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How Bloggers Can Make Money from Brands

This guest post was written by Mark Pollard of MarkPollard.net.

Let’s face it, how you make money from blogging is in serious flux right now. The thing is, flux brings opportunity. If you’re thinking differently enough to everybody else, chances are you can stand out. That’s what this article is about. How to get you standing out in front of brands and agencies, and find new ways to make money from your blogging pedigree along the way.

Old models are struggling

It’s not just “heritage media” that’s trying to work it all out right now. Bloggers everywhere need to rethink their approaches:

  • display advertising needs reinvention: who’s it working for?
  • Google just downgraded content farms
  • guest posting is the new content marketing
  • selling ebooks is a hit-and-miss affair for most
  • affiliate marketing: how do you pick a product and make it worthwhile?

Establishing an audience and then releasing a book as your monetization tactic is challenging when such a small percentage of books are actually profitable. So, do you make an app? Do you go Kindle? Do you put on a conference? Should your revenue come from the very content that you pour your soul into or from something else, like a better salary, fees for speaking at events or a new business venture?

Just where will the money come from?

As a blogger, you need to make some serious strategic calls on where to put your focus because content-making is heavy going.

Why listen to me?

I work in advertising. It took me a long time to be able to say that. It’s not something I identify with—”advertising,” that is. I’m in it to disrupt it for the better. I’ve been publishing content online since around 1997, since the days of Angelfire, Tripod, and Geocities; since the client request of “Can we have an animated .gif on our homepage?” To which one would reply: “I’m not sure the modems will be able to handle it.”

I made my first website to publish interviews with hip hop artists that I liked at the time—underground ones. I’d network on IRC and ICQ, email my questions to them and put them up on a very ugly Geocities-hosted website. Within 2 years, I was hosting the main hip hop radio show in Sydney, Australia, and started publishing the first full color hip-hop magazine in the southern hemisphere: Stealth Magazine.

Since then, I’ve worked in digital agencies, dot-coms and advertising agencies. Most recently, I’ve been working with Aussie Bloggers Conference. One of the questions that Sarah Pietrzak asked was, “What should brands expect of bloggers and where do you see this relationship going?”

I started listing all the benefits that I see available from working with bloggers, and they fell politely into these four buckets.

1. Perception

What a marketer wants from you is to look better and more relevant to the people they’d like to sell to—as many as possible, too. Once they’ve finished a campaign, they will screengrab the blog posts and other media for a case study. They may use a sentiment analysis tool to establish the reach and positivity (hopefully) of what you made.

To be honest, this is where a lot of agency and marketing types finish. But it’s not enough in most cases. If I were their boss, I’d be asking about the results. This brings us to:

2. Action

What a marketer should really be measuring and focusing in on (at least in the medium term) is working with you to get people to do stuff. My perception of Bugaboo strollers is that they look and work great but they’re too expensive, so I wouldn’t buy one. Great perception, no action. Having said that not all actions have to be “sales.”

When I work with a brand over an extended period of time, the first step is about establishing credibility, respecting the existing communities, engaging with them. These are softer metrics—they will harden over time.

Examples of four common actions that you can sell:

  • sales: work out how you can sell their stuff directly within a matter of clicks
  • high-quality website visitors (defined by a conversion or engagement)
  • increasing their email/RSS subscribers, followers, fans
  • consumer reviews: no, not fake, astro-turfing stuff—legitimacy or nothing.

Now, if you want to be professional, you need to work out up-front exactly what you want to be held accountable for, and how to measure it. If you bring this rigor to your approach, you will get taken seriously, you’ll start having conversations with more senior people, and possibly get access to more serious budgets.

3. Contacts

This isn’t often something a marketer will ask for, as they may have a PR agency that gets paid to do this, but if you can act as a connector, then you have value to sell or exchange. You may connect them to other bloggers like you, bloggers not like you but with a potentially relevant audience, readers, media, event organizers, and so on.

