Startups and Content Marketing

Don’t put Product before the Content.

Content marketing is the big buzzword for online marketing, but who is doing it right? It would make sense to assume that an established enterprise has the advantage. They have the money to spend on content, years of knowledge in their field, and an established reputation.

Content marketing can and does work for enterprises, but they are not the ones who can leverage the most advantage from generating content. Instead, that’s the startup world. Here’s why.

Startup Culture

Content marketing started to come into its own in the 2000s when bloggers gained the ability to monetize their blogs through reliable means. A single individual, sometimes a small team, would generate articles and build an audience. When that audience built to a critical mass, these early content marketers offered a product or service to capitalize on the good-will built up through months (or even years) of reliable postings. This approach, while slow, worked very well. It still works well.

We can cite some examples:

  • Gary Vaynerchuk spent all his time on Twitter answering questions about wine. That led to the creation of Wine.Tv and a successful social media empire.
  • Steve Kamb spent six years trying to get in shape as a self-professed nerd and wrote about his experiences. Now he sells books about his training methodologies aimed at geeks and desk jockey at
  • Francine Jay began writing about her experiences with minimalism in 2009. Now she has a book called The Joy of Less that has sold 150,000 copies. Her website is 

They may not be household names (though you might know Vaynerchuk if you run in marketing circles), but they have created successful businesses for themselves based on content. And it all started with putting fingers to keyboard and putting out content first.

The content first approach

This is where a lot of enterprises and established businesses get it wrong. You can’t make a product and then build an audience around it using content. Sure, you can do it with advertising, but not with the sort of content that we’re talking about with content marketing. Successful startups that use content marketing build their audience this way:

 Content -> Interested Audience -> Product development Based on Audience -> Sales -> Profit 

But the pattern established businesses often take goes like this:

Product -> Content promoting product -> Hope that audience responds to marketing.

Content is not a promotional tool. Content builds audiences and trust in you, the brand, before you offer the product. This trust takes time to build. It can be months before there’s enough regular readers in your content channel to justify offering a product.

If you plan on using content marketing, you’ll need to think like a startup. Draw an audience and be satisfied with building up regular visitors instead of generating an ROI. When you’ve got an interested crowd hungry for more information, that’s the time to turn that need into a product.