how to use paid earned and owned media to promote an ebook

We hear a lot about earned, owned, and paid content promotion, but what does a campaign look like? And how can a marketer with limited resources put one together?

Recently, we here at BuzzStream launched our Linking Outside the Box ebook and promoted it across paid, earned, and owned media. This content and promotion effort had a meaningful impact on our marketing funnel and our business.

You can download the ebook here:

get the free link building guide

While we didn’t do everything right and will do some things differently next time, in this post I want to dig into some of the things we did, and how we used tools like Unbounce, Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, and of course BuzzStream to get the word out about our project effectively and affordably.

Goals, and How to Meet Them:

Our original goals with the project were:

  • Get 1000 downloads of our ebook within a month of launch
  • Get 100+ People Sharing the eBook
  • Get 500+ new non-customer names on our email list
  • Achieve a 10% increase in BuzzStream sign-ups over last month with average or greater free-to-paid conversion, 3-month retention and ASP. 

(Ed note: If you’re not familiar with SaaS businesses, free-to-paid conversion and retention are measures of how people continue to use and pay for the product. ASP is average selling price. Because it’s easy to drive low-quality traffic that doesn’t convert to paying, happy customers, sign-up goals should also have a quality goal to prevent ‘doing dumb things to move a metric’ syndrome.)

We also had some softer goals like getting positive mentions by industry leaders and improving our brand impression in the SEO space, which were also important but less measurable.

“But what about links?”, you might be asking yourself. This book was a mid-funnel play – we wanted people who had already come to the BuzzStream website to get further educated on both link building and BuzzStream.  While we certainly would like to get links (and we did indeed get a few new linking root domains), it wasn’t a key goal for this project.

If you’re curious as to where those numbers came from, they were picked through a three part process: researching comparable ebook case studies, calculating what would be required to see a meaningful ROI, and picking numbers large enough to make the project seem worthwhile and yet not so large as to be thought foolish.

I used the download numbers published by Velocity Partners and Mack Web from their ebook projects.  The other numbers worked backwards from that, and additionally worked forward from the business goals that would result in a positive and meaningful ROI for the project. (Once it became clear how long an ebook took, it was easy to see

So once we knew what we wanted to accomplish, we could go about achieving it.

Results (Fortunately Positive)

Fortunately, we achieved our objectives:

Downloads: Goal: 1000. Actual (as of 12/12/2013): 1221

The vast majority of these came in the first few days, but due to onsite promotion we continue to get 5-10 downloads a day.

Shares: Goal: 100 Actual: 127 tweets + 19 LinkedIn Shares + some other shares:

ebook shares 

As Calculated by http://sharetally.co

Now, some of these are from corporate accounts, and are from the same people sharing on multiple networks, but it looks like we just edged over this one as well.

New Non-Customer Names:  Goal: 500 Actual: 856

Sign-Up Lift: Goal 10%. Actual: 26.9% lift in sign-ups over the previous 4 weeks.

There were other, standard marketing activities (outreach & PR, blogging, social, retargeting) etc. going on during both periods, and the ebook was the only major program we ran in that time.  There’s also typically some seasonal decline around the holidays and into the end of Q4, but we didn’t observe that this year.

Brand Benefit:  This is harder one to measure, but we got some great feedback from industry leaders on the book:



“That’s great,” you might be thinking to yourself, “But how do I make that happen?”

While every market, company, and buying context is different, here’s the path that worked for us (and what we’ll do differently next time).

Understand Your Audience

Before you start creating and marketing content, you have to understand your audience.  Specifically, what they want (in business benefit, form, and function), and how they find out about new, interesting things.

What do they want?

  • Digital marketers and SEOs are always looking for new techniques and creative tips to improve their effectiveness.  Lots of online marketers are employing similar tactics – so there’s always a struggle to stand out and find the next channel or tactic before it becomes oversaturated and ROI is reduced to 1. 

(This is another reason that content marketing is such an effective tool at marketing to marketers.)

  • In the case of link development professionals, they’re always looking for new ways to find influencers and webmasters, new ways to reach them, and new ideas on how to work with them to develop quality links.

The next piece is figuring out the form your content should take.

Now marketing to marketers (particularly about SEO) has a unique problem: as an industry, we’re in a content arms race.  Everyone is creating content – most of these are blog posts and infographics – and standing out above the noise is challenging. On the flip side, while quantity is exceptionally high, new, actionable information and case studies are exceptionally rare.