4. Knowledge

Every brand is working out how to do this right. Business is typically a very alpha-male environment—things are rigid, political, and bureaucratic. And, yes, “male” more often than not. Marketers are always under the pump to prove they have something to offer—typically, the CEO is a sales or logistics guy, and the sales teams always tease the marketers about doing the fluffy stuff compared to their frontline activity. They have to compete for budget.

New leaders understand the values of transparency and vulnerability. These are values one needs to have to succeed in social (I believe). However, these values are not widespread—they involve admitting that you don’t know stuff, that you made an error, that you’re learning.

Some of the things you know that you can package:

  • what topics are hot-button topics in your community
  • how to talk, write and deal with your social media world
  • what ideas you believe are likely to succeed or flop.

How to get out of the monetization rat-race

If you’ve explored any of the ideas below, I’d love to know how it went. They all aim to set you apart from the rest by making you more of a strategic partner with a brand—not just a place for ads. It can take time to earn the trust of a brand to be able to implement it all. If you’re contemplating giving it a shot, have a go at doing one of these for free so that you can approach your key targets (and their competitors) with something in hand and a 30-minute offer to see it.

1. Research and research groups

Marketers spend thousands of dollars every year on research groups. The most common way to do this is to get eight people together in a research room with mirrored windows and for a facilitator to ask questions. Now, it’s important to realize that the people you recruit to these groups—if based on your audience and connections—will not be representative of the population at large, so don’t pretend they are.

How much money is there in this? A typical range would be $2500-$10,000 per group. The higher fees are charged when it’s harder to recruit people and they expect bigger incentives (e.g. doctors, CEOs).

Your costs? A venue, food, drinks, stationery (butcher’s paper, cards, pens), a projector, recording the session (video, audio), phone calls, incentives (for 60-90 minutes, you may pay $50-$70), printing of disclaimer forms, and your travel.

How can you make money?

  • Bring your audience together for your own research groups.
  • Bring bloggers together for a research group (incentives will cost more).
  • Create your own side-business focusing on a handful of key audiences that you can credibly claim to know better than anyone else and have ready access to.
  • Undertake depth interviews, where you spend a day with a person and document everything relevant.
  • Complete desk research, preparing white papers that pull together audience-specific trends (what they like, where they are, how they communicate, with text, photos and/or videos).

2. Online surveys

Marketers often conduct surveys about their brand, competitors, trends in the market, ideas, and advertising. They use online research companies who may have built up a database through cheap banner ads.

How much money is there in this? It depends on the speed of turnaround required, the number of people they need, and the dashboard/tools and analytics you’re offering. My gut feeling is that a typical bit of online research and interpretation would be worth $5,000-$20,0000.

Your costs? If you have ready access to an audience, your costs would simply be in the technology plus your time to make it all happen, perhaps an email blast if you don’t use free tools.

How can you make money? By producing:

  • fast-turnaround surveys based on hot topics—especially brand-specific topics (e.g. if a brand gets bagged out by a celebrity, perhaps you can run a survey about sentiment and seek ideas about what to do)
  • rolling surveys: a survey that repeats itself, capturing data about the same questions every few months
  • bespoke surveys: when needed, when asked for (but don’t be scared to suggest)
  • Facebook insights, polls, surveys (although Facebook may not appreciate it)

3. Conversions

Instead of selling blanket advertising space, what about selling more relevant and useful space on pages that tend to convert well or get a lot of quality search traffic? Obviously, you don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face and stop selling your own products to do this, but, again, it positions you as someone who takes how you work with brands seriously. Offering deep links with correct title tags is another little bonus you can throw in.

How much money is there in this? You’d either charge per acquisition (trial, sale, registration, fan, follow), by the impression or by time period.

Your costs? It depends how you do it—they’d range from simply time to upload images/text through to costs associated with creating high quality content.

