Information product marketing: How we sell $1 million worth of information products online

There are several reasons we love information products (and information product marketing).

Information products are inexpensive to make. No overhead for materials or equipment or pricey real estate. You can start an information product business for less than $100.

Information products are approachable. No specialized skills or programming required. If you can put words into sentences and maybe figure out how to work a video camera, you can create an information product.

Information products are low maintenance. The biggest investment of time and effort in an information product comes at the beginning, when you’re learning about your customers, developing your material, and yes, building your audience.

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Information products may be the most accessible online business option out there. But there’s one thing they have in common with their physical product and app cousins: If you want people to find your product and buy it, you’re going to need to market it.

If an information product launches and no one knows about it, does it make a sale?

The answer is no.

By the time you’re ready to market your information product, you’ve spent months (or years) of your life:

  • Finding an idea that’s based on a problem you’re interested in solving — and your audience is interested in having solved
  • Conducting customer research to learn all about their hopes, dreams, fears, and burning pains
  • Building a product that solves those pains and addresses those fears and fulfills those hopes and dreams

Chances are that you want all of that hard work rewarded by customers finding and falling in love with your product.

Marketing is how you make that happen. And no, you don’t have to resort to skeezy used car salesman–type tactics to do it.

At GrowthLab and our sister site, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, we’ve been marketing digital information products for more than a decade. We’ve tried out our fair share of tactics along the way, and we’ve developed a pretty solid understanding of which tactics get results for us — and which should be relegated to the garbage can of history alongside MC Hammer pants.

By the end of this post, you’ll know how GrowthLab/IWT does more than $1M information product sales online every year. More importantly, though, you’ll know why we market the way we do. Why we’ve decided that some tactics are right for us — and some aren’t.

The 3 essential questions of information product marketing

Your chances of reaching a destination increase if you know where you’re trying to get to in the first place. With information product marketing, that means knowing the answers to three core questions:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. What is the ideal experience that I want for my customers?
  3. What kind of resources do I have at my disposal to make that happen?

Here’s how we answer those questions here at GrowthLab/IWT:

1. What are we trying to accomplish?

Sometimes we’re promoting a webinar with our CEO, Ramit Sethi. Sometimes we’re directing people toward a free e-book that will help solve a specific problem they have, like how to write a sales page.

Ultimately, though, we’re selling information products with price tags of somewhere between $300 and $2,000 dollars. Those price points aren’t small — and that plays a huge role in how we market our products.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of trust to get people to the point where they’re ready to say, “Okay, I want the results that you describe in this sales page, and based on my interactions with you so far, I trust that you can help me get them. Here’s $500.” Our marketing strategy accounts for that.

2. What is the ideal experience that we want for our customers?

At IWT, our customers are what we refer to as “Top Performers.” They’re smart, busy people who are trying to make big changes in their lives — like start an online business from scratch. They trust us to help make that happen, and we take that trust very seriously.

For example: when we tell GrowthLab readers that a certain email marketing tool is great, it’s because we genuinely think it’s a good option for beginner entrepreneurs — not because we have a deal with the company to get a portion of the sales that they get off of that recommendation.

That’s the deal we made with our customers when they invested their time and attention with us. It’s also the deal we made with ourselves when we decided on the kind of company that we wanted to be — and the kind of brand we wanted to create.

Before you start marketing your information products, you’ll want to make a similar judgment call about your business: what kind of brand are you trying to build? And which marketing strategies do and do not support that goal?

3. What are the resources that we have at our disposal to make it happen?

At IWT, we’re lucky enough to have budgets that we can allocate, and even more importantly, people whose job is to develop strategies and test results. But that’s not the same as saying we have limitless resources to try limitless different strategies. Our marketing folks have better things to do with their time than track a Twitter ad campaign that’s netting us five new subscribers per month.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur who’s just getting started, chances are you don’t have a ton of money or manpower, and may not for a while. When you’re working with a marketing team of one (you), you’re also the product team, and the customer support team, and a human who likes things like sleep and seeing your family once in a while. That means you need to be even more protective of your time (and money) — and even more deliberate about finding a marketing strategy that gets sign-ups and sales moving in the right direction.

(That would be up, and to the right.)

