So you have an audience. Now what?

There are many ways to make your content work harder by generating incremental revenue.


Content marketing and brand publishing help build a community of like-minded people, cultivate conversation, deepen relationships and drive business outcomes, including brand awareness, conversion and retention. Once you’ve succeeded in solving the needs of your audience, earned permission to contact them regularly and developed a decent following, you might find yourself asking, “can this generate revenue?”.

The answer is “quite possibly”.

The basics of commercialising content

‘Commercialisation’ is essentially generating income from the audience that consumes your content and publications. The more you know about your audience, the better, as that’s what advertisers and commercial partners are interested in and it’s often how you’ll develop a distinct sales proposition. Consider what you know about the people reading your email newsletter, blog or magazine, or streaming video content and podcasts:

  • Who are they?
  • What information do you know about them?
  • Can they be segmented into groups?
  • How do you communicate with them?
  • How frequently?
  • Through which channels?

These moving parts create a big opportunity, and once you understand the big picture of how it all works together you can start contemplating a commercial strategy that works for your business and might even fund your marketing investment.

The concept of marketing as a profit centre isn’t new, but Joe Pulzzi and Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute have popularised it among the content marketing industry in their most recent book Killing Marketing. The authors looked into the benefits of a commercial content marketing approach, and developed a simple Media Marketing Revenue Model (see image below) categorising the various commercial channels brands can activate.

The Media Marketing Revenue Model

Start by generating direct revenue

First thing first: if you plan to drive revenue from your channels, you need to value your assets for the market. Typically, this is done by analysing the reach, engagement and frequency of your content and/or commercial assets.

Direct revenue channels, as listed by Joe Pulzzi and Robert Rose, are:

  • Advertising
  • Native
  • Conferences and events
  • Subscriptions
  • Premium content
  • Donations

Here are a few approaches for you to consider:


Advertising is by far the most popular method to generate revenue from an owned audience. Think inflight magazines, social media and events. I’m not talking in terms of direct-response-ads, which includes most (but not all) forms of digital advertising. Once you grow an audience or community, it’s natural that other brands will want to access your audience and will pay for the privilege to do so. This channel naturally lends itself to pay-for-post campaigns, paid partnerships, signage and sponsorship.

You must, however, be conscious that marketers are looking for innovative channels and opportunities to bring brand experiences to life. And that consumers want authenticity without the constant interruption of sales. With the rise of influencers flooding our media consumption, brands need to think strategically about who they partner with, in order to not lose integrity in the eyes of their audience.

Native content

Native content is an increasingly popular alternative to display advertising. Instead of being a ‘brand placement’, these so-called native advertisements match the look, feel and function of the media format in which they appear. The best part – for advertisers – is that they don’t look like ads.

An example is the travel article ‘Top Flight Accessories To Minimise Jetlag’, or ‘How to Spend 24 Hours in Melbourne’ on Broadsheet. I don’t want to burst bubbles here, but a lot of these placements – if and when marked *promotional* (not all publishers play by the rules) have paid for their spot. Publishers or brands with audiences can charge a premium for this kind of placement because the content is consumed organically by the audience. There will typically also be a production fee charged to allow the publisher to create the content in their style and format.

For brands, the main benefit of this type of execution is authenticity. Large online media platforms are becoming more dependent on native/sponsored content globally, with sponsored content now accounting for more than 50 per cent of digital revenue streams, according to The Atlantic and Slate.

(Example of a clean native execution in the Mercedes me Magazine, Nov 2018)

Native advertising also contributes revenue for printed publications, both custom and newsstand titles. We’re seeing a move away from the traditional full-page advertising placement towards more relevant native double-page spreads. These align creatively and aesthetically with the publication, and they deliver genuine value. Readers are more likely to read a branded article that provides interesting content and adds more to their experience than just situational product pushing.

