A Few Thoughts on Content Creation, Monetization, and Strategy

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(Photo credit: Shewatchedthesky)

This is short post on content creation and monetization.

Below is an e-mail I received from a friend of a friend. My answers to him are inline after “TIM”, and I’ve elaborated on a few.

The e-mail itself is also a great example of a thoughtful approach to a busy person (me). I bolded one key phrase.

For those who want to explore further, here are two related posts:

How to Build a High-Traffic Blog Without Killing Yourself
Tim Ferriss Scam! Practical Tactics for Dealing with Haters

Now, let’s read that e-mail…

The Email: Questions and Answers

Tim –

I realize you are a very busy man and you mentioned in your last reply that you are taking a couple of months off from doing interviews. I respect your request and, having read your work, understand the motivation behind it. I certainly don’t mean to intrude, but I’m working on a project for my work as a Content Strategist and would greatly appreciate it if you wouldn’t mind taking two minutes to answer two questions. I promise they are short and to the point and that I will not follow up your answers with more questions, unless you specifically allow me to. I thank you for your time in advance.

TIM: No problem :)

The questions are as follows:

When working with brands, specifically big multinational brands, I often run into the mindset that volume and velocity are the most important aspect of content marketing. Yet, it seems to me that agility and ensuring the content is found, consumed, shared and acted upon – meaning that content leads to conversions of direct business value – are more important than simple speed. What is your rule of thumb as it relates to content that keeps you from being in the news business and so focused on specificity while allowing for flexibility in topics and responsiveness?

TIM: You can’t out Fox News Fox News. Timely news-based content turns life (or business) into a keeping up with the Joneses nightmare. I focus on evergreen/useful content that is as valuable 6 months from now as it is the day it’s published. It might mean less immediate traffic, but it means sticky traffic and also Google traffic that will add up to monstrous traffic later. This all factors into conversion and sales, if that’s your priority.

My approach allows great flexibility and offers the option to hit STOP without losing it all. If I stopped writing blog posts tomorrow, I’d still make tons of income from my traffic (via books, start-up intros, speaking gigs, etc.). That was never the primary intent of my writing, but it’s a nice side-effect!

People prefer to trust other people, not brands (e.g. Steve Jobs versus Apple), so I have the advantage of being a single-person-based media provider. Brands can do this by singling out killer personalities to drive their brands (e.g. Bobby Flay for Food Network in the early days).

People want to follow humans, not trademarks. Plan accordingly.

How much of your content is planned vs. responsive?

TIM: 90% planned, at least. I write about the things that capture my attention and imagination, first and foremost. Guessing what other people want is exactly that — guessing. The remaining <10% is experimental and based on reader leads.

As a content marketer, the value of my work is often calculated in the same terms that media ROI is determined by. Yet, working in the digital space, it seems we can be so much more precise as it relates to causation. TV and media metrics often fall into the old logical fallacy of “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” (“After this therefore because of this”) Knowing that you are devotee of Drucker’s axiom “that which gets measured gets managed” I wonder what model you use to calculate the ROI of your content. Can you make a recommendation?

TIM: I don’t quantify the profitability of each piece of content, as it would affect my editorial purity and stymie my curiosity to explore things on the edges… yet that’s precisely what’s built my reputation, if I have one!

I write about what most excites me and assume that will hold true for 10,000+ people… if I write about it well. If I get 100 die-hard fans per post like that, I can build an army that will not only consider buying anything I sell later (assuming high quality — most critical!), but they’ll also promote my work as trustworthy to other people. This compounds quickly. The product — here writing — needs to stand on its own two feet.

Furthermore, it’s much more interesting to me to sell something like a small-scale, $10,000-per-seat seminar every 2-3 years, instead of obsessing over monthly, weekly, or even daily Amazon commissions, for instance.

Many high-traffic blogs and publishers are coming to similar conclusions and doing much the same. Optimizing a bad business (or marginally profitable one) is not as elegant as creating a parallel, higher-margin revenue stream. Think TED videos and TED attendance. If TED charged for their videos from the beginning, where would they be now? Near obscurity.

As Warren Buffett once said, “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

That said, if you’re operating in a CPM-ruled world, you might have other near-term pressures, but I’m building a snowball the size of continents. The catch: it sometimes moves at a glacial pace. Big things take time, but that’s OK — almost nothing can stop a glacier from moving once it reaches critical mass.

Thank you again for your time and consideration in this matter. I certainly appreciate it, as I do all of your work.

TIM: Thank you and my pleasure!

###

AFTERWORD TO READERS: What are your most burning questions about content, whether as craft or business? Please let me know in the commments, and I’d love to hear your own best practices.

Posted on: May 2, 2013.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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120 comments on “A Few Thoughts on Content Creation, Monetization, and Strategy

  1. Tim, You continue to put out such great content. If there is anyone reading this who is not already subscribed to his mailing list….What are you waiting for? Its not just internet strategy, he also goes into many other great topics. You are one of the three that I actually read every post from. Keep it up bud!

