Ah, Content Marketing. I almost hate to mention it specifically in a blog post title because the mere phrase is practically synonymous with link bait these days. One of the things that I have always questioned about the whole content marketing movement is the idea that content marketing is great because it is so cost-effective. Heidi Cohen, affiliated with the Content Marketing Institute, wrote a post about this back in 2012, just as content marketing was becoming “a thing.” Her post is detailed and offers a lot of points that certainly, on the surface, seem convincing. One of the big points in the post is the idea that if you blog with more frequency, you are more likely to acquire customers. This acquisition of customers is more cost-effective (so the logic goes) than digital advertising and certainly moreso than print advertising.
That sounds great. But is it really true?
If you look at the charts that are presented to support this tip, you see one that tracks traffic increases and one that shows the frequency of blog posts versus how many companies acquired *a* customer. There is a lot of ambiguity there. If you are a capital equipment company, acquiring a customer after writing the proposed 52 blog posts can make your year. Assuming you are not a capital equipment company you are probably going to want to see a more detailed chart that indicates, for example, how many times frequent bloggers experienced a repeat customer or how blog posts helped spread news about the company via word of mouth.
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Moreover, there is an extremely important part of the equation that often tends to get missed when we talk about content marketing in comparison with “traditional media.” To do content marketing well, you need to invest a LOT of time, and let’s face it, time is still money in the business world. Not only do you need to come up with at least 52 post ideas, you need to sit down to write those posts. Then you need to promote those posts, because as we discussed last week, people are not just going to magically appear to read what you have written. If you get comments on your blog posts, you need to monitor those, if not respond to them. From there, you need to take time to make sure you monitor conversions from readers and commenters (these words are NOT synonymous with customers) to sales.
Finally, let’s talk about the idea that traditional advertising is more “spray and pray” while content marketing is more personalized, customized content. If you accrue a large following on your blog, which can take a long time, and if you are careful to hone your blog community so that only existing and potential customers are reading your content, then yes, you are probably saving money versus traditional routes. However, if you are smart about your media buys – for example, if you look for BPA or AAM circulation audits, study the demographics for the publication, and more, you can start off immediately knowing that you are hitting the right people. When you first start blogging, you might not have any readers, or it might be your co-workers and family members for awhile. That means you are investing a lot of time with no chance for ROI for at least a few months (maybe less if you are lucky).
Comparing a content marketing strategy with advertising is not really a realistic comparison, in short. Your investment in the production of an ad is a one-time deal, most likely, and while the media costs continue, you can gauge how much you want to invest in your advertising campaign and what your objectives should be. Content marketing is less predictable. Some pieces may come together quickly while others could take hours of work. Some may hit the right audience while others won’t. Writing x number of blog posts will not magically begin to win you sales. Failing to track your investment of time does not mean it is not there.
We have said it before and we will say it again. There is nothing wrong with using content to attract prospects and to nurture relationships with customers. It is essential, however, to approach content marketing for the right reasons and with both eyes open. It is not necessarily less expensive than other marketing tactics, and it will not necessarily assure you of more sales. Like anything, it needs to be done well, strategically, and it needs to be monitored and tracked.
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