So, with the help of Ken McGaffin of Linking Matters, we created an ebook that was differentiated in content (a focus on creative link building – both creative tactics and more creative implementation of the tactics you already use) and form (well-designed ebook instead of blog posts).

Now that we knew what compelling material we could provide to our potential customers, we could figure out how to reach them.

We know link builders like to hang out on SEO websites, and largely Twitter, which is the international water cooler/after work pub for online marketers everywhere.  People check in on LinkedIn from time to time, and live and die in their email – often aspiring to inbox 0 their overflowing inboxes. Many of them check sites like inbound.org and ThreadWatch more than their bosses would like them to. 

SEOs are largely more influenced by peers and recommendations than advertising, so any advertising we do should keep that in mind. 

Based on this very simple list, it became clear where we needed to appear to get found by our audience – on appropriate social media, in their inbox, from their industry friends, peers, and ‘thought leaders’, and on blogs wherever we could.

Make Excellent, Differentiated Content

Just like great marketing can’t fix a lousy product, great promotion can’t help bad content. It can lead to some initial downloads, but ultimately the people that looked at it won’t share it or tell people about it.

Moreover, bad content marketing can cause people to stop trusting your brand. SaaS companies all live and die on customer trust, and anything that sacrifices trust for short-term revenue is the marketing department pushing the company towards oblivion in exchange for temporary benefit.  SaaS compounds, as DocuSign CEO Jason Lemkin likes to say.

The content has to be excellent – not just OK – especially when you’re marketing to content marketers. 

Fortunately, we had Ken McGaffin’s help putting together a piece of Spectacular Content.

We asked 6 experts (special thanks to Greg Ciotti, Lisa Buyer, Lyndon Antcliff, Ann Smarty, Paddy Moogan, and Alisa Scharf) to contribute articles about their areas of expertise. We also added some introductory sections, a section about how BuzzStream helps link builders, and a section of additional resources and people to follow on Twitter.

Design is incredibly important as well– that first 4 second impression of trust and quality is driven by design, rather than content. Fortunately, our UI designer Will is incredibly talented, and we were able to put together a book that both looked excellent and contained really useful material.

It’s worth noting that standout content requires going over every little piece and asking yourself ‘Could this be better?’ We spent hours fixing small things, rewriting sections, making sure we picked the right block quotes, adding resources and links to the sections, making sure images communicated the right message, and more.  (This is one of the rare times where you can let your inner Steve Jobs out and try to get all of the details right.)

So now that you have content your potential customers will like, it’s time to get to promoting it. Now, it will be hard to contain your enthusiasm and I know you want to mail all of your friends and contacts immediately, but start by getting organized and making your plan.

Making Your Promotion Plan

While ‘agile marketing’ is all the rage now, this is one of those occasions where waterfall planning – where you work backwards from a launch date – works far better.  If we had released these as a series of blog posts or static pages, we wouldn’t see the impact we did from combining them together into a larger piece and heavily promoting it.

In these ‘big bang launches’, timing is the most important factor. Your mastery of a Gant chart will be just as important as your understanding of your customers and copywriting abilities.  And if you want to work with other marketers and publications, start talking to them in the planning phase – not right before launch.

When I make a promotion plan, I think about:

  • Technical Set Up – Landing page, delivery of content, hosting, etc. How can people actually get the content, and have a positive experience?
  • Owned Media – How can I use the assets I have full control over to promote my content?
  • Paid Media – How can I affordably buy attention and traffic to my content?
  • Earned Media – How can I get other people talking about my content and build that ‘Word of Mouth’ buzz?
  • Follow Up – What happens after someone signs up? How do I continue to deliver value to that person while achieving my business goals?

Fundamentally I want to make all of these different aspects work together – I’ve found that, say, the dynamics of earned traffic sources affect how you want to set up landing pages, and more – so I want to take a look at all of these issues together and understand how the user flows work, etc.

Basically I want to put all of the effort and planning (well maybe not all of the effort) I’d put into launching a product into launching a piece of content.  We’re going to spend more time on this concept in our next ebook, which will cover advanced content promotion tactics. 

Technical Set-Up

We used an Unbounce landing page to enable people to opt in and download their ebook. Unbounce was easy to work with once we got the hang of it, and their support team was very helpful. 

Unbounce integrates with common marketing software (like Mailchimp) out of the box, and if you use Zapier, you can make it integrate with just about anything.  I’d recommend using the Zapier + Unbounce whenever you need a good landing page and want to integrate with something. KISSMetrics uses it to integrate Unbounce with GoToMeeting and AWeber to increase webinar attendance rates.  It’s a great tool and I highly recommend it.

We did run some A/B tests on small things (‘Free’ badges, CTA, headlines, etc) as suggested by myriad best practices articles, but we weren’t able to find any optimizations that resulted in sustained conversion rate improvements. (I attribute this principally to my lack of experience in testing rather than any major problems with the concept of A/B testing.)  

Paid, Earned, and Owned Media

Paid, Owned, and Earned media each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Sean Corcoran of Forrester has put together a table that explains each type’s advantages and disadvantages:

 paid owned earned chart from forrester

Each media type has trade-offs in cost, scale, and trust, and by combining all three you can get the benefits of all of them. 

This isn’t a strict checklist – there’s no need to say ‘Oh, we don’t have any paid media! Our marketers must be awful’, but rather simply a helpful and useful framework for planning, and a good way you make sure you don’t miss anything.

Let’s look at how we employed each media type in our most recent ebook launch:

Owned Media: Using Your Own Media Assets

This is the easy one. (After all, owned is, by definition, yours.) If you’ve put some work into developing and scaling these channels, these can drive some serious volume. However, this volume is going to be people who are already familiar with your company – while it can drive some potential customers who are aware of you to take the plunge, it’s not going to be an awesome source of new customers.  (However, if those people who you already have a relationship with go ahead and share the piece, enabling you to achieve the transition from owned to earned media.)

There were a few easy things we could do at launch that fell into the ‘Owned Media’ bucket:

  • Write an announcement blog post
  • Write a blog post with pieces from the book
  • Email our customer list
  • Share it from our own social media accounts

These were very successful and drove hundreds of downloads on the first day.  And as readers of this blog know, creating content that leads back to your book helps you establish a funnel that can get search and social traffic, and bring those people through the customer journey to your content and get an opt-in.

The other ‘Owned’ component was merchandising the book across our blog (with those attractive banner ads, just like the one at the bottom of the post) and some links on other pages where appropriate.  These links continue to drive downloads, as the blog gets a reasonable amount of traffic from search and social.

You might be very familiar with this strategy from HubSpot, who have used the Search/Social -> Blog -> Ebook -> Lead funnel to generate hundreds of thousands of leads and achieve a $60 million annual run rate.

Earned Media: Getting the People Talking

Earned media is about getting other people to talk about your content. While it lacks the scale and control of paid and owned media, it is trusted in a way that both of those are not. And as I’ve written before, the Universe has this sad tendency towards ignoring you unless you’re a household name, so scrappy companies like us have to work hard to get people talking.  As you might imagine, we use BuzzStream to manage our outreach and earned media.

Over the years, Paul, other members of our team, and I have gotten to know a lot of people in the SEO industry – whether digitally, in person at conferences, and over many, many lunches, drinks, dinners, and more rarely, breakfasts. We’ve also helped out and worked with a lot of people in the SEO space as BuzzStream affiliates, guest bloggers, customers, and more. We add them to our BuzzStream account and do our best to keep in touch and be helpful wherever we can.

So when it came time to promote our book, it was only natural to send early copies to some of these folks to see what they thought. The team working on the book had now spent more than 100 combined hours working on content, design, layout, and little nit-picky things like how the text around pull quotes should flow, so we were proud of our work and wanted to show it off to our industry friends.

We set up a project in our BuzzStream account and added everyone that had guest posted with us, was an affiliate, and a bunch of our friends who are active on Twitter and blog:

 list of friends in buzzstream

I just shot them a quick email a day or two before launch, with a file attached, asking them what they thought, and told them when the book was coming out. I personalized each one, and used it as a quick opportunity to catch up with that person and see how their Q4 was going. I didn’t ask for a link or a share because I knew people active on Twitter are always looking for good things to share, and I figured people would do that on their own.

Here’s an example message:

example outreach message

 

And, because these things work better when you get other people involved, I assigned Paul to send out thank you emails to our contributors:

 assinging tasks to paul

(One of the most fun uses of BuzzStream is to assign your boss outreach tasks.)

Just about all of these people shared on launch day, and it helped us build a groundswell of earned media.  These social shares and positive commentary, combined with the paid and owned media, helped us build awareness and achieve the wall-to-wall, cross-media coverage you want during a launch.

Paid Media: Buying the Right Attention at Rock-Bottom Prices

While we aren’t rolling in the BitCoins here at BuzzStream, we did put together a promotional budget for Linking Outside the Box.  Again, we wanted a big blast on the first and second days, and to ‘be everywhere’, so no one could miss us.

We don’t have the ad spend to get us an account manager on any platform, so we used the self-service options available.  We did:

  • Promoted Tweets
  • Sponsored LinkedIn Updates
  • Right-rail Facebook Ads (both targeted to people that like SEO publications, and targeted to lapsed users via a FB custom audience)
  • Retargeted display ads to people who had visited our blog but weren’t customers

(Because I screwed up some of the tagging and conversion tracking I don’t have precise, comparable numbers from every platform, especially those with both a paid and organic component like Facebook.  In the future, we’ll spend more time getting the analytics right.)

So which of these channels drove the most downloads at an affordable cost?

Twitter Promoted Tweets were far and away the winner.

For an investment of $150 in ad spend, targeted at people who didn’t follow BuzzStream but followed link building influencers, we got:

 twitter ad

7175 impressions, 14 retweets, a couple responses, 3 new followers, and 132 clicks, which translated to 46 downloads.

With the change in how images are previewed on Twitter, promoted tweets with images can be an extremely effective content marketing investment. (Make sure to have an image of your piece that looks great when cropped to a 2:1 aspect ratio.)

LinkedIn Sponsored Updates (targeted at people with SEO titles at larger companies) were also performant, and a high percentage of these clicks lead to downloads:

 linkedin ad

Because of some quirks in the LinkedIn platform and our tracking setup, it was difficult to attribute exact downloads to the sponsored update versus other organic activity.

The other paid channels were not performant.  Again I principally attribute this to lack of expertise on my part rather than any particular shortcoming of the advertising platform.  Notably advertising to a Facebook custom audience of past BuzzStream customers in hopes of reactivation, while widely regarded as a good idea, did not perform. 

(Hat tip to Greg Ciotti and Brian Whalley, who both gave me some great advice on promotion tactics that worked and (perhaps more importantly) didn’t work for them.)

Follow Up

Don’t just stop at getting the word out about your content – once someone opts in or downloads it, create a path for interested folks to move further along the customer journey.

 We both had a section on Buzzstream in the book itself, included a page with a call-to-action that invited readers to take a free 14-day free BuzzStream trial, along with a brief section about how BuzzStream helps link builders be more effective.  (While I suspect that many people would skip this section, the book seems to be remarkably effective at driving BuzzStream account sign-ups.)

We also had people opt-in to get the book, so we can share our future big content projects with them. (We have a content promotion guide and an ecommerce marketing guide in the works.)

Things I Would Do Differently Next Time:

Like anything else, there are multiple things I would do differently next time we decide to do an ebook.  Some of the big ones were:

  • Start with the landing page and work backwards from there to create content and promote it. PTake a page from the Lean Startup and don’t spend time making something the audience isn’t interested in.
  • Give mobile and tablet visitors a great user experience. I would make the landing page responsive, and create a .Mobi version of the book for Kindle users.  (While the obvious benefit is that mobile users get a great experience, there’s also a lot more inventory available on some social ad platforms (like Facebook and Twitter)
  • Don’t get bound up in ad reviews – submit landing pages early and avoid ‘account reviews’. Additionally, put the hammer down harder on the advertising channels that work on Day 1. 
  • Get a distribution partner with a large email list to help co-promote and co-brand the ebook.
  • Get analytics working properly, largely so we can write better, more interesting case studies in the future, and compare, say, investments in outreach to investments in paid media.

Whenever you do a content project, it’s important to write down numbers and lessons learned for next time to build organizational competency and turn your marketing department into a lean, mean growth machine.  Even if there’s only one marketer at your company, documenting this experience means that your organization will scale more effectively in the future.

In Summary: Good Promotion + Good Content = Growth

What we learned at BuzzStream is simple:

Big Content + Effective, Planned Promotion = Meaningful Revenue Growth

But none of this works by itself – an ebook left to quietly languish on a landing page would be ineffective, as would promoted tweets solely inviting folks to sign up for a free trial. When all aspects of your marketing – content, positioning, promotion, and more – work together, you can achieve outsize results.

Have you done a big content project lately? How did you promote it? How did it go? 

mattgratt

Matt works on customer acquisition at BuzzStream. Before BuzzStream, he worked as an SEO Strategist at Portent and a Marketing Manager at AppCentral (acquired by Good Technology). You can follow Matt on Twitter or Google Plus.

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