    Like

  2. First Poster Woop!! I’ve never said that before (is that what everyone says?)

    Tired of saying how great your content is Tim. You need to create crappy content just to spice things up a bit :P

    Like

  3. Good insights.

    Probably the best takeaway for my business is the idea behind:

    “it’s much more interesting to me to sell something like a small-scale, $10,000-per-seat seminar every 2-3 years, instead of obsessing over monthly, weekly, or even daily Amazon commissions, for instance.”

    I strongly agree with that because it’s more of a challenge to step up to earning and selling out a “high transformational value” seminar. Offering something worth a few bucks anyone can do. Selling (and DELIVERING) massive transformational value I think is more rewarding. It’s probably also likely to help customers get AWESOME results!

    Thanks for the valuable peek into your inbox :-)

    Like

  4. Thanks for both responding to the email, and sharing your response.

    It’s interesting that you don’t quantify earnings on a per-content basis. I set up a custom GA report to do just that and it’s been a big eye opener to see what’s earning well/poorly.

    I’ve made the GA custom report public if anyone wants it: http://bit.ly/ZDau9z

    Thanks again,

    Kevin

    Like

  5. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for sharing this email. As a young college kid building a marketing management and consulting business in Austin, this post was especially relevant. I appreciate that your response was not unlike reading your blog posts or perusing your books, so I thought I would post my first comment this evening as a thumbs up.

    Whenever it is appropriate, I would love to see more articles in which you reply to readers or friends in this manner. It would reinforce the principles you share in a directly applicative sense.

    Best,
    Kasai

    Like

  6. I’m Loving that more and more of what I’m coming across right now highlights the value of creating value instead of what I used to find which was all about creating instant results and to hell with anything else.

    Authenticity and forever valid content resonates. The rest doesn’t. Thankyou for further cementing my belief that I’m on the right track!

    Like

  7. Tim thanks for your thoughts.

    Here’s a question: How can we combine entertainment and education?

    Like most of the content you produce is hardcore education. And most of the content that tmz produces is entertainment.

    How can we fuse the two?

    Like

    • The writing genre is called: Creative Non-Fiction. It combines creativity, i.e. story-telling, in a manner that makes the fact-content interesting and fun. It’s “true stories well told.” I just read a great book which describes this genre: YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM MEMOIR TO LITERARY JOURNALISM AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN, by Lee Gutkind.

      Like

  8. Got into the same concern as your email sender had about a customer requesting for daily content writing on their blog. I had to oppose and encouraged them to work on the items you mentioned:

    – evergreen content
    – content that can stand on it’s own feet
    – valuable content even after 6 months

    They settled on twice a week but I have to monitor and see if they are making each piece as useful.

    Like

  9. As a corporate marketer in high tech, it seems that much of what is created is based on what we think is “hot” with our prospect base. I think this email brings up some great points about evergreen topics – those topics that drive searches and engagement month after month, year after year, are the topics that make most sense. Building up a cache of useful content that is laser-targeted to your space over a long period of time would definitely provide the most value for the company, but in a world where “what have you done for me lately” rules, it’s difficult to justify a long-term strategy.

    It would be interesting to hear thoughts on how this can be justified to a management team that is generally only interested in this quarter’s revenue (even though most sales cycles in the high tech circles I frequent are two – six quarters in length).

    Great post, and I know the emailer appreciates the feedback. And it has me thinking about how I can build my own personal brand to ensure long-term career viability.

    Thanks,
    Chuck

    Like

  10. Very interesting take on evergreen content turning into “monstrous” traffic later on. The content is seen as a long term investment.

    Posts where Tim shares his views on business and blogging are some of favorite ones.

    Tim I hope you someday sell recordings of those private coaching sessions you do.

    Like

  11. If your content works optimally on video (i.e tutorials) would you also build a parallel blog to ‘capture’ emails etc in case you wanted to monetize down the track?

    Like

    • @Dan Like your question. Currently trying to use video w/ text on one post per point with an invite to sign up for free for future “episodes” in that series. Point is to develop an email list for a specific practice area for my wife’s law firm. No good data yet though. But she has actually gotten clients thru her site, which is still pretty rare for civil business and real estate trial lawyers.

      BTW, @Tim, found you frm Ed Dales Twitter post just now, and subscribing. Thanks.

      Christopher

      Like

  12. Tim, “People want to follow humans, not trademarks” perfectly and succinctly answers a question I’ve had for the past year about where to go with my brand. I asked the question of Seth Godin last year and his response was like your advice. His example was Martha Stewart — the personality and face in front of a team of experts.

    Choosing a logo/trademark to be the face of a brand, rather than yourself, is so much less scary and safer (feeling). But hearing this from you makes it clear that the reason it’s harder is because it’s the right move. Thanks for driving home this point for me!

