By Joe Chernov published May 14, 2012

3 Lessons Content Marketers Can Learn from Product Marketing

learn from product marketing, CMIWhile the concept of content marketing — that is, making the small yet difficult shift from thinking like a seller to thinking like a buyer — may be disruptive, the practice itself has a very common analog: product marketing.

That’s right, when you get right down to it, the process of marketing your content draws heavily from the process of marketing your products.

I treat each piece of content Eloqua publishes like a product. Every new asset has a target audience, a list “price” (gated, ungated, hybrid) and an upgrade road map. Most content we publish is supported by a PR push, a direct marketing element, and a media buy. Content that “sells” (is downloaded, shared, liked, commented on) gets more funding; content that doesn’t is retired. Sound familiar? It should. These are the basics of product marketing.

So what lessons can content marketers derive from our counterparts on the product side of the house? Lots. Here are three of the most essential:

Avoid “content in search of an audience”

The best products fill a real need, and the best product marketers collaborate with product management to dissect every element of that need. This process consists of studying analyst reports, interviewing customers, meeting with sales reps, even talking to people who bought a competing product — all with the aim of reducing the likelihood that the company will release the doomed “product in search of a solution.”

There’s a content marketing parallel, particularly as content becomes a service. Before you create your next supercool presentation, infographic, video or eBook, pause to ask yourself why you are creating it. Are you interested in the subject, or is your audience interested? Is it filling a discernable need, or just making noise? If you aren’t sure, vet the idea with customers, dig into long-tail search queries, and scour Q&A sites like Quora for interesting yet unanswered questions. Float a trial balloon on your blog. Just make sure you aren’t publishing content in search of an audience.

Shorter, fresher, more visual

We’ve all heard it said: “Better, faster, cheaper . . . pick two.” The maxim, which is as old as tech marketing itself, reduces the universe of product benefits to three essentials and acknowledges that the baseline for success is achieving two of the three. Better, faster, cheaper can be repurposed for content marketing.

“Shorter, fresher, more visual . . . pick two,” should be content marketing’s answer to better, faster, cheaper. If the piece of content you aim to publish isn’t more succinctly written, more intelligently designed, and/ or it doesn’t contain a fresher or more unique perspective than what’s already out there, then it’s unlikely to take root. The social web is a crowded place. Make sure to meet at least two of these three criteria if you expect your content to stand out.

Do you have “permission” to publish?

There is a funny storyline in NBC’s hit series, “30 Rock” in which Alec Baldwin’s character, the revenue-obsessed programming honcho for a Podunk cable network, decides the company should manufacture sofas. He implausibly argues it’s a natural fit for a television network to make furniture because viewers sit on furniture while watching TV.

Baldwin’s absurdist vision for product marketing not only makes for must-watch television, but it also provides a useful lesson for content marketers. While your content shouldn’t necessarily center on your product, it should focus on subjects reasonably connected to your goods or services. Be sure to ask yourself if you have “permission” to create a particular piece of content. Does your organization have the authority required to publish a definitive guide to a topic? Would your followers look to you to make predictions about how a particular industry will change or evolve? In other words, just because you might want to make sofas, it doesn’t mean buyers will consider you to be a credible manufacturer that they would buy from.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Chernov

Joe Chernov is the CMO of InsightSquared, a revenue intelligence company. He has been a VP of marketing during two successful IPOs, Eloqua and HubSpot. The Content Marketing Institute named him “Content Marketer of the Year” and AdWeek named him to their Creative100 list. You can follow Joe on Twitter @jchernov.

Other posts by Joe Chernov

Join Over 200,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples FREE!

  • Vicki Kunkel

    Excellent point about treating content like a product!!  I never understood why managers at most companies decide what type of content to produce by sitting in a room and “brainstorming,” rather than by going out into the trenches and doing surveys, interviews, and statistical research to identify a content niche.  Admittedly, it is difficult when, once you get your research results back and they conflict with your personal “passion” for a specific topic, to abandon your passion and go wtih the market.  (I’ve been in that boat, and it’s disappointing.)  But we are not here to serve our own passions; we’re here to serve a market and the greater good of that market. 

    • Joe Chernov

      Your comment is better than my blog post, Vicki. Fantastic comment. Each sentence should have ended with a “bull’s eye” instead of a punctuation mark. 😉

  • Muhammad Ayaz

    Great Post Joe!

    I think its depend on the purpose of the bloggers if he is only there to give services through their content than I don’t think he needs to think like this. But, most of the bloggers are here to earn income ultimately and producing content while keeping in mind making income from it can disrupt you from the main goal, so, I believe to produce content that give’s solution to people, certainly gets renowned sooner.

  • John Mihalik

    Great points Joe! I really like the idea of content being a product. There’s a lot we can learn from product marketing.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    It takes a lot of time to create good content.  If you’re going to do it right, it’s important to spend time researching what it is that your target audience actually wants to learn.  Don’t just create something with the hope that it will catch on.  

  • Kim Gusta

    Excellent analogy, Joe, between product marketing and content marketing. I spent many years as a product marketer in the tech industry – there’s definitely a parallel between the product marketing mindset and justifying which content makes the grade with your audience. Every piece of content needs to earn its keep – just as every product needs to hit its numbers or it’s in danger of being retired.
    I think there’s an important connection between product marketing and content. I recently wrote a post that takes a different angle –  “Why Content Marketing Needs to be on Product Marketing’s Radar.”  Given Product Marketing’s focus and their (hopefully) deep understanding of their buyer, they’re in a unique position in their organization to help lead the charge for creating great content.

  • Mick Dickinson

    The move to “more visual” is bang on. Am seeing lots of interest in infographics, Prezis, and of course, Pinterest.

  • Sam Rosen

    Fantastic, Joe. Your astute insights also remind me of a principal that Steve Blank, godfather of the “lean startup” movement, espouses passionately: get out of the building. We can imagine and brainstorm needs, wants, and interests all we want, but unless we get out of the building–which, in a digital context, can be taken figuratively, the forms you mention above (long-tail queries, Quora, polls)–we’ll continue wondering why our products or content don’t “stick.” I’m going to start applying this with much more rigor to all of our (and our clients’) content marketing efforts.