While it might not be nice to exclude people, it can sure be handy in content marketing.
Exclusive content is a strange beast. It goes against our natural inclination to make as much available to as many people all the time. Yet, if done right, exclusive content can be incredibly effective at getting your audience to take action.
Why Exclusive Content Works
How do you make people want something?
Exclusivity works because, frankly, people like to be in on the secret. Exclusivity makes people want something. If they can’t have it, they want it all the more.
Some of us take a bit of pleasure when others are excluded (though we’d rather not admit that). We’d rather be in the group than out of it, and if it’s a small group that not everyone can join even though they want to, we feel pretty good about ourselves when we get in. We feel special.
Exclusivity also works for companies who offer their product to any customer who wants it, but on very specific terms. In this realm (think of Netflix and their show “House of Cards”, which they distribute exclusively), the product has to be excellent, people have to be able to find it, and you have to be able to keep people from spreading it beyond what you control (keep it exclusive).
Exclusivity makes people want something, and it works in two ways:
- Not everyone gets in. This requires a product that is so good, so clever, so desirable, such a status symbol, that people are frantic to get in on it.
- Everyone gets in, but only through our channels. This requires a product that is excellent, people have to be able to find it easily enough, and you have to have a method for keeping control of how it spreads (think DRM).
Exclusivity doesn’t work if you “only” make 50 available and only one person wants it, anyway. There has be be demand for your product, whether it’s a real demand or one you conjure up through clever marketing and pushing the psychological buttons of your audience.
Applying Exclusivity To Content Marketing
The language you use in your copy can be exclusive, even if the item itself actually isn’t exclusive.
QuickSprout does an excellent job describing how exclusive language is a powerful way to convince people to do something in their (fantastic) “Definitive Guide To Copywriting.” Some of the phrases that motivate people to sign up are:
- exclusive offers
- become an insider
- be one of the few
- get it before everybody else
- be the first to hear about it
- only available to subscribers
You get the idea.
The words you use can instigate a little bit of panic, greed, or curiosity in a person so that they feel compelled to sign up. Though you’re not actually limiting access (everyone who signs up gets it), the language you use to prompt people to sign up hints at feelings of exclusivity.
But what about taking exclusivity beyond just the language we use in our copy? Could we create actual exclusive content? Should we try something like that?
While your blog and social media are your content foundations, exclusivity is like a window that lets your audience feel like they got a peek at something special.
1. Limit The Availability
Exclusivity often has a partner in crime, and that’s scarcity. Scarcity uses words such as:
- limited offer
- supplies running out
- get them while they last
- sale ends soon
- today only
- only 10 available
- only 3 left
- only available here
- double the offer in the next hour only
When there are fewer opportunities available, it necessarily creates exclusivity: the group that got a rare item are an exclusive group indeed. Buy it while you still can. Get it before it’s gone.
Creating scarcity is a terrifying gamble.
Content marketers are programmed to think that we need to get our content out as much as possible to as many as possible. Bigger audience! More traffic! More shares! Making our content scarce doesn’t seem to fit that playbook. Can we make scarce content work? If we limit the amount available, won’t we be shooting ourselves in the foot?
Scarcity will work if:
- People actually want it. You’ve either met a real need that no one has bothered to meet before, or you sold it well and convinced your audience they gotta have it. Maybe you’ve hinted and teased and tortured your customer, leading up to the product release where thousands of people line up to buy it (iPhone, anyone?) out of fear there wouldn’t be enough.
- People actually know about it. Scarcity isn’t scarce until there seem to be more people who want it than can have it. Enough people have to know about it to build the numbers.
- It’s just scarce enough. You have to have enough maintain hope in those who want it that they will, eventually, have it. But you still must keep it scarce. This could be a slow drip in products offering a few at a time, or tantalizing build-ups to a product release. In the end, most people will get the item, but over time and in a way that makes it feel as if they were lucky to get it.
True exclusivity is difficult with digital goods; you might only email out 100 newsletters, but anyone can forward them. Tying them to something tangible (everyone who signs up gets a free pony) has a certain appeal (I’d skip the pony). But is the point that you’re trying to limit who has access, or to make access seem special?
It should be the latter. It’s about creating exclusivity in that moment when someone is deciding on whether or not to sign up for your email list. What might that look like?
- “Be one of the few!” Maybe you have an email newsletter where you only allow new subscriptions twice a year for short period of time. You don’t care if people forward it (you’d love them to do so). You’re just creating a forced scarcity. There is a writers forum that opens up to a few new members only once a year for a day. It’s a paid membership. I watch for the announcement every year, and I have yet to get in. I’m obsessed with it, but probably wouldn’t be as interested if I could join any time.
- “For a limited time only!” Make your ebook or autoresponder course available only for a limited time. Then it’s gone. Limited availability supersedes the need to carefully consider. Just do it now and decide later. That’s how we approach limited time.
The bonus in all of this?
Scarcity and exclusivity allow you to create events around availability. You can promote them on your blog, social media, the whole nine yards. Instead of “sign up for our email list” all the time, it’s “for a limited time, we’re opening the doors for new subscribers!” Promote it, hype it. Because it’s a bona fide event.
2. Guard The Entrance
Exclusivity can be like a club with membership restrictions. Either everyone can’t join, or everyone can join but there are requirements that necessarily weed some people out (paid membership, for example). When the entrance is guarded, you’ll see language like this:
- members only
- login required
- class full
- membership now closed
- ask for an invitation
- apply to be one of our beta testers
It’s like having a bouncer for your content. You only allow some in to see it.