The three types of information product marketing

For information products, your marketing options fall into three main buckets:

  1. Affiliate marketing, where other people and brands promote your product for you in exchange for money, or the same favor in return.
  2. Paid advertising, where you pay sites like Google, Facebook, or Twitter to show their users an ad that sends them to your website.
  3. Inbound/organic marketing, where you make the content on your website so undeniably awesome that the internet helps people find it automatically.

As you’re eyeing these different strategies, make sure you’re measuring them up against the three essential questions:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. What is the ideal experience that I want for my customers?
  3. What kind of resources do I have at my disposal to make that happen?

Option 1: Affiliate marketing — Selling with friends (or strangers)

Great if: You have a lot of connections with brands and influencers in your industry, or you think the prospect of spending tons of time building those relationships sounds like fun.

Less great if: You don’t want to spend a lot of time on marketing, or you think your audience would be turned off by seeing promotions in your materials.

You may have seen examples of affiliate marketing from your favorite brands without even registering that that’s what was happening.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: You find affiliates (people to promote your product), either by posting your product on an affiliate marketing platform, or by building relationships with affiliates one-on-one.

Step 2: Your affiliate puts a special affiliate link for your product in a post on their blog, or in an email to their audience.

Step 3: Every time a customer buys your product through your affiliate’s link, you give them a percentage of that sale.

One advantage of affiliate marketing: it can pay for itself pretty quickly. Sure, you lose a commission percentage on any sales made by your affiliates. But you can make up that difference with even a couple sales, turning any additional sales after that break-even threshold into pure return on investment.

You can also earn some supplementary income by becoming an affiliate for brands and products you like, and including their links in your materials. For example: I Will Teach You To Be Rich was an affiliate of the bank ING Direct. Every time an IWT reader read our blog post about ING and signed up for an ING bank account through the affiliate link we included in the post, we got a commission for that sale.

As for where you find affiliate partners to work with? You have two options:

Option 1: Use an affiliate marketing platform

Sign up for an affiliate marketing platform (ClickBank and CJ Affiliate are two of the biggest), post your product for affiliates to find, and shop for products you might be interested in promoting to your audience.

Using an affiliate platform is fast — setting up an account and posting your product only takes a few minutes. But there’s no guarantee that anyone will pick up your product to promote — or that you’ll find any products that feel like a good fit for your audience.

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ClickBank’s marketplace features thousands of products — all of which you can earn money for promoting to your audience.

Option 2: Build partnerships with affiliates one-on-one

The alternative to affiliate platforms is what we call the “white glove” approach: developing relationships with affiliates you want to work with one-on-one.

The name of the DIY affiliate game? Network, network, network: you reach out directly to affiliate partners that you know you want to work with — usually because they have an audience that overlaps with yours that you know would be a good fit for your product.

There are a bunch of software programs that will help you set up an affiliate program for your site. A few to check out to get you started: LeadDyno and Refersion.

The challenge here, at least in the early stages: in order to get the kinds of affiliate partners you want (brands with lots of followers that are a good fit for your product), you have to be the kind of affiliate they want. And when you’re a newborn entrepreneur with an email list in the low hundreds, that can be … tricky. The phrase that gets used a lot is “trading up the chain”: You start with affiliates that are on your level, with similar list sizes and sales numbers. And then gradually, as you get bigger, and you gain more street cred, you work with larger affiliates.

Whichever route you take, affiliate marketing can get really time consuming, really fast. You can find yourself spending tons of time vetting potential affiliates, building relationships with new partners, and navigating the rules of different affiliates, which can change fast and often.

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Tell them Ramit sent you: An example of what an affiliate link looked like on the I Will Teach You To Be Rich blog back when we did affiliate marketing.

We did affiliate marketing for a while. At its peak, we were earning around $10K per month from one link alone. But when we thought about the ideal experience that we wanted for our customers, it didn’t involve hitting them with promotions for products and brands they hadn’t asked to see — even if we have an awesome relationship with that brand, or genuinely think that product is really great.

It comes back to the trust that we’ve established with our audience, and that our whole brand is built around: If we’re getting a kickback every time we tell our students that we love a certain savings account, or that this specific domain registrar is our favorite — how can our students trust that they’re getting the information that’s best for them, as opposed to the information that’s most convenient (and lucrative) for us?

That’s a choice that we made for our business. But a lot of people build awesome businesses and brands using affiliates. One example: Zero to Launch grad and 10X Travel founder Bryce Conway. His business is built around teaching people how to travel for next to nothing — and his website includes affiliate links to credit cards his audience can use to make their affordable travel dreams happen. For his business, the affiliate approach makes sense, because he can partner with brands and products that actually help them do what he’s showing them how to do.

For the right product in the right industry with the right audience, affiliate marketing can be a great option. The key: make sure you’re working with people who you really trust, and products that you genuinely believe in.

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Information product marketing success story: Zero to Launch student Bryce Conway grew his online business 10X Travel from a $500-per-month business to a $15,000-per-month business, with help from affiliate marketing.

Option 2: Paid marketing — Money talks

Great if: You want to get your product in front of exactly the right audience.

Less great if: Your budget is tight, or you have a higher price point product.

Paid advertising is what a lot of us probably think of when we think of “internet marketing.”

You check Facebook, there’s an ad on the side of your newsfeed. Or you do a search on Google, and the first couple of hits that show up have a little badge next to the URL that says “Ad.”

Here’s an example of what a paid advertising campaign would look like if you were a Facebook-using target customer for a $2,000 IWT product:

Step 1: We hit you with an ad on Facebook, and you see that ad three or four times before you click on it.

Step 2: You do click on it, and you’re pushed to a landing page, where we offer you a carrot [that’s marketing speak for a free resource or information that we know you want]. And that carrot is going to be soooo juicy that you’re going to want to give us your email address.

Step 3: We put you into an email funnel, where we warm you up with a series of emails over the course of three weeks, at the end of which we hit you with a webinar to encourage you to buy that $2,000 product.little life fb
The most successful Facebook ad for our sister site, I Will Teach You to Be Rich.
(Side note: this ad was created entirely with Microsoft Paint.)

Paid advertising through search and social media has two big advantages: reach and targeting. Sites like Facebook and Google have, famously, built up massive audiences of users, and they have, (in)famously, tons of information about who those users are and what they care about. That information lets them deliver advertising to the exact kinds of people who might be interested in buying your product — for a price.

Which brings us to the drawback of paid advertising: the “paid” part.

The more specific the audience you want to reach (and for information products, your audience should be pretty specific), and the more brands and companies are trying to get in front of that audience — the more you’re going to have to pay for the privilege of getting their attention and maybe their clicks.Screen Shot 2018 06 05 at 1.51.11 PMA screenshot from Facebook’s Ad Manager. I’ve told it I want to optimize for “Brand awareness,” which means I want my ad seen by the people who are the best fit for my product.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you have an online course that helps single women feel more comfortable with online dating, and you create a Facebook ad promoting your course.

Showing that ad to 1,000 randomly selected Facebook users might cost you $200 — but that audience is going to include married men and high school freshmen and your Great Aunt Gertrude — none of whom are your target customer.

Instead, you can tell Facebook to show your ad exclusively to your target audience of women between the ages of 25 and 35 who live in metropolitan areas — but the cost is going to skyrocket, because more people are competing to be seen by that target demographic.Screen Shot 2018 06 05 at 1.58.51 PM
Facebook tells me I can reach between 8,000 and 55,000 per day for just $35 per week.
My audience selection is fairly broad, though — if I go more targeted, it will cost more.

Paid advertising can be worth the investment. But you have to be very aware of the math (most people aren’t).

Say you’re promoting a free webinar, and your ideal audience is people who are interested in online marketing who live in this timezone, who have a household income over $100K. Facebook tells you that, to reach a thousand of those people, it will cost you $200. So with your $1,000 budget you can hit 5,000 of those people. If your conversion rate historically is 5%, meaning you can expect 5% of those 5,000 people to sign up, you can do some back-of-the-napkin math to figure out “Is this a worthwhile use of my time and money?”

In this hypothetical example, the answer may be “yes.” Say you pay that $1,000 for an ad on Facebook, and instead of 100 sign-ups, you get 150. After that first hundred, your Facebook campaign has just paid for itself, and the rest of those sales are pure profit.

We ran paid advertising campaigns for a while, but ultimately, we found that, even after a lot of work and tuning and experimenting over 2-3 years, the math didn’t work for us.

Again, this maps back to one of the three big questions we posed at the top of this post: What are we trying to accomplish?

We’re selling big, meaty online courses about how to start your own business and take control over your financial future — and the reality is, people just don’t buy products like that based on an ad they saw on Google or Facebook. The price point is too high, the subject matter is too complicated, and the audience is too specific for a mass-media paid ad campaign to make sense.

If you’re in a similar boat, selling premium information products to a super-specific audience of customers, the same could hold true for you. Be really cautious with paid advertising. Know what you’re doing, don’t just throw away money because you’ve heard it’s what you’re ‘supposed’ to do to advertise your product, or someone told you that this “worked for them.”

Option 3: Inbound/organic — Why pay for it when you can do it yourself?

Great if: You want a low-cost, sustainable strategy for driving traffic to your site over the long term.

Less great if: You don’t have the time to invest in developing lots of high-quality content, or mastering the ins and outs of search engine optimization.

Inbound marketing is by far our favorite of the marketing tactics we’ve explored here.

Inbound marketing is what happens when you publish a guest post on your audience’s favorite blog, include a link to your site, and users come flocking to you for more of the good information they got in your post. Or when the answers in your blog post are so compelling and so perfectly calibrated to deliver the information that your audience is looking for, your site moves up the Google search rankings for industry-related keywords all on its own.

(Actually, more accurately, Google moves it, because their business depends on showing people the information they want, so if it’s clear that your content is what people like your customers are looking for, Google wants to show it to them. There is a trick to this, though: the algorithms Google uses to determine the “best” content change pretty frequently. Depending on how they change, your traffic could take a hit, and leave you scrambling to write new content or update old posts to move back up the rankings.)

In other words, inbound, organic marketing is the marketing that you do by giving your audience the answers they’re looking for. Giving people the answers they want builds trust. And trust creates opportunities to tell your audience, “By the way, I have an online course that goes into even more detail about this…”

In other words: sales.

A peek behind the scenes at GrowthLab: This is a graph from the search traffic tool Ahrefs. It shows that as we publish more content, we start to rank for more keywords, which translates directly into more organic traffic to our site — and more opportunities to turn visitors into customers.

So to circle back to why inbound/organic is our information product marketing method of choice, let’s return one more time again to our list of essential questions to answers:

1. What are we trying to accomplish?

For selling big, meaty online courses about big, meaty topics like personal finance and starting a business, inbound marketing works great. It gives us the ability to sell to our target audience without any gimmicks whatsoever, just by showing them, again and again, that we know our stuff, and they can trust the information that we give them.

2. What is the ideal experience that we want for our customers?

We want to give our customers the absolute best information out there on starting a business or taking control of their financial lives. Putting great content on our website not only supports that experience — it literally is that experience. Our marketing philosophy comes down to one sentence: We create free content that is better than our competitors’ paid content. Our bet is that if we do the work to create awesome content that gives you the answers you want and gets you the results that you’re looking for, and we give it to you for free, when it does come time to sell you on that 2% of our content that we do ask you to pay for, you’ll be ready to buy. And that bet has paid off over and over and over again, to the tune of $1M in sales.

3. What resources do I have at my disposal to make that happen?

The best thing about inbound marketing is that all it costs you is the time, effort, and brainpower it takes you to create the content. For us at IWT/GrowthLab, that means we have a dedicated team of writers and strategists (yours truly included) who spend all day, every day thinking: “What do our customers want to know about, and how we can we teach them better than anyone else?”

But if you’re a solo entrepreneur, this really is something you can start doing all by yourself.

Building up a catalogue of high-quality content that your audience is looking for is an investment, and it takes some time to pay dividends. But once the content is created, and your audience starts finding and sharing and engaging with your content — that investment more than pays for itself.

Marketing your information product: Tactics at a glance

Your business. Your strategy. Your decision.

As we said at the beginning of this post, every business is different. The reason we didn’t title this post “Five exact steps to follow to market your information product” is because there are no five steps.

Whatever marketing tactics you decide to try, in whatever combination, don’t lose sight of your three guiding questions:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. What is the ideal experience that I want for my customers?
  3. What kind of resources do I have at my disposal to make that happen?

Download the Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing

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