Content Machine by Dan Norris is an essential read for anyone looking to grow an online business without a significant advertising budget. In the introduction of the book, Dan tells the highly relatable story of his early failures in the world of entrepreneurship, most poignantly, his inability to market his business effectively. After failing to grow his business with a multitude of content marketing tactics, things changed when he decided to measure the success of his content by how much traction it received (rather than by how much time he spent creating it.
After innovating and executing an effective content marketing strategy for his business, WP Curve, his fortunes reversed and he was able achieve huge growth. By following the highly actionable, expert insights throughout the book, you can achieve a similar level of success for your business too.
Dan quickly dispels any myths that content marketing is a quick-fix strategy for a bad business, demonstrating that a fundamentally unprofitable business will never grow even with the best content in the world. He also makes it clear that content marketing is a long-term strategy and not a magic pill for success, so you need to stay committed to the vision if you want to reap the rewards. Here are some of the key takeaways I received from the book.
What constitutes great content?
In chapter 3 of the book, Dan explains how to create great content in fastidious detail. His definition of great content is as follows:
“Great content is something you provide to your audience that captures their attention and encourages them to engage and share.”
Thus, great content must also be engaging content. If your content reads like a Shakespearean masterpiece but nobody engages with it, then it isn’t great content! Of course, in order to determine what kind of content will create engagement, you have to understand your audience intimately, which Dan firmly advocates.
One way to improve your content is by making it more actionable. If you can consistently provide high value advice which readers can walk away with and implement, this is guaranteed to build loyalty. Dan also discusses the importance of a catchy headline for your blog posts and suggests that expressing a contrarian viewpoint can often lead to higher engagement
How to differentiate your business
The chapter about differentiation is, in my opinion, the book’s highlight. Dan suggests that many successful entrepreneurs go into existing markets and offer something completely new, blowing the competition out of the water (he cites Uber as an example). This philosophy also applies to content marketing, whereby huge rewards can be reaped by those willing to go the extra mile and deliver insane amounts of value to their audiences via their content.
Dan cites John Lee Dumas at Entrepreneur on Fire as a leading example of someone who produces great content. From the offset, John commenced a relentless daily podcast campaign when everyone else in the field was doing one podcast a week, at best. He interviewed numerous thought leaders who went on to share the podcasts with their own followers, providing Entrepreneur on Fire with instant traction. Marketing guru Seth Godin advocates that by being extremely generous, you are more likely to grow your business in the modern ‘connection economy’ - Dan shows us exactly how to do this in his chapter on differentiation.
In the final chapter of the book, Dan meticulously describes how to execute your content strategy in a way that is sustainable in the long-term. He provides some excellent tips for establishing relationships with influencers, including: sharing their posts on Twitter, commenting on their posts and referencing them in your articles. Dan’s advice on building an ambassador list is also extremely useful if you want other people to help you with your marketing endeavors.
Content Machine is by far the most actionable book I’ve read on the subject of content marketing. Whether you’re a veteran marketer or are just getting started, Content Machine is the kind of book you can always refer back to for crucial insights. At the end of the book, Dan states that most people never take action after reading a book, but if you’re in the 5% who do, then Content Machine is definitely for you!