How much should you give away in content marketing? Part 1 of 2

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At the recent Entrepreneur Magazine Winning Strategies in Business conference, I had the opportunity to answer a question that’s one of my favorites: “How much should you give away for free in content marketing?”

We’ll answer this in two parts, a common answer today and a ninja answer tomorrow.

First, when it comes to your business, the concern about giving away too much knowledge is absolutely valid. Although I firmly believe in Jay Baer’s quote, “Having the recipe does not make you a chef”, there are indeed cases where the intellectual property of your business shouldn’t be given away.

There are fundamentally two kinds of businesses when it comes to intellectual property. There are businesses where the intellectual property is the value; you’re not differentiating on the execution of methods, but the knowledge of the methods themselves.

There are other businesses where the recipe is commonly known, but your execution of it is the secret sauce.

If your business is the latter, an exceptional executor of commodity knowledge, then give away as much as you want about the knowledge itself.

If your business is the former, then you have to look at what you specialize in. There are two broad categories of intellectual property: how and what. “How” businesses have a special set of tactics, a special set of recipes that set them apart from competitors. KFC has its special spices. McDonald’s has a Big Mac with special sauce. Coca Cola has its mysterious formula.

“What” businesses have a special set of strategies that set them apart from competitors. They may employ commonly known tactics and methods, but in a unique way. Consulting firms like BCG and KPMG take commonly known tactics and remix them into special strategies. Disney’s brands are strategic in nature; they don’t do anything special to market the brand, but they do a whole lot special in the creation of content and value, from a strategic perspective. Their secret is in the what, not the how.

When it comes to answering the question of how much you can give away, the obvious answer is to give away the non-relevant part. If you’re a “how” company, you can give away all the “what” you want. Coca-cola does this exceptionally – they create experiences around their brand, giving away tons of content, encouraging community around it. If you’re a “what” company, you can give away the “how” endlessly while not giving away the knowledge of what you do that makes those tactics give you different, better results.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a very ninja answer that goes above and beyond how and what.


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The long tail is longer than you think

I left the world of financial aid and student loans way back in January 2010.

Slackershot: Financial Aid Podcast Shirt

I had created a ton of content for the company I was working for at the time, including the very first financial aid podcast, and I’m proud that kids paid less for college based on the work I did.

But this should give you a sense of just how long the long tail of content is. I got this email today – October 23, 2014, almost 5 years after leaving the field:

Quick question could you recommend where my daughter should go/apply for a student loan? I remember you were connected with a student loan site or was I tripping?

This demonstrates the power and longevity of content online. Half a decade has passed since it was my job to answer questions like this, yet people still find me through evergreen content and ask questions. (I’m still happy to answer as best as I can, because it’s for a good cause)

The content you create today can come back to you years later. As long as content marketing programs take to get running, once they have momentum, they can continue paying benefits to you long into the future.

Financial aid stuff

For those interested, by the way, the answer to the above question is as follows. Before you go shopping for loans, be sure you’ve applied for scholarships. There are millions of dollars out there and many scholarships only get a handful of applicants, especially the low dollar ones. Winning 10 $500 scholarships is just as good as winning 1 $5,000 scholarship, and the competition is lighter. Googling for scholarships is simple to do, and just requires dedication and work.

One parent who was a listener of my podcast back in the day had a great tip: he paid his child 10 cents on the dollar for every scholarship they brought home. When Junior wanted a new car, new phone, new etc., this dad reminded him of the deal. By the time freshman year rolled around, the kid had the new phone, new laptop, etc. – because they brought home $138,000 in scholarships.

When it comes to loans, start by completing a FAFSA and then seeing what financial aid you qualify for. Every student enrolled in an eligible, accredited school can get an unsubsidized Stafford federal student loan. Students who file a FAFSA and are given approval by demonstrating financial need can get subsidized Stafford federal student loans as well. After that, students can either apply with a cosigner for private student loans, or parents can apply for federal PLUS loans. For complete information about federal student loans, go visit the US Department of Education’s website.

Your best bet before you begin the financial aid process is to talk to a qualified financial planner to look at all of your options. Many community banks and credit unions offer these services for free to members; typically they work on salary and receive no commissions or incentives to sell you extra stuff. Sometimes, taking out a home equity loan if possible may make greater overall financial sense than taking out a student or parent loan – but you can make that determination only when you look at the big picture, financially.


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Average, median, and marketing analytics

If you’ve never taken a statistics class, yet you’ve ended up being responsible for your company’s marketing analytics, then this blog post is for you.

One of the core statistical concepts we rarely hear about is the median. We hear about averages all of the time: average revenue per user, average website traffic, average number of new followers gained. But here’s the thing about averages – and any statistic, for that matter – sometimes they don’t tell the whole story.

About the only time the average person even hears the word median (besides when they drive in it on the highway) is from politicians when they talk about median income.

Broadly defined, an average is when you take the sum of all of the numbers in a data set and divide by the number of things in the data set to look for a central value. For example, let’s take the numbers 10-20. There are 10 numbers: 10, 11, 12, 13… etc. There are 11 items in the data set. Add up all the numbers and you get 165, then divide by 11, and you get the average, 15.

Broadly defined, a median is when you find the middlemost number in a data set. In the same example data set above, the median is also 15. It’s right in the middle.

Here’s how average can mess up, using a very often-cited example. Imagine you’re in a bar with 10 of your friends. The average income in the bar, let’s call it $50,000. The median income is $50,000. Now Bill Gates walks in. The average income in the bar skyrockets to $5 million. Is everyone in the bar richer? Should the restaurant change its pricing because the average income of the patrons is so much higher? Of course not. The median income stays the same, but the average gets skewed because of an outlier.

Here’s the thing: digital marketing is FILLED with outliers. If we want to measure accurately, we have to deal with them – and that’s why median is important. Medians help to give a second perspective on the same data, one that can sometimes deal with outliers a little better.

Let’s look at this chart of my personal website’s analytics, focusing on the month of October.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics

If we do the math, the average daily website traffic on my site is 410 visitors a day this month.

Let’s chart that out. Does that look right to you?

Screenshot_10_23_14__7_30_AM

It doesn’t to me. There are more parts of the blue line below the red than above the red, and if an average is supposed to help me find the middle, it’s not necessarily doing the best job in this case.

Now what if we put the median on here, which is 393 visitors a day:

Screenshot_10_23_14__7_33_AM

There is a difference. That big spike drove up the average, but the median remained relatively resistant to it.

If I’m trying to budget for personnel, for advertising, for anything that relies on web traffic, which number should I plan around? I’d use the median, because it’s more representative of the typical day on my website than the average, in this case.

Keep the median in your toolbox and when you’re doing analysis and reporting on any series of data in marketing that calls for an average, calculate the median at the same time. It may shine some light on what’s going on in your data.


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