Content marketing – the publication of blog articles, papers and other pieces of content that are not really “hard sell” direct marketing – can be a struggle. Content marketing can be time-consuming, expensive, and require a lot of resources to do well.
So much so, that many businesses are embracing a currently trendy approach to content called curation – becoming more like librarians and categorizers of other people’s materials, and leaving authorship to others. While tacitly taking some credit for being awesome organizers. (I think.)
Also, a blog post in January 2014 sent shock waves around the marketing world with the contention that content marketing is not a sustainable strategy. (And coined the phrase “content shock” in the process.)
All of this begs a huge question about content marketing – why do it? What’s the goal? Just to look awesome? To dominate Google? To look really, really smart to your customers?
Let’s walk through the most likely reasons why your business would or should market with content and tie some ranges of spending, results expected, and time frames to the most common types of content marketing.
Four Major Objectives of Content Marketing, Ranked
There are four key reasons why most businesses would do content marketing. The reasons are ranked in the order of challenge and cost. This is the order in which most businesses should consider using each of these techniques, from “must have” through “maybe, if you’re game.” Also, this ranking has the dual role of showing prerequisite skills. I’ll explain in a minute.
Content marketing can serve these purposes:
- Content for prospects who come to your business through conventional means – by prospecting, networking, or from outbound marketing such as telemarketing.
- Current publicity – blogs, press releases, and social media posts that require content.
- Long term authority positioning – articles that position the business as a key player and “thought leader” in its field, which you hope readers link and refer to regularly.
- Search engine optimization – content that is linked online by many credible readers will, over time, drive Google’s ranking of a web site higher.
Let’s examine each motive and determine what’s right for your business.
Content Marketing as “Brochure Ware”
Almost all businesses need to provide something to prospects to read about the business. That’s the role of a entry level static web site or a printed brochure.
Customers want to read about your business, its ownership, its values, and its services. They want to know what you say you will do, your background, your “value add” for them.
I have observed technology startups that insist on a minimalist home page with one title. It looks artsy but is it enough? Probably not. Kids today! (get off my lawn, too.)
Content Marketing for Current Publicity
This is the place where social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn come into play.
You need stuff to talk about on social media. Otherwise, in technology or B2B, you’re generally waving your hands about nothing. Your posts on social media should almost always contain a URL – web site address – that transports the reader to your related article or content. Most social platforms will condense your URL down to a “tiny” URL, so don’t worry so much about the length of the posting.
Empty hand waving and personality-driven “attention-whoring” – short asides, pithy comments – can work if you run a food truck, or if you’re Richard Branson or Kanye. Not so well if you sell to critical, value-conscious business customers. It’s news when a celebrity Tweets or posts to Facebook. It’s generally not news when a smaller tech company with a cloud offering Tweets or posts updates. You really need to deliver more if you wish to engage your audience and create new followers.
Content marketing for current publicity means that you’re providing news about what your business is currently doing, researching, or planning. Your social media outreach should reference some real content of your own creation. Otherwise you’re just another business throwing “curated” links and pithy one line comments out into the void – like half of the teenagers in the US.
Some businesses may not need or value this aspect of content marketing. But you should consider experimenting with a low level of news updates, delivered as blog posts, press releases, and the like, to see if visitors embrace it.
Content for Authority Positioning
Now we’re raising our ambitions – and also our total spending and level of ongoing effort.
We’re talking about substantial collateral like white papers, backgrounders, and case studies, and posting to a company blog on an aggressive time schedule. With time, and patience, a business can raise its profile within its niche by producing a wide array of marketing materials that complement the sales process at every point in the funnel. This is a natural, and often expected activity, of major IT product and service vendors.
Creating a leadership position through content marketing is a long term strategy. To make such content creation work well, you have to produce a lot of substantial content. This would typically consist of several stand alone, substantial papers, written at some expense, plus a regularly updated blog, and regular news releases.
Creating Search Engine Visibility
Another goal of content marketing is to raise search engine results. This is often called Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) When visitors share your content and post links on their own blogs or social media, this results in a boost of the standing of your web site in search results. In fact, the most recent changes to the Google search algorithms value “authority” – as indicated by being linked to by web sites of authority standing – as a key factor. Mindless and even mindful keyword stuffing of articles is a nearly dead practice.
The objectives of “authority positioning” and SEO should work hand in hand. The more people respect, like and share your content, the higher your standing in search results, which *should* translate into more sales and inbound leads.
Stated that way, completing that cycle from content creation through inbound leads is a very ambitious goal for most businesses and is a long term process.
Each Level of Content Marketing has Prerequisite Skills and Capabilities
You’ve heard the old phrase “you have to crawl before you can walk.” In general, you shouldn’t attempt a higher level content marketing skill set before mastering the lower level one.
- You need baseline marketing communications – a web site – first. If you can’t assemble a decent, coherent message on your company’s web site, then get that project right before considering heavy blogging or social media posting or publicity. And certainly complete this step before even thinking about investing in white papers or other complex projects.
- Blogging and publicity comes before “thought leadership”. Develop your ability to manage a regular pattern of creating blog pieces and news releases before attempting to write or outsource more meaty white papers. My experience has been that just selecting appropriate topics for a company blog is very hard, quite unexpected work for business owners. When I work with business owners on their blogs, the topic we wind up creating is usually a big evolