The 80/20 Rule for Exclusive Content

The 80/20 Rule for Exclusive Content

ANTHONY KENNADA & Todd Clouser 8 min

Building a media brand is awesome.  But media brands ≠ Owned Media.

Let me explain.

There is some very real criticism of the “every company is becoming a media company” mantra.  The chief complaint is that people have been making this claim for years, but with nothing tangible to really prove that it’s an effective strategy.  Especially for B2B companies.


In the traditional definition of media, they may be right.


When B2B brands produce video content for YouTube, or hire journalists who launch a beautiful editorial property for written content, it’s not surprising that when traffic goes down and budgets get pulled back, these initiatives can often get end-of-lifed.


That’s because the “media company” trend has a data problem.


The answer is found in owning the data.


Owned Media, conversely, is built on a belief that the next generation of digital marketing will require a first-party relationship with our audience, and subsequently a first-party data model to operationalize our efforts. 


Said another way, the fundamental premise behind Owned Media is that audiences will subscribe directly to the brands they admire. This behavior is already happening in the creator economy – led by companies like Substack, Patreon, and Beehiiv.


That consumer behavior is now making its way into the enterprise.  And it’s a good thing!  Because B2B marketers have spent twenty-some years perfecting the inbound marketing playbook that has served as an important training ground for how to create and distribute impactful content.


By focusing on building subscribers to your brand, you are opening the door to a wealth of first-party engagement data to help inform production decisions, where and how to distribute your content, and how your content programs are impacting revenue.


So, how do you drive subscribers?


Give enough value away (~80%) for free.

Over the past two decades, we have groomed our audience to expect certain types of content for free without a form fill. Typically this has been true of written blog posts (hosted on our blogs) and more recently podcasts (hosted on content networks).


This is a really good thing.


I believe 80% of the content you publish on your Owned Media platform should NOT be exclusive.  Here’s why.


First, distributing content without requiring a gate is a helpful performance marketing priority.  While the dynamics around SEO are changing, search is still an important surface for organic traffic.  Written articles that are both helpful to the humans in your audience and discoverable by third-party algorithms will continue to play an important role in driving eyeballs to your property.


Second, by giving away enough for free (or without requiring an email), your audience will come to expect a certain level of value, quality, and helpfulness that will keep them coming back for more. Think of it almost as a freemium motion – how much FREE content can you give away that wets the appetite of your audience and spikes their curiosity for subscription?


My math says it’s about 80%.


You can stop there and with good distribution, likely see improvements in web traffic, content getting indexed on SERP, and some good buzz around your content on LinkedIn.


But that’s not Owned Media.


If you want to build an owned audience of subscribers, and reap the benefits of that first-party engagement data that you own and can put to work, you have to invest in exclusive content.


Create premium value (~20%) exclusive to subscribers.

Think about exclusive content as a value, not volume play.  

What are the assets and programs that provide premium value to your audience?  What are the conversations, guest appearances, or experiences that are so good that people will actually WANT to give you their email address in exchange for access?


It’s not an opinion-based question anymore. Anytime you start planning content, you should ask yourself these three questions about what you’re creating:


  1. Does this content teach my audience, step-by-step, how to implement something? This is typically delivered through a playbook, framework, or something of the like.


  1. Does it give them (non opinion-based) insights that allow them to take strategic action?  This is typically delivered through research reports, whitepapers, survey data, etc.

  2. Are you granting them access to something they otherwise would have had to pay for? Think about sessions from in-person events, conferences, etc.


If the answer is, “yes” to any one of these questions, it’s safe to say that it has enough “value” to be considered premium and only available to subscribers.


If the answer is, “no” it’s not to say that the content isn’t valuable and shouldn’t be produced. We would then just bucket this content into the 80% that is available to anyone and promote as such.


So how are we implementing this strategy ourselves, on our own AudiencePlus media property? Let’s take a look at some examples.


Example #1: Easy Mode

Easy Mode is an example of using a framework as episodic content to drive subscribers. The framework is an 8-step program that teaches you how to transform your traditional marketing content engine into a media engine using creators (something that many of our potential customers are interested in). It’s premium because we answer “yes” to question number one that we outlined above.


You’ll notice that episode one is free content available to everyone, while episode 2-9 requires a subscription. We do this so we can preview the content to the audience before they have to make a decision to give their email address.


In this particular case, we decided to make episode one a peek into what you will learn if you decide to subscribe. We lay out the table of contents for the entire playbook. But you also get to see the level of production quality that went into it with beautifully-lit shots and next-level animations.


82% of people that click play on the first video convert to a subscriber. Not a bad conversion rate for building an owned audience.


But if you are not YET investing in episodic video content, there’s good news for you here.  


You’re likely already producing exclusive content!


Quick thought exercise – name every piece of content or experience you’ve promoted that requires a registration or form fill to access. 


Newsletter?  Webinar?  In-person event?  Research-driven eBook?


Most of those content assets should fall into one of the three buckets we consider to be premium content.


If you bundle all of these assets into a subscription value proposition, you’ll be giving your unknown audience a compelling reason to subscribe. We need to break the traditional practice of throwing unnatural gates in front of every asset, or sending content to the resource center to die. 


Example #2: Goldenhour

Another example is using exclusive content to drive post-event engagement and extend the ROI of your conferences and event efforts. Events are incredibly expensive to produce, so finding ways to monetize your investment with content can make a big difference.


Most traditional media companies that do conferences sell in-person tickets and digital tickets. Most SaaS companies that do conferences record the content from a far off camera in the back of the room and (maybe) throw it on the event page or resource center to never be seen again. 


When you’re building out your owned media strategy, events are a massive opportunity to collect content to drive subscribers. 


At AudiencePlus, we just got done producing our first big event, Goldenhour. We were very intentional about how we created content before and after the event. Prior to the event, our main goal was getting the right people in the room, but we were also  looking past the event to the content distribution in the very early stages of planning.


We’ll show you exactly how we did that in our upcoming documentary, No Sleep til’ Brooklyn, but for now let’s just say it worked. We were able to get some of the best minds in the industry in the same room, both on stage and in general attendance and we’re now seeing a lot of success post-event in the content distribution through exclusive content drops.


Let’s explain.


Tickets to be in the room at Goldenhour were $750. We recognized that not every person can get approval for the time and budget required to fly to Brooklyn for one day. But we can still deliver that content to everyone who wished they could be there in person. And our goal was to create so much fomo during and after the event that they want to see what they missed out on in person.


The way we’re doing that is by giving away the event recap video and my opening keynote for free (meaning anyone can access them). The reason we decided to do this is because these two assets are a great teaser of what you can expect from the rest of the content. But the rest of the content is exclusive only to subscribers. Why? Because this is content that people were willing to pay a great deal of money for to see in person.


We’re seeing 40+ net new subscribers per week (and growing) in the weeks since our conference ended.


Subscription into your brand means exclusive access to best practices, shared experiences, and relationships that the rest of the world doesn’t get.


And the exchange of value with email consent seems reasonable.


If you build it (and don’t distribute), they will (not) come.

But, like all content, without a good distribution plan, exclusives aren't going to do anything for you. 


Promoting content off of native channels has gotten a bad rap over the past few years in favor of zero-click content. But we believe that the two need to be blended in order to achieve business-level goals from content investments. 


What do we mean by “blending zero-click with exclusive content?”


It’s actually not a far stretch from where the origins of zero-click content came from. The problem is that most of the industry has taken the name too literally. In fact, the beginnings of the zero-click movement came from repurposing long-form content into short-form. But the best of the best would still push their audience back to a podcast, blog article, or some other longer-form piece in their comments.


The term “Zero Click” came from the idea that one learning could be taken from the content on the channel it was distributed on (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc) without having to go off-channel. And we still believe that to be true in many cases, but promotional content should also not be underestimated in your mix.


The major shift that we’re proposing in our zero-click strategy (and seeing a lot of success with) is instead of pushing people to another rented channel to consume the long-form content, we’re sending them to our owned channel to convert them to a subscriber, begin gathering first-party data, and inform our content strategy much faster.


In the scenario noted above, we get to view the entire content journey our audience has long before they ever come inbound and self report where they came from. It allows us to see real, tangible, leading indicators of what content is working with different audiences and ICP segments.

So, remember, you have to be thoughtful about distribution. Use a combination of zero-click and promotional content to drive traffic to your exclusive content.


Here’s a quick example of how we’re using exclusive content every day in our organic content distribution plan at AudiencePlus in order to drive subscribers to the brand:


We are releasing three pieces of content from Goldenhour per week. We recently released one of the panels on “Why the Old Marketing Playbook No Longer Works.” This was a panel that I hosted alongside Jon Miller, Jill Rowley, and Sangram Vajre. There are a few ways to promote content like this:


  1. Break down the video into micro clips, release those, and have a call to action to watch the full video (providing a link). You can also provide a clip to each member of the panel and ask for the same.

  2. Do the same thing, but in written form.

  3. Create a teaser post that outlines the reason you should go watch the content in its full form.


For this particular post, because I was a moderator and not a contributor, I opted for option three. I created a LinkedIn post teasing the value and what we talked about, then left the link in the comments.


We do something similar across various members of our team for each piece of content that is produced on AudiencePlus.


In fact, most conversions on AudiencePlus properties happen on asset pages, not the root.

...and that’s just organic social.


We’re also experimenting with our newsletter, paid ad spend, and other ways of promoting our exclusive content to drive subscribers.


The bottom line is this – for Owned Media to work, our content production and distribution approaches have to evolve and be tuned to driving brand subscribers as the initial outcome.


Exclusive content is the gateway.


ANTHONY KENNADA & Todd Clouser 8 min

The 80/20 Rule for Exclusive Content

Building a media company is not the same as building an owned audience. The unlock is with an owned audience you are able to gather first-party data to better inform your strategic decisions. But how do you get subscribers? The answer is exclusive content. And in this article you'll learn how to determine what content is good enough to be exclusive, how much exclusive vs free content to make, and how to distribute your content to ensure your gain subscribers.

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