Book Review: ‘Content Inc.’ by Joe Pulizzi

by | Oct 31, 2018 | Leadership & Personal Development

No product? No problem. The Radically Effective Approach to Building a Business.

Are you someone who has all the spirit and determination of an entrepreneur, but no product? Are you desperate to launch a business but have no idea what you can sell?

I was that person. I was totally frustrated by my lack of “product” and how overwhelming it felt to consider a product-first business approach. Granted, I was running a marketing consultancy at the time, but I wanted to do something more disruptive and more scalable.

If like me, you have big ambitions and strong values but no product, then hands down this book is for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Reading it was the light bulb moment of my first year of entrepreneurship, and has formed the foundation of a couple of businesses that I’m now growing alongside my co-founders. As a marketer at heart, Joe Pulizzi’s Content Inc. gave me permission to execute on what I knew was possible in my gut: to focus on building a loyal audience first.

In the UK, around 53% of businesses survive the first three years (source: The Financial Times), and the survival rate drops further after five years. With such a high failure rate, why do we continue to approach building a business in the same vein: define what you are selling, “the product”, then generate a sales and marketing plan? Today, we live in a fundamentally different world to even five years ago, let alone ten or twenty. Our approach to business creation absolutely needs a strategy rethink.

Content Inc. advocates building your audience first, then creating your product. Pulizzi reverse engineers the traditional entrepreneurial model for better, more sustainable success in 2018 and beyond. This book will benefit startups, innovative growth departments within large organisations and any stalled company looking to overhaul their strategy.

A Taste of What’s Inside

This book is absolutely jam-packed with insights, templates and action plans. I bought it first on audiobook (listened to it twice through) and then ordered the book to scribble in. I highly recommend reading it through first to understand the principles, before returning to the start and following the processes in turn, so as not to be overwhelmed by all the information within.

Here are some of my favourite snippets:

1. “I believe the absolute best way to start a business today is not by launching a product, but by creating a system to attract and build an audience.”

A strong opening endorsement from Pulizzi on the audience-first approach to growing a business. Whilst this might seem radical, it absolutely makes sense. Every business requires a captive audience in order to sell its product or service. They more loyal and engaged that audience is, the more consumers will spend, and the higher chance that business will experience consistent, compound growth.

This is how bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers and Instagram influencers build incredibly successful brands and businesses. They first create trust, deliver consistent content and nurture an engaged community. Monetisation follows.

2. “No longer does the company with the biggest marketing budget win the most attention. Businesses are now rewarded on the substance of of their message and on the audience they can attract through the consistent flow of information.”

Consumers no longer respond to Mad Men-esque adverstising. They won’t be dictated to. Instead consumers want a reciprical relationship with a brand, where values are shared and trust is paramount.

A content marketing approach is the only way to build a scalable brand-consumer relationship today. With every interaction, whether a blog post, email, video or other channel, the brand-consumer relationship is strengthened by the consistent reinforcing of message, beliefs and value.

3. “Having a singular focus on audience, and building a loyal audience directly, gives you the best understanding of what products ultimately make the most sense to sell.”

Makes sense, right? By building an audience first, you get to know the exact needs of your target market before you invest in any product development. If you are truly engaged with and listening to your audience, you are more likely to release a product or service that is entirely in line with their needs.

It’s impossible to find a successful business that hasn’t evolved their product offering based on feedback from consumers. Arguably, the Content Inc. model shortens that development cycle based on knowledge already gained from prospective buyers.

I often get asked how my businesses make money. A couple generate revenue already, and some don’t. I have an idea of how I will monetise each of them, but I also know that we’ll uncover revenue streams we never predicted and that is incredibly exciting.

4. “Traditionally, media companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on complex content management and production systems. Today, anyone can publish for free online in five minutes (seconds?) or less.”

The cost of starting a business is the lowest it has ever been. Free social media channels and low-cost website hosting have made it possible to organically grow an audience on a shoestring budget. So long as you have a great message and a unique brand voice, you are creating value and delivering consistent content, you don’t need piles of cash to compete with the large corporations.

In the same way every company should now consider themselves a “digital” company, I believe that in 2018 every company should consider themselves a “media” company too. When you consider how the principles of effective marketing are now applied, we are all essentially running media organisations within our businesses via a content marketing approach.

5. “Your sole focus is on one simple metric – the subscriber.”

This line is absolutely essential to the success of your Content Inc. strategy. The content landscape can feel complex and chaotic, and rightly so. There are hundreds of communication channels available to us, and this overload of choice can muddy our indicators of success.

Andrew Davis states, “Focusing on creating a subscriber database is developing a customer database before you actually have customers to sell to.” Essentially, you are testing the value of your content by measuring if your audience is willing to give away some piece of personal information (an email address, home address etc.) in a value exchange. Your subscriber total will provide clarity and cut through the noise.


I hope you love the book as much as I do! Have you read it, and if so what do you think? Share your feedback in the comment section below!

Buy ‘Content Inc.’ by Joe Pulizzi here.


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