Giving it away: the magic of content marketing


Evie Prysor-Jones is Content Lead at Optimus Education. She’s a big fan of data driven digital marketing and alliteration. On Tuesday Evie will be speaking at the London Book Fair (5.30pm, Children’s Hub) about how to engage hard to reach audiences with content marketing. Here are some of her insights and tips ahead of the event.

Do you remember your first teacher?

Perhaps you remember them as Miss Honey, all smiles and supportive. Or, perhaps you still quake with fear as you recall your school’s very own Miss Trunchball. In reality, they were probably very similar to how you are now but with more grey hairs, larger bags around the eyes and spend much less time reading interesting blogs.

Lack of funding and support mean that, for some members of staff, using a computer requires elbowing colleagues out the way to get to the shared one in the corner of the staffroom and bringing a crank to get it vibrating away as it brings up the oldest version of Internet Explorer still allowed.

For us working in the education publishing world, this is our market.

Yes, there are many very well-equipped schools and some very digitally savvy staff, but you can be sure that staff apparatus and updating software will not be the top of the spend list.

Give ’em stuff for free!

My genius, yet by no means original, idea is that to start a conversation with schools we need to give them stuff for free and, because we’re publishers, by ‘stuff’ I mean content.

In the publishing industry, giving words away for free is a scary business. There are plenty of arguments against it:

  • It devalues the content.
  • It will be copied.
  • People will take it, read it and never come back!

All of these are true to some extent, but there are also plenty of counter arguments:

  • The rewards for your business will regain any value conceived to be lost.
  • Of course it could be copied, we copy each other all the time. That’s why you need to be the first out there with the story, write it in the most engaging way and market it better than anyone else can.
  • Yes, about 80% of people who take it and read it will never come back. But what about the 20% who do? You’ve got yourself engaged customers willing to be loyal in that 20%. They are worth more to your business than come-and-go-ers.

What are we talking about when we talk about free content?

I don’t count blogs as free content. Yes, blogs are content and they’re free, but they always are and that’s the point of them. At the top of your sales funnel you’ve got your traffic drivers (social media, email campaigns), so blogs sit on the second step of your funnel – awareness. Your customers have discovered you, through Twitter perhaps, now they want to increase their awareness of your company by reading a bit more about what you think and where you stand on issues important to them. I.e. your blog.

Free content sits happily on the next step – increased awareness/approaching consideration. (I admit by steps need catchier names). This is content that plays to one of the three human weaknesses: money, fame and access. In this case, access. People will go to extraordinary lengths to get to the next level, whether it’s attending the glitzy Hollywood party normally behind closed doors, skipping to the front of the check in queue or being able to experience something before everyone else. In our case it’s as simple as letting them have access to content that they would normally have to pay for.

Don’t overstretch yourself

What’s brilliant about this content is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Usually, the content can just be stuff you already have that you can reformat in a new, shiny way. HubSpot are great for this. At Optimus Education, we’ve followed the same principle with content from our Knowledge Centre. If we have several articles or resources on a particular topic that will fit together well, these can be recycled into a PDF ‘toolkit’ which we can then use as content marketing. For example, our Prevent toolkit.

Checklist for using free content to reach your audience

While we’ve been discussing all this, our teachers are still waiting for their browser to load. So how will free content engage this audience if it’s digital? Make it easy.

  • Ask the audience: The idea for your content needs to come from them. No one wants to struggle through the quagmire of having a product, even a free product, which no one wants to read.
  • SEO: no, it’s not sexy, but it is vital. Teachers are short of time and need instant results. Once they’re on the Internet then your page needs to be the first page they find. Spend half a day sorting out your keywords (long tail and short) and Adwords.
  • Create a landing page: don’t make them search your site for what they want. For each campaign you need a new page.
  • Marketing plan: Use your personas. Teachers are not all the same (duh!) so think about who is the content is for (you should already know this from the first point). What channels do they use? Are they using the staffroom wind-up computer, the one in their office or do they use their smartphone?
  • Google Analytics: Yes, it’s the worst user experience in the world and you can feel like you’re drowning in numbers, but get it set up, all your goals in a row and track the hell out of your campaign. The numbers will tell you where to make changes and when.
  • Optimise your landing page copy: When people land on your page they should only need three seconds to work out what you do, what you’re offering them and what they need to do to get it. Test everything.
  • User journey: We know our teachers, so we know how many touchpoints we need to have with them before passing them to our sales team. When your customer has downloaded your content that should be the beginning of your activity, not the end. Will you email them? Give them something else? Map it out.
  • Review and reuse: Exploit your content as much as possible. If it’s an ebook, could you create a new blog about it? Could you take samples out as teasers? Are there images to use on Instagram? Is there a checklist or resource to be made from it? There shouldn’t be a shelf-life on a piece of content and a little refresh can take much less time than writing something new.

Transferring this to the book world

I grant you this is more difficult when the issue of copyright is entered into the mix. We own the copyright of all the content we have so splitting it up and chopping it up as we wish is no problem. However, in the age of digital innovation there are so many new reading models and platforms that the humble book does not always have to stay as it was. I think Inkle is a great example of exciting and new content mediums. Now is an exciting time to be creative and test new ideas, so just because an audience is hard to reach, it doesn’t mean they’re worth giving up on.

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