    Like

  13. Great and timely post for me. I’m re-focusing my efforts on my blog and content creation for rbutr right now. I have a few ideas which I plan on investing quite a bit of time in to make good solid original posts for long term sticky effect. Hopefully it all comes together to turn our blog in to an industry leading resource, rather than just a ‘what we have been up to’ startup blog.

    Like

  14. Hey Tim, just wanted to say good work on this point specifically:

    “I write about what most excites me and assume that will hold true for 10,000+ people… if I write about it well. If I get 100 die-hard fans per post like that, I can build an army that will not only consider buying anything I sell later (assuming high quality — most critical!), but they’ll also promote my work as trustworthy to other people. This compounds quickly. The product — here writing — needs to stand on its own two feet.”

    I’ve not met you, and probably never will. But I trust your opinion more than most people I know personally. Your recommendations are always very sincere, and credibly so. It’s helped simplify a lot of my purchasing decisions – I’ve never gone wrong buying something you recommended.

    I should say that the one time I felt you missed a beat was with your recent partnership with Merrell. Not because I think they make bad products. But rather, because I didn’t feel you clearly articulated what made you so excited to be working with them, or how you’ve used their products in your own life.

    Usually what makes your testimonials really powerful is that you show how a product has been helpful to you personally. That helps me decide if something would be useful to me.

    You said you’ve been using Merrell for a long time, so I know you’ve got a similar story for their shoes, but unless I missed it, I didn’t see it in your post. I.e. What effects you’ve noticed from barefoot shoes, and what differentiates Merrell from all the other non-vibram barefoot shoes on the market.

    I only mention this because it’s one of the few times I felt you missed a beat. Normally I find your posts very interesting even when the topic isn’t of obvious interest to me. And I know the Merrell campaign is a big deal for both you and them, so I wanted to give you that feedback.

    It’s meant to be well intentioned, so I hope it doesn’t come across the wrong way. And could just be me, I already know a fair bit about barefoot shoes.

    Like

    • Hi Graeme,

      Thank you so much for a very thoughtful comment and kind words. I really do appreciate it!

      This is great feedback and exactly the type of thing I want to hear. Merrell shoes are unique to me, and if I haven’t articulated the reasons I personally use their gear (as well as some stories from over the years), I definitely need to do that.

      Onward and upward! :)

      Tim

      Like

      • Great, looking forward to hearing more!

        I forgot to add, I’m mostly a reader. I had a look at the Merrell videos briefly, but if you told stories in a video but not the blog post then I would have missed it.

        Like

  15. This is great, thanks for posting. Would love to see more posts on content strategy, creation and where you think things are going in the future. Having a blog be a part of a bigger strategy really seems like the right way to go in order to write what you’re curious and passionate about. Thinking …

    Like

  16. Tim do you ever have a problem being to close to a topic or to passionate about a topic to clearly get you thoughts down on paper? What simple methods do you use for getting your head clear when writing? I know you say you write as if you were explaining something to a friend, but what if the subject matter is abstract any tricks for making it more graspable?

    I’ve read those other blog post and still find myself getting stuck at times… Any suggestion would be appreciated!

    Thanks

    Like

    • Have a friend unfamiliar with the subject interview you on the subject! I do this all the time. Be sure to record it all. I did this to break writer’s block when writing my first book and third.

      Tim

      Like

      • This is an excellent suggestion and works well with technical subjects. As a CPA, I constantly find myself having to communicate rather complicated concepts of tax law. I always try to run my content by a couple people outside of my field to make sure I am communicating on a level and with enough background that my audience will understand.

        Tim: Thanks for the info on the WellnessFX testing. Did mine this morning!

        Like

      • Tairuiki thanks for asking that. I had a different question but Tims answer to yours is really helpful for mine: I’m trying to deconstruct a process that comes so second nature to me now it’s difficult to remember what it’s like to be a begginer. This had promted me to take my rough draft instructions and record a couple friends using them and see where they stumble.

        There’s always something useful and actionable in every post – thanks Tim!

        Like

  17. Tim,

    I love the concept of writing whatever takes your fancy, I am a fledgling blogger myself and only really started to feel the joy of it once I stopped obsessing about a niche and decided to write about whatever took my fancy.

    As a newbie to this I have trouble with refining my writing to a level of coherence for other people. How do you go about refining your posts and other content and how do you judge when you’ve written enough vs you’ve written all you have to say.

    Much appreciated!

    Like

    • In my opinion you cannot market to all social platforms, you need to create content to target each platform e.g.

      Stumbleupon – visual
      Reddit – Off beat

      etc

      Like

  18. Thanks for sharing, even a short Q&A’s email like this is very helpful.

    I love your idea of writing about something that will be useful even in 6 months from the day it’s published, really smart.
    Thanks Tim!

    _Leo

    Like