The newspaper in New Orleans is laying off a third of its staff and shifting to three-days-a-week publication in just the most recent example of that industry's decline. Meanwhile, Politico is hiring 20 journalists to beef up its coverage of the economy and the military. The easy analysis of their diverging fortunes is that the Times-Picayune primarily is in print and Politico is online, but it's more complicated than that. The real reasons are familiar to marketers, or at least they should be.
Newspapers like the Times-Picayune aren't dying solely because they're in print. They're dying because they failed to hold onto their audiences in profitable print and rushed free content online under the mistaken premise they could sell advertising there. Politico isn't growing just because it's online. It's growing because it's found an audience, built value with that audience, and extracts that value with a subscription model.
Does Politico share free content? Sure it does, a lot of it. But it doesn't share everything. That helps increase the value of the content not shared with everyone. More importantly, Politico has found an audience that places a high value on its content, and it's asking that audience to give something for it.
Find an audience that values what you do and build rapport that audience. Do that by sharing, but don’t share everything. Ask consumers to give you something in exchange for your best work. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the basic roadmap for effective content marketing.
Some more involved descriptions of the concept, like this one from Joe Pulizzi, even evoke comparisons to the news media:
Content marketing is creating your own valuable, relevant and compelling content to position yourself as the true industry expert. When you do that, your prospects and customers trust you more and are more willing to buy from you. It’s almost like becoming the media company for your industry, but instead of selling advertising against your content, you are engaging customers with the belief that they will buy more of your products and services from you or create a better opportunity to keep them as customers.
The lesson here is that merely being online isn’t enough. An audience of willing consumers must be found. Then it has to be won over and consistently engaged with content. And that’s true no matter what business you’re in.