Conferences and events

Publishers and brands have steadily grown their events businesses over recent decades. In Australia, a prime example is Mumbrella, which started as a marketing news and intelligence provider but today hosts a vast range of events that provide revenue through ticket sales, masterclasses, panel discussions and sponsorship and partnership deals.

Through this strategy Mumbrella is leveraging its owned audience via events that showcase new findings, research and trends. I attended Mumbrella360 last year, and there was something for everyone.


If you’re like me, and you don’t have a paid subscription to the Herald Sun, The Age or Financial Review, you’ll probably occasionally get frustrated about not being  able to access specific articles. Publishers are globally embracing the pay wall via a ‘freemium’ model – the most successful example being the New York Times, which recently revealed it has over three million digital-only subscribers.

The model is also taking off locally. AdNews reported in June 2018 that paid subscriptions to online news sites in Australia is accelerating significantly – “up to 20% this year after hitting 13% in 2017” according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report (2018). This places Australia as the third largest population of paid news subscribers globally. The article also highlighted how one of our major publishers is transitioning, stating that New Corp’s revenue from print and online subscriptions (US$659 million) is now almost on a par with advertising (US$687 million).

The subscription model can work well for a range of businesses – they’re big business across the product and service industry as well. If you haven’t received $25 off your first HelloFresh Box by now then I’m sorry to say – you’ve been living under a rock.

The best examples, however, are brands that charm customers into becoming subscribers by embodying a specific character persona. Beauty brand Frank Body calls its customers ‘babe’ and even talks ‘dirty’ at times. Dollar Shave Club leverages comedy strategically in its acerbic TV commercials. For a shaving company, its purpose and content are both informative and sensible, but full of charisma. With its starter club memberships, it’s able to onboard customers at a low monthly cost, build trust through brand charisma and eventually, upsell to its premium products like shave butter and toothpaste.

Premium content

Premium content avenues fall under products like custom books, courses and even asset management. Examples are premium ebooks and specialty research reports, which people pay to access. These types of products are also a great driver of community growth and lead capture – does this sound familiar: “share your email and we’ll give you a free report”.

Taking it one step further, if you have an audience, think of the content you produce for them, and if there is a way you can create a new line of content, even a series, that you can charge for. Rather than locking people into a subscription model, this gives your audience the chance to delve deeper into your content without being locked into an ongoing subscription. For brands, it delivers a once-off revenue hit while establishing them as experts in their field.

Some good examples in this space are research companies Nielsen and Roy Morgan, who publish some insights free of charge but also have paid-for in-depth reports. In the custom books space, Hardie Grant Media produces many custom books for individuals and companies who have captivating stories to tell. Instead of going to retail, these books are marketed and sold by the author direct to their audience. Long-form branded content has a place when the idea or story is interesting enough. And if it’s interesting and engaging, people will buy it.

An example of a custom book is The Dan Murphy Story: A Life Dedicated to Wine (pictured above). The Dan Murphy’s team enlisted us on this project to deepen customer relationships and create an emotional connection with the brand. The coffee table book tells the history of the brand’s founder, wine merchant Dan Murphy, exploring his influence on the Australian liquor scene within the social and cultural context of the 1950s right through to 2016. The book is available for sale through trade and retail stores.


This concept is based around a full subsidy of cost versus output – in other words, by covering project costs with donations, the final project can be delivered as cost neutral. Generally speaking, not-for-profits operate under this principle in order to educate and inform the public, backed by corporations who support the cause.

Pulling it all together

There are a myriad of ways to commercialise your content. The key to success is to truly understand what your audience will respond well to, and keep it contextual. Swamping customers with random and ill-fitting ads won’t do anything to maintain your authenticity and could even decrease your retention rates – and this also goes for the advertiser’s brands, too.

So, if you’re considering a commercial strategy make sure you consult with an expert first to ensure you kick things off correctly. Some audiences love events, because they want to experience more from your brand, or your research, and your community. Other audiences love your content, so partnering with a sponsor to develop interesting, native content is the best way to go. There are so many opportunities, all it takes is your audience and an effective strategy that puts them first.