing takeaway – Looks count for content.

People judge books by their covers and their presentations. But strong content presentation isn’t limited to books. It applies to all information and media. Dress your content for success.

For example, Ravelry, a niche social media network of knitters, has changed knitting-pattern publishing from traditional pattern books and magazines to downloadable patterns sold directly to customers.

Designers can distribute their patterns on Ravelry either for free or a fee of which Ravelry takes a nominal percentage. (Note: Changes to EU taxation have had an impact on this model since January 1, 2015)

To stand out, designers need good test knitters, tech editors, and presentation including diagrams and photos. For example, Stephen West’s patterns contain easy-to-follow instructions with beautiful photos.

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Actionable content marketing lessons:

  • Add professional polish to your content. Don’t just dash off the first version you’ve drafted. Let it sit and reread it for understanding. Can you reduce words? Can you strengthen the language?
  • Have your content edited by a professional. Readers seek clarity. Poor grammar and spelling hurt your readership.

3. Best-seller lists sell

Putting the words, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal best seller, on your book, website, and social media presence is invaluable. It’s the reason publishers seek writers with established followings on other media and platforms.

Look at how Neil Patel leverages the power of traffic to offer readers three different top lists on his Quick Sprout blog. It drives traffic to these pages.

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Content marketing takeaway – Spotlight your most popular content.

Make it onto a best-seller list and your book sales increase exponentially. This is the wisdom of crowds at work.

Actionable content marketing lessons:

  • Create a top 10 list for your content. It will promote itself. (BTW, this can be applied to other products as well.)
  • Involve influencers. Get input or endorsements from highly regarded experts in your field to help your content. If they’re part of the content creation process, they’re more likely to buy into promoting your content. Take a page from Lee Odden’s influencer playbook.

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4. Content builds community

Authors have done this for years, especially those focused on mysteries and science fiction. These writers tend to have a following interested in one or more series of novels.

Building a community isn’t limited to writers. Musicians can be good at building a community. The Grateful Dead is the premier example of this. The group allowed its followers to record its music and create related products.

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Content marketing takeaway – Tap into the power of your best fans because they may know things that you don’t and can help broaden your reach.

Actionable content marketing lessons:

  • Understand your audience and its needs beyond your content offering. Science fiction writers are great at this since their audience loves to collect stuff related to their books. At Bertelsmann, I increased sales per customer by offering high-priced merchandise they wanted.
  • Build a house file. This enables you to contact prospects, customers, and fans interested in your product. Get their permission or it will be considered spam.

5. Leverage the power of other people

Best-selling author and former advertising CEO James Patterson personally created and shot his own television commercial for his book, Along Came A Spider, in 1993. After seeing the ad, his publisher split the media costs to start his best-seller legacy, yielding 5 million print copies.

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Content marketing takeaway – Use advertising to support your content and sales process.

Patterson didn’t stop at advertising and promotion to build his publishing empire. He is unique because he has a collaborative book-creation approach. Patterson develops the plots and characters while his co-authors write the line-by-line text, enabling him to churn out multiple books per year.

Content marketing takeaway – Understand the mix of content strengths that you need in order to create blockbuster content.

Actionable content marketing lessons:

  • Plan your content marketing promotion. Don’t assume that people are waiting for your next piece of content. Plan how you’ll ensure that it reaches the maximum potential audience with limited investment.
  • Support your content marketing with paid promotion (where appropriate). Think in terms of social media and paid-search advertising.
  • Leverage the power of PR. Consider whether PR can expand your content marketing reach. It can be particularly useful if your content is associated with something else noteworthy.

To use content marketing to sell your products, start by enticing prospects with quality content and getting to know them. Over time, it’s possible to expand your sales based on this knowledge.

What other priceless content marketing tips can you recommend? What was your experience using them?

Want to learn more about how to manage today’s biggest content marketing challenges? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

Cover image by Shayna Hobbs, Public Domain Archive, via

Author: Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is an actionable marketing expert. As president of Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi works with online media companies and e-tailers to increase profitability with innovative marketing programs based on solid analytics. During the course of 20 years, Heidi has obtained deep experience in direct and digital marketing across a broad array of products including soft goods, financial services, entertainment, media entities and crafts-oriented goods. Heidi shares her actionable marketing insights on her blog. Find Heidi Cohen online at Twitter @heidicohen, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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  • Alex Braun

    Love the example about how many authors build reader loyalty by closing each book with first chapter of the next one. With all the comparisons between content marketing and magazine journalism, I think marketers sometimes forget that books are an equally important medium to look to for inspiration.

    • heidicohen


      As a content marketer, it’s important to seek new ways to delight and provide your prospects, customers and the public with quality content.

      In our rush to create the new, new thing, we often neglect what has worked in the past for others.

      Happy marketing,
      Heidi Cohen

  • rogercparker

    Dear Heidi:
    I’m fascinated by what you’ve done in this article–in addition to sharing extremely valuable information using as few words as necessary. In particular:.

    1) This is one of the few times I’ve seen trade publishing lessons applied to content marketing–a bridge that should have been crossed a long time ago.
    2) Speaking of bridges, in a few words, you created a bridge between your qualifications (i.e., past experience) and the advice you’re offering.
    3) Most of all, I like the consistent 3-step content structure you’ve used for the 5 Tips, i.e., Tip, Relevance, and Action.

    You’ve packed in a wealth of short-term and long-term relevance in this article–thanks for the inspiration!

    • heidicohen


      Thank you so much. Coming from you this is high praise.

      Happy marketing,

  • Matt LaClear

    All very good and valid points Heidi! As you mentioned, Neil Patel of QuickSprout has actually become quite a master at this. He’s always giving away really high quality content and infographics for free, yet continues to see an upward trend in both traffic and business year after year.

    I’m also a big believer in the “Give away your content for free” model. This is especially true because there is already so much competition out there. No one should expect to come out of no where and publish a book or sales product without an existing following or reputation online.

    • heidicohen


      Understand that you should give away your content to achieve a specific goal. For most marketers, it should be to answer your target audience’s 5 key questions: give them product information, answer their questions, show them how to, explain how to style your product and provide ratings and reviews.

      Happy marketing,
      Heidi Cohen

      • Nazrin Salim

        I could not agree more on the 5 Key Questions.

        Thanks for writing this.

      • Matt LaClear

        Happy marketing indeed Heidi!

  • shreya

    To make a good product you need to have a good foundation, a good beginning. Any presentation whether visual, audio-visual or text-scribed begins with an effective, powerful script. See More…

    • heidicohen


      To create great content marketing, you need to start with a great offering.

      Your offering can be a physical product or a service offering. It doesn’t have to be content.

      Content marketing is how you attract prospects and customers to purchase from your organization.

      Happy marketing,
      Heidi Cohen

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  • Marketing Sweet

    Hi Heidi, this is a very interesting article. Thank you for sharing it. I agree when you say “you only have one chance to make a good first impression. The same holds true for your content.” Some very useful tips. I recommend this article to others to read!

  • Priyanka

    I really enjoyed this blog post. Content marketing is all about to deliver unique, engaging and valuable content to the users so that they get attracted towards it. The tips you have mentioned are really great. Thanks for this great stuff!

  • Aigh Emm

    Great article! It’s also incredibly important to have an flexible, agile marketing strategy, to best respond to the ever changing marketing landscape. This post goes into agile marketing for the entrepreneur: