June 9, 2015 Last Updated 10:12 am

The Holy Grail of content marketing – and when to recommend it

Guest column: Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, talks about the value of authoring books as part of a content marketing effort

With much of the business world abuzz about content marketing, smart marketers are taking stock of opportunities for their clients to use the power of story to convey a message and build stronger brands. Conspicuously absent from most content strategies, however, is the granddaddy of all content marketing: writing a book.

The benefits of launching a book are many: increased visibility and credibility, tighter messaging, an angle around which to build a publicity campaign, a tool to acquire new business, and more. But writing a book is a daunting task for most, and a long process to boot. On top of that, many would-be authors doubt whether their ideas are book-worthy. So as a trusted advisor, when should you include writing a book in the recommendations you provide to your client? Here are four key elements to look for:

1. Commitment. Writing a book requires an obvious level of time and thought commitment, but if the author wants to see any degree of commercial success, it also requires a commitment to promote and hustle sales. It takes months, sometimes years, to write a book. Once it’s complete, you’re looking at another 6-9 months for a national distribution rollout. (Digital publishing options obviously can shorten that timeframe but limit availability.) Having your support as a marketing and brand advisor not only during the writing process but also during the book launch stage will make the journey much more manageable for the author.

Your client should be in a long-term mindset for the book project to succeed, and it’s a great way for you to stay engaged around very deliberate content and marketing plans to create lasting value.

2. Differentiated Approach. If your client has a highly differentiated approach to business in general, customer service, health and wellness, product development, or whatever he or she specializes in, the book writing process will go much more smoothly because the value proposition is already clear and there is likely a lot of supporting material. The book launch itself will also be more successful since readers and the media are drawn to fresh ideas, in turn bringing attention and awareness back to your overall brand.

3. Flexibility. Flexibility applies in a few different ways. First, writing a book is ideally a collaborative process, so the author should be open and coachable in terms of feedback and changes to make the final product as marketable as it can be. Second, it sometimes turns out that a book is not the right format for the author’s content. Some ideas originally intended for book form are really more appropriate for magazine articles, short ebooks, or even blog posts. A carefully executed piece at any one of these shorter lengths is just as effective, and probably more shareable, than a full-length book so there’s no shame in keeping it succinct! Finally, a book-length manuscript typically contains pieces of content that can stand alone for promotional purposes (think excerpts, tweets, blog posts, etc). The flexible author will be receptive to these uses and even proactive about identifying them in the manuscript in the interest of getting the most impact from the work of writing.

4. Willingness to Engage. I’ve been on the frontlines of the publishing business for over a decade and in the broader media business for almost twice that. When authors learn this and hear of our company’s dozens of New York Times bestsellers, they ask me for the secret behind successful launches. While the bibliophile in me would love to say that a well-written book ultimately finds an audience, it’s just not true in a climate of oversupply and under-demand (this is especially pronounced with books, but really applies to all media). Generally, the most successful books are those that are attached to an author who is committed to engaging his or her audience, building a community, and serving those people from a place of purpose. A book is a social product, and there’s no overstating the need for ongoing participation by the author. That engagement is imperative to growing the reader relationships that drive word of mouth, positive reviews, strong brand connections, and retail book sales.

Tanya-featureIf an author isn’t ready for that level of commitment, that doesn’t mean that he or she shouldn’t hunker down and write a book (or something shorter). Today’s print-on-demand digital publishing options make it possible for books of all lengths to be published and available online in a fast and relatively inexpensive model. The multiple benefits of creating long-form content remain, and the pressure and risk around a traditional retail book launch are removed. That said, a digital-only distribution model greatly limits brick and mortar distribution (and discovery), so the author’s team would be wise to consult an expert to weigh the pros & cons of digital publishing versus a traditional or hybrid publishing model to determine the best approach for their project and goals.

Writing a book is not for the faint of heart, but neither is the process of building a brand and growing an audience. With the right author and support team in place, a book can serve as a foundational piece for the messaging, marketing, and publicity efforts needed to build awareness, value, and influence for your client.

Tanya Hall is the CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor with a specialty in developing non-fiction bestsellers and brands. You can connect with Tanya on Twitter at @tanyahall.

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