Why would you restrict who can access your content? There are a few reasons that come to mind.
- This is your business model. It’s very difficult for people to understand now that they’ve gotten used to most things being free online, but you still need to earn a living. You may have created fantastic content, and put it behind a pay wall (like Copyblogger’s excellent Authority membership area). That’s how you pay your bills.
- This is what you can handle. You want to keep the student-to-teacher ratio low, and really want to work in a personal way with people. You don’t want 5000 forum members. You just want 50. That’s how you’ll do your best work.
- You have content for a few eyes only. Perhaps you have content that you don’t want the world to see. Industry inside tips, or something meant just for those working on a particular project. You need to limit who can get in and see it.
- You’re protecting yourself from spam. A closed or managed gate is a good way to ward off spammers and sketchy marketers. In an effort to keep your group enjoyable for everyone, you limit the ability to get in.
- You actually want to give members something special. Membership works as long as there is a real value for someone to be a member. Once membership loses its benefits or members don’t see any value in what you’re offering, guarding the entrance doesn’t make any sense.
Social networks make it easy to set up “guarded” groups. Google+ does a great job at this (though you can create groups in Facebook, too). There are a few ways you can set up a guarded environment and control access to the content in Google+.
- Google+ Communities. You can create a Google+ community that only allows new members by permission.
- Google+ Circles. Create a circle in Google+ with the people you want in your group. Anything you post to that circle will be seen only by them.
You can do the same on your own WordPress site, too, by limiting who can see what.
- Password protect individual blog posts. WordPress makes it easy to create blog posts that have a password. Only those with the password can read the posts. There are also plugins you can use to create passwords for content.
- Membership plugins. With a WordPress membership plugin, you can restrict areas of your website so that only members (paid or not) have access to the content there.
- .htaccess file. You can use this file to set up a password on a directory on your site. Have somebody help you if you aren’t sure how to use the .htaccess file to add password-protection to your site. You don’t want to be messing around with your .htaccess file if you don’t know what you’re doing..
3. Making It Less Than Obvious
Exclusive content doesn’t need to have any actual boundaries, scarcity, or restrictions on it. If it is merely less obvious or not heavily promoted, it can almost seem exclusive. Think of it as being quietly or subversively exclusive.
Please Don’t Tell is a New York City bar that has no front door. Really. The entrance to the club is through a “phone booth” located inside of a hot dog restaurant called Crif Dogs.
You have to know about it being there, you have to call and get a reservation to be allowed in, and you may still have to wait (it’s a small space). Like that hidden bar, you can create exclusivity through friction with your content by not making the access easy and obvious.
You can make content exclusive not based on price or on availability, but purely on the basis of not publicizing it much. This exclusivity works on the human desire to be in the know or having the right connections to find out about it.
How To Create Less Obvious Content
One way I decided to try my hand at this on my own blog was to rethink exclusivity for my email list.
I wasn’t happy with my regular weekly email that went out that listed the latest blog posts and had some graphics. It felt impersonal and forgettable. I wanted to change it in a way that made me more comfortable with my blog writing while being more personal with those who had signed up. I felt that those on the list who bothered to give me their email should get something special.
I switched from MailChimp to TinyLetter. It has a more simple interface that feels more like you are sending out a simple text email to friends. It encourages direct replies from people. I can’t automate the email with an RSS feed; I write it as if sending a message to my friends.
But then I started to see it as more than just an email. The way that TinyLetter lets you set up your subscription page and include a link to the archives almost makes it feel as if each email were a simple blog post. Once I started thinking of it in those terms, I began to see that my exclusive content for my readers would be personal emails and short essay-type posts that get sent to them and are not found on my main blog.
The content is available for anyone to see. It’s right there, through my TinyLetter archives. But I’m not actively publicizing it beyond the usual “be a member of my email list.” It’s sort of a secret benefit.
If not through TinyLetter, think of the notes apps you are using. Many of them publish so that anyone with the link has access to the document.
- Google Docs lets you generate a link so people can see your document online.
- Postachio is a blogging platform that uses your Evernote or Dropbox notes as blog posts.
- OneNote lets you generate a link so people can see your document online.
- SimpleNote allows you to publish your note so people can see it online.
Why would you create content that was “hidden”?
- It changes how you write. It helps you shed your corporate speak and be more personal. Blogging outside of the official blog platform and writing inside an email or notes app sometimes changes the way we approach our content.
- It lets you quietly test content. You can create content and try it out with the smaller, personal audience rather than on your main blog.
- Make announcements to a smaller audience. Let a small group try out a beta product, or reward your loyal audience with special offers. Word spreads.
Why Are You Using Exclusive Content?
Before you go nuts for exclusive content, understand why you’re doing it.
On my personal blog, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of vast swaths of humanity reading it. Smaller, quieter, fewer–that was attractive. In that case, exclusivity wasn’t to entice larger numbers, but to keep the writer-reader exchange more personal.
You, however, may want to create a clamoring audience dying to get in.
Exclusivity is like a word-of-mouth matchstick that lights the buzz around your content. You want to fan the flames and keep the energy high, pressed up against the gates to get in. You don’t want to open it up all the way and lose that pressure, that force, but you need to keep a steady trickle going to keep the fire from dying out. You have to give them hope that they’ll get in at some point, or they’ll give up and walk away.
Keep your WordPress blog chugging along. Stay on track with your content marketing. Share on social media. But consider some of the ways you might create exclusive content if you want to try a new method of attracting readers.