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The Secret Your Website Traffic Might Be Trying to Tell You


As a particularly feisty gust of wind tried to rob me of my new favorite scarf last week, I was reminded that just because I can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

Gravity keeps us safely anchored to the ground. Ultraviolet rays turn skin alarming shades of pink. Fall breezes whip leaves into a frenzy and put scarves in mortal danger.

In all these cases, unseen forces can drive insight (I should wear sunscreen) and activity (chasing my scarf through the park).

When it comes to content marketing, an unseen message in your website traffic could open a new approach to content. According to the participants in CMI’s recent B2C content marketing roundtable, looking for ways to reach the audience that you have — even if it’s not the audience you wanted — may provide a path to new insights and activities.

The B2C roundtable featured Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping; Margaret Magnarelli, senior director of marketing and managing editor for content, Monster; Thao Le, vice president of marketing at Hyland’s; Amanda Todorovich, director of content marketing, Cleveland Clinic; and Michael Weiss, vice president of marketing, Creative Circle. Deborah Holstein, vice president of marketing for Hightail, led the discussion.

Profitable content: The fourth model of content marketing

Earlier this year, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose started talking about a new content marketing model: using content as an independent profit center.

Put simply, this model involves brands launching media organizations within their existing marketing departments. The content these internal sub-organizations produce isn’t measured on typical marketing metrics; instead, its output is expected to turn a profit.

Increased brand awareness and a bump in beverage sales is a nice side benefit for Red Bull Media House, but at the end of the quarter it’s judged by its own bottom line.

On the days when content marketers struggle with accurate attribution, reliable measurement, and definitive ROI for content, working at a standalone media company may sound appealing.

But, tempting though it may be, “my content is hard to measure” isn’t a good reason to start building your own rogue media arm. During our discussion at Content Marketing World 2016, our B2C roundtable participants came up with one way to examine whether you already have an invisible audience that’s primed for the fourth content model.

The audience hiding in your website traffic

The discussion began with a question that many a content team has grappled with: Is website traffic an accurate indicator of your content’s success?

When the initial furor died down, Amanda Todorovich brought up an important qualification. As Cleveland Clinic’s audience is growing (it routinely gets over 4 million visits per month), the Clinic looks for new ways to monetize the content.

As a result, it is increasingly interested in finding out if the content is attracting the right audience. Huge traffic numbers are gratifying and certainly an important first step toward content success. But if people visit your website and never convert, do they make a sound?

In other words, if raw website traffic keeps climbing, but sales and conversions stay flat, you might have a problem.

Or, Michael pointed out, you might think they’re the wrong audience. “But maybe,” he said, “they’re the right audience and you need to shift your view.” You could launch an in-house content initiative using the fourth content model to reach an audience that you built but doesn’t appear to be interested in your original product or service.

Michael went on to wonder, “If it’s not the audience you want, but it’s an audience you have, then what do you do for that audience?”

Sophistication drives the fourth model

As Joe points out, the profit center model wasn’t part of his original framework for Content, Inc., as detailed in his book published only a year ago. But content marketing as a profession and content marketers as practitioners have grown up fast.

This year’s results from the B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America showed us an industry that’s coming into its own. It’s only the increasing sophistication (and acceptance) of content that makes the fourth model palatable for internal organizational decision-makers.

Increasing acceptance of #content makes the profit model palatable for internal decision-makers. @andreafryrear Click To Tweet

For example, over half of marketers (60%) indicate that their organization is “extremely” or “very” committed to content marketing. A huge majority — 86% — now say that content marketing is an “important component” of their organization’s marketing program.

86% of marketers say #contentmarketing is an important component of their org’s marketing program. @cmicontent Click To Tweet

With this growing level of adoption and commitment inevitably comes questions about what’s next. Recent developments from Cuisine Solutions and Mondelez may hold a clue.

Big and small examples of profit-driven content

In July, Cuisine Solutions partnered with creative agency HZDG’s content studio to launch Sous-Vide, an ad-free, biannual magazine.

“There’s a whole new sector of publishing bubbling up within the media landscape. There are a whole new stable of magazines that are focused on enthusiast audiences and hyper-niche subject matter,” says Sarah Schaffer, head of the HZDG Content Studio. She says other brands already have approached HZDG about partnering on similar projects.

With a $9.99 subscription cost, the magazine targets a small audience — those interested in sous-vide cooking (a method in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath).

Think about your non-converting website traffic. What highly targeted content could you produce that they would be delighted to pay for a few times per year?

What highly targeted #content could you produce that your audience would pay for? @andreafryrear Click To Tweet

Mondelez, the snack-food company that brings us Wheat Thins, Toblerone, Oreos, and more, is making moves toward media company status too. It plans to partner with media companies to produce commercially viable content, including a web series, mobile games, and a skydiving event. The profits generated by these new ventures can help the company make bigger marketing investments.

To learn more, listen to the This Old Marketing episode on the Mondelez move.

Is your content’s future hidden in your current traffic?

Joe and Robert may be right: The media companies of the future may be the likes of IBM and GM, with few standalone media companies surviving the next two decades.

And maybe there’s an unseen opportunity lurking in your current website traffic. Those non-converting visitors that previously vexed you may actually represent a highly profitable niche that you could serve with a brand new publication.

Thanks to the growing acceptance of and investment in content marketing, marketers who can act on these once-invisible forces have opportunities to make the future like never before.

Want to be inspired by brands turning their content into profit? And get tips, insight, and trend details to inform your own content marketing programs? Subscribe to the free daily CMI newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute