Focus on Your 'Whales' and Craft Value Proposition, Ristagno Advises

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Rob Ristagno, CEO, Sterling Woods Group, admits that he likes game shows. So during the session—Content Marketing for Content Businesses—that he conducted at BIMS in November, Ristagno posted 10 choices on the screen and asked his audience, "Which of the following are problems your content can solve?"

1. Save time; 2. Receive news; 3. Grow profit; 4. Learn vital skill; 5. Avoid mistakes; 6. Watch videos; 7. Get a free newsletter; 8. Feel confident; 9. Make job easier; 10. Access data.

Two brave "contestants" answered correctly and got to choose either $5 or what was behind (paper) curtains 1, 2 or 3. Smartly, they chose a curtain. "Get a free newsletter, watch videos, receive news and access data are tactical features," Ristagno (pictured) said, and are not solving problems. "Take a look at your website. If you're trying to sell content, think about your call to action. It shouldn't be tactical or functional. It should make [the customer] stronger, brighter, richer, smarter and feel better."

Some more takeaways from Ristagno's presentation:

Craft a value proposition. It should contain: a 5-9 word summary of the problem/opportunity; a short story with emotional hooks; a 5-9 word benefit summary—you get a 34% lift if you add facts and evidence to your benefits; a fact-based description of the what; an enumeration of the benefits; and a 5-9 word wrap-up—for his example, Mom and Pop architects, the wrap-up would be: Join the 10,000 other architects and enjoy your passion.

Think about what problem is it solving. "Your editorial can be a guiding light here," Ristagno said. "They should be screening content against the paywall that lives up to this value proposition. [Research says] that the number one thing to increase your conversion rate online is to clarify your value proposition."

Don't give away any more content than you have to. A lot of research, knowledge and reporting goes into that content. While Google recommends that publishers give away 6-10 pieces of content a month, Ristagno believes that's aimed at larger publishers. He prefers that niche publishers go more by type of content. (See next one)

Come up with content rules the customer will comprehend. "Maybe you make webinars out of some of your content, and webinars are free but articles are behind the paywall," Ristagno suggested. "Or newsy stuff is in front of the paywall but how-tos are behind it. You want rules that your customer will understand, so you don't want to overly complicate it."

Focus on your best customers—your "whales." Ristagno said that Nielsen estimates that the top 10% of customers will generate as much as 70% of revenues. "Tons of other benefits go along with that. They're stickier, more profitable, can lead you to innovate, spread favorable word of mouth. It's the most important segment to focus on... The mobile gaming industry caters to their whales, and 20% of their customers generate 88% of the revenue."

Think about who your whales are and go talk to them. Be a journalist. What problem do you solve for them? Why is this problem meaningful for them? Where and when and how are you meeting this need for them better than anyone else can?

Stop giving away so much content for free. (He repeated it a couple times.) "If we as publishers charge for our best content, we can generate a lot more revenue," Ristagno said. "We've spent time building a loyal audience and a proven brand. That's how Starbucks can charge $5, $6 for a cup of coffee. You know how to create quality content."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…