How can you make money? By providing:

  • video content that helps them sell better and fits with your values ($500-$20,000 depending on quality, if they are allowed to re-purpose and syndicate the video, etc)
  • a whitepaper or ebook on behalf of the brand ($1000 to $10,000 depending on design, contributors)
  • designing good performing advertising ($200-$20,000 depending on what’s required and how much is required, whether they can use it elsewhere)
  • additional pages on your website: there’s no reason for advertising to have to lead away from your site when people are at your site to stay on your site
  • advice about how a brand should optimize their landing pages for your audiences (if you know; also a research opportunity).

4. Shortcuts via statistics, data and numbers

This is a combination of a few points above, but if you do your own research, you can re-package it all and re-sell it. Your sources may include: website analytics, search behavior (keyword search volumes, trends, seasonality, geography), bit.ly analytics, PostRank, Twitter, social bookmarking websites, and so on. With this data, you’ll help brands understand what content, which headlines, what time of day, and which days work. You may build a report on who comments the most, who Stumbles, how people use the key, relevant Facebook pages.

How much money is there in this? This sort of data is very precious. You could shortcut a brand to beat you at your own game if you’re not careful. If you did an annual report, you could try to charge a few thousand dollars for it, but you may need to collaborate with an existing research company. Perhaps the value in this is really to only share it with senior marketers and CEOs (to be honest, I’d use this directly only, not with agencies).

Your costs? Your time, perhaps you can buy others’ research to use in your own (transparently), perhaps a venue to present your findings to key targets.

How can you make money?

  • You’d possibly use this tactic as a way to set up selling everything else.
  • You could sell a teaser (a top-ten list, for example) and then sell other services to unlock the rest.

5. Affiliate marketing

This is something I’m exploring: how to help brands that are typically sold in supermarkets sell online on your blogs. Brands have guns at their heads right now. The chain stores and big supermarkets have so much power: they bully price changes, and reduce shelf positioning, all while introducing their own competing home brands. If you can solve this problem, you win.

How much money is there in this? What did Groupon sell for?

Your costs? How much did Groupon cost to make?

How can you make money? How does Groupon make money?

In all seriousness, there are free tools out there to help you do this—you just need to work out the logistics with the brand (that is, delivery), as well as how to make them feel that the big stores won’t come for payback.

6. Talent and representation

Like everyone else, you have blogging friends. Like everyone else, you’re getting approached by PR companies, agencies and marketers. Like everyone else, you think it could all be done much better. Well, do something about it! Set up your own company and systems to help your friends get paid more doing stuff they want to do and help the people with the money achieve their goals.

How much money is there in this? If you’re serious about this, then it’s a completely new business for you so the possibilities (and risks) are as big you want them to be.

Your costs? Time, legal fees, business setup costs, and so on—unless you can trial the idea using firm handshakes as contract-makers.

How can you make money?

  • Coordinate book proposals with publishers you’ve built up relationships with.
  • Talent agency for advertising agencies.
  • Event-speaking representation.

7. Band your ads together

You could also set up your own ad network via Adify. You’d need to work hard to establish credibility and scale. You’d also need to decide whether you will do the sales or whether you’ll hire or outsource that responsibility. Either way, it’s worth exploring.

What do you think?

If you have questions, need clarity, want to collaborate or simply debate … let me know in the comments.

Mark Pollard blogs about account planning, digital strategy and Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments

  1. Andrea says:

    This is without doubt the most creative and well thought through article on monetising a blog I have read to date. You’re insights into the mind of the marketer are spot on (I used to be one not long ago). I’ll add some of these to my own plan now (will keep you posted, even when you are in NY).
    Andrea

    • Mark Pollard says:

      Thanks, Andrea. “The mind of a marketer” sounds like a ponderous place to be. Are you using any of these techniques, then?

      • Andrea says:

        ba ha ha, ponderous!? Yes, when you are working for a big FMCG…

        I’m trying my hand at building a brand from scratch without all the trappings I am used to. No budget. No team. No agency. And as far as the technical side of this? No idea. Yet I’m loving the freedom of doing my own thing. Only 8 weeks since going live so early days.

        I tested my insight with quant research, and used that research to build insight based content. I’ll be using it as a basis for my comms program when it’s time.

        After this article (which kept me up at night) I’ll also use this to help monetise. Tailored and even syndicated research costs a bomb when you are in marketing, so gleaning brand based insights from what I already have is clever. (When I commissioned my own research I couldn’t believe that in a ‘past life’ I would have paid an agency $40k to do the same thing)

        I’ll be using the ‘what’s in it for me’ approach to partnering for brands, and am building a story around how my brand – FoxInFlats – can help them solve some of the more typical marketing challenges.
        And I’m building a story around brand engagement and advocacy that I think will be of value.

        Right now though, I’m concentrating on creating content that people enjoy, share, and keep coming back for.

        PS: Wish I could make it to your workshop in Sydney next weekend. Have my sons BD that day instead. Bummer.

  2. Thank you Mark for sharing your wisdom on marketing :-)

  3. Nicky Spur says:

    Wow… there’s a lot of information here. Thanks for the article — I mostly found a few bits and pieces really stuck out for where I’m at now. Good stuff.

  4. Some really interesting methods for monetizing a blog. These move far beyond the old dull and boring methods of Google adsense and really can create a unique connection. There is power in standing out and trying things that out of the ordinary!

  5. Living the dream is like living in a box..if you don’t step out and start to explore. Then you will live forever not achieving your goals..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  6. Very thought out article! Definitely lots of information to absorb.

    I just wanted to share with everyone a unique monetizing method I’ve read about recently. We are all aware of the power of Facebook but very few bloggers are taking advantage of it. In my opinion, having an interactive fanpage for your blog is a great way to develop your brand.

    Once you have a lot of followers p your fanpage, you can sell advertising space in your photos area. It is the first thing a person sees when they visit your page and if you have a lot of followers, big companies would pay top dollar to have there stuff in that area.

    I just thought it was a very unique method of monetization!

  7. Well written, researched and very frank, great post Mark. I’m not a pessimistic person! However, being new to blogging and all, I wonder, will I ever make money on-line? To make money on-line and from blogging appear more difficult everyday! However, I never thought it would be easy. I have added some of your points, Mark, from your “Action” section and others to my plan to follow through. Great!

  8. Steve says:

    Great article Mark… you’ve provided some helpful suggestions for both beginners and experienced marketers to think about.

  9. I’ve seen a lot lately on the “inside the box” income streams faltering. This is a great post. Going to have to spend some time thinking as well as getting ready to leap over the boxes side…

  10. Himanshu says:

    was planning for exactly this. thanks for this great post and i am a fan of your writing style

  11. This entire post is intriguing and packed with useful tips and information… but the P.A.C.K. section is tremendous! In particular, “C: Contacts” is super-important, and often overlooked. Building your contact base is so important, and it seems that many people skip this beyond just compiling an email list. Don’t get me wrong, and email list IS important, but having good contacts that you can call up or meet with in person can be just as valuable, sometimes. more so.

    As an example, a few weeks back I was in the L.A. area with some business associates, and we had our sole appointment for the Sunday (the final day) of our trip cancel on us… with nothing to do, we decided to make some calls and see what we could arrange. Within 2 hours I’d spoken to a contact of mine and scored the 3 of us free passes to Disneyland!

    Never count out your contacts… you may just find yourself in “The Happiest Place on Earth!”

    • Mark Pollard says:

      Thanks, Dave. I’m moving to the States and hoping to come via LA. Can you get us tickets to Disneyland? :) Just teasing (unless, of course, you can).

  12. nice article Mark! building brand for blog is one of important factor make success blogger and can earn more money from his blog. Thanks for share, Mark!

  13. I will look more into Adify’s service and try and band all my ads together. Affiliate marketing obviously needs a nice view of the products currently on demand in the internet market.

  14. Robby G says:

    Real great advice. I personally never heard of Adify but I checked out the site and registered. It looks like it could help my blog a little. Thanks for the info. Cheers!

  15. Sue Beth says:

    I think what this post does for me is to remind me about the business part of our business. If you are going to go after brands you’re in big business and need to treat it as such. P.A.C.K. is a great reminder, thanks!

  16. Joseph says:

    Could you expand on the affiliate marketing strategy a bit further? Are you suggesting that bloggers join affiliate marketing companies e.g. Commission Junction and Linkshare? or should bloggers work directly with companies to do affiliate marketing on their blogs?

    • Mark Pollard says:

      Hi Joseph. I’m suggesting that if the blog’s foundations are in place and there is adequate traffic, audience and credibility that people explore their own selling mechanics – on the site, in Facebook, group buying etc. Hope that makes sense.

  17. Belinda says:

    As a Marketer and a blogger I think this is a wonderful post. I work with bloggers and monitor their comments on the products I market and I try and engage them where possible because they are the ones influencing others and when it comes for a blogger its seen as honest and credible rather than the company themselves spreading messages.

  18. That was quite in-depth. My website is just a month old so I’m not quite to that level, but it will be great to keep this in mind when I’m more interested in monetizing vs. building a reader base(now). Thank you for the useful information, Mark.

  19. Good info. With so many states moving toward the online sales tax model — and more affiliate programs opting out of those states — it really does create a hit, and state of flux, for internet marketers.

    With tax day looming, I get even more angry at the government trying to micromanage every aspect of our lives. Wish I could just focus on creating something of value without all the messy distractions.

  20. Really great article Mark!

    I would add that you will make money if you create insightful original content and wrap a good monetisation strategy around it that fits your blog niche.

  21. George Tee says:

    This is such a great post, mark. An all in one blog post for readers to view. There’s a lot of ways to make money in a blog. Building good contact relationship is something an internet marketer should care about. The contact connection is important because these will eventually lead to sales. I saw a blog post where a blogger invite his contact list to attend a webinar for a certain product. This is done through social media and email list invitation and the result was successful.

  22. Anna Watson says:

    That is a good information to read, this can prove to be really successful in earning money. Thanks for sharing it. Great work.

  23. Here is a similar story

    According to the experts, the world’s population is likely to grow to seven billion people by 2013. In this current year 2011, communications technology is already becoming accessible to much of the developed world.

    The International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU’s) latest 11th edition of the ICT regulatory report “Trends in Telecommunication Reform Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2010-2011′, released on 31 March 2011, provides some truly startling figures.

    The ITU says there are now 5.3 billion mobile cellular subscriptions across the world, including 940 million subscriptions to mobile broadband services, a figure which is tipped to reach one billion before the end of this year; that’s nearly four times the entire population of the United States, or most of the population of India.

  24. PJ says:

    Great Post Mark. You hit the nail on the head as they say.
    One of my favourite train of thoughts is not aim to make money but rather connections. You make the connections/relationships and the money will find you.

  25. Justin says:

    As far as affiliate marketing goes, I would prefer to have used the product first before advertising it on my blog. Maybe the vendor would give me a free copy to try-out first.

    With Clickbank or Commission Junction you can basically advertise any product that they offer even if you never used it.

    I would still love to get more advertisers on my blog; this would allow me time to focus on creating my own products.

  26. mom-mom-mom says:

    Thank you so much for the tips! Watching the pennies roll in from Adsense is extremely painful. Like water torture.

  27. Bob Garrett says:

    Hey Mark great points. As a marketing prof at Penn State told us, you need to continue to change to stay up with the competition. However in today’s competitive environment, you need to lead the change or just whither away in the dust.

  28. Fran Civile says:

    Thank you for that great article Mark! It opened my mind to look at advertising in a different way … I am still small change but I will look into Adify after building a larger base.

    Fran :)

  29. hi, this is my 1st time here.. very useful stuff. very detail n academic too, perhaps if have data, statistics, i might learn something practical here… anyway, i want to make money blogging too, but still too far away.

  30. On the affiliate marketing side of the equation, the ideal situation is to create your own product and promote it on your blog. Using Clickbank to gather affiliates who then send potential clients back to your blog via links, this way you control the full circle and never send your subscribers away from your own blog. Creating content as a give away on your own blog is the lead in for the future upsell.

  31. chris says:

    Mark, I’m going through this very process with a company. We just had a great conference call yesterday. Therefore, I can say that your article is just the type of stuff we talked about. Your article also gave me some ideas for the next conference call!

  32. Tyler Hakes says:

    I’m specifically interested in a sort of dilemma that I see — and maybe it’s merely a reflection of the scale that I’m at.

    I’ll start by saying that I’m really just starting to get my feet wet into advertising, but if anything, I’m incredibly eager and idealistic that I can change the way a lot of brands perceive internet advertising on niche sites (poorly).

    I’ve been working with two companies through an affiliate network and created two pretty massive, socially-integrated strategies that would be beneficial to both of us. I think my role is landing somewhere between your points on Affiliate Marketing and Conversions. But, I don’t feel like I’ve positioned myself to monetize in quite the same way that you’re suggesting here (i.e. Charging for my time/services).

    I have three issues:

    1. Although I’m essentially taking on the work-load of creating a single-site, social strategy for their brand, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to charge money for this service (Pay me money to make your advertisements convert better so that you pay me again for more conversions?).

    2. These brands are fairly small brands that typically have little-to-no regular advertising spend. That’s why they’re operating through an entirely affiliate-based network. So, again, asking them to shell out money for my brain power and/or design time seems like it’s likely to just turn them off from working with me.

    3. If I were to approach a larger company that’s more likely to have a flat dollar spend to throw around, why on earth would they want to work with a small, niche hip hop site on constructing a strategy like this, rather than just bringing in an actual agency and stretching the campaign across larger sites?

    Like I said, this may just be a conundrum that’s specific to my (our?) niche area of independent/underground hip hop, but it’s one that I’m wrestling with now. I’d love to hear your feedback, and if you’d like to chat more, just hit me up on Twitter and I can shoot you my phone. I’d like to kick some ideas around.

    P.S. Congrats on the big move! I’d like to get out to NY sometime very soon.

    • Mark Pollard says:

      I can think of 2 quotes for this:

      1. Start how you want to finish – if you think you will charge then starting doing it now.

      2. “The value you place on yourself is the value the world will give you. – Mastin Kipp (via @milesnadal, CEO of MDC)

      It can be hard when you’re running a sub-cultural publication to gain the credibility and authority to get paid properly but then, if you don’t now, it will be harder later; and, if you don’t now, you’ll just attracted low-value clients that will keep you trapped. Make a few power moves (research papers etc) to stand out.

  33. Ian L Milne says:

    Hi Darren,

    This is an excellent blog and full of worthwhile practical content. Also it is nice to come across a “blog” that is NOT an “auto-blog” and run my some “remote spider robot” with NO real live input!

    Best regards

    Ian L Milne

  34. Julia Anderson says:

    Very well written. While making money has become difficult, the platforms like minifreelance provide good opportunity for the people looking for extra money.

  35. Shane says:

    Blogging for profits is today what article marketing was 4 years ago and what Google Cash was 5 years ago. The last stat I read showed that there are over 200,000,000 blogs. That’s just insane. However, as this article points out, one can make a living blogging in about any niche. You can blog about anything you are interested in, then monetize your blog and invest your profits. Blogging will be the make money from home avenue of the future.

    Thank you for this blog site and thank you for your tips.

    Peace

  36. Thanks Mark,
    I’ve Tried too many ways for making money online but really TRAFFIC is the only term where I stuck.
    anyways I really enjoyed your post.
    I Hope this post will definitely help me.

    Warm regards
    Michael Harris

  37. ansar says:

    Well written, researched and very frank, great post Mark. I’m not a pessimistic person! However, being new to blogging and all, I wonder, will I ever make money on-line? To make money on-line and from blogging appear more difficult everyday! However, I never thought it would be easy. I have added some of your points, Mark, from your “Action” section and others to my plan to follow through. Great!