By now most businesses not existing in the 1400s are familiar with the concept of content marketing, or the process of disseminating free, quality content in order to increase engagement with potential and recurring customers.
Despite its growing popularity, the practice has met with plenty of resistance—isn’t giving content away for free antithetical to, oh, I don’t know, making money?
In reality, doling out free content can pay off in big dividends—some of which are financial, and some of which are less tangible (but still meaningful). Here are five reasons why it’s worth it to give content away.
1. To grow (and learn about) your audience
Free content is inherently more shareable than content that’s hidden behind a paywall. Creating high-quality content and encouraging people to share it freely can significantly up the chances of connecting with a sizable pool of potential customers. In fact, marketing and sales strategist David Meerman Scott posits that free content (such as a white paper or ebook) will be downloaded up to 50 times more than content that sits behind a paywall.
The social nature and shareability of free online content also provides direct insight into the topics that most engage readers. Users may even provide direct feedback, which is a goldmine for anyone trying to develop a customer avatar. Taken together, all of this input can help you better understand your niche and tailor products and services so they’re more likely to sell.
2. To differentiate your value
Increasing exposure to your business via free content can establish the brand as an expert in a specific field. This is the ultimate in “show, don’t tell”—instead of asking people to take your word for it, free content lets you actively demonstrate expertise. Distinguishing the company’s value and niche will gradually earn the business a reputation as the go-to resource for a particular topic. And that leads to increased sales.
3. To build an effective email list
Email marketing is an incredibly effective tool for business growth, and the best way to bring in subscribers is to increase exposure to your brand. That’s where content marketing comes in.
An email list is also a great place to disseminate even more free content to an audience that’s already demonstrated interest by opting into the list. When appropriate, use that content to drive traffic to the company’s site, where you can do the harder selling. Which brings us to…
4. To build a sales funnel that converts
Giving away content for free is detrimental only when the content marketing strategy isn’t integrated with the business’ overall sales strategy. In general, free content should effortlessly tie into paid content or products.
This can take many forms. For example, many outlets share a one-page PDF cheat sheet for free, then invite people to purchase a more in-depth ebook or course on the subject.
Just remember that content giveaways are valuable even when they’re not transactional—something that marketing guru Seth Godin stresses. Building trust with an audience and distinguishing your voice within an industry are indispensable to long-term business growth, even if their impact can’t be quantified right away.
5. To price paid products strategically
Entrepreneur Ramit Sethi makes the brilliant point that if a company wants to distinguish itself as a source for high-end products (or even mid-range products), then it’s probably not a great strategy to simultaneously sell products for $4.95. In fact, it’s actually more strategic to give some content away for free and charge more for paid content from the people willing and able to pay for it.
Before developing a marketing strategy of any kind, it’s important to figure out who you’re selling to. If you don’t want to sell things for cheap, don’t—instead, give away that content for free and price paid products accordingly. This creates a great feedback loop: Because people trust that you produce high-quality content and are thoughtful enough to share it with everyone, many of them will be much more likely to make a purchase when they’re invited to do so. And the ones who can’t afford to pay will remain champions of the brand.
Ultimately, giving content away for free is a means of educating potential and recurring customers: You’re teaching people what the company is all about, what makes it different from its competitors, and why people should put their faith in it (i.e. buy). Do the job right, and not only will you have created a healthy inbound marketing funnel, but people will be increasingly amenable to giving you their business.
Image Credit: Flickr/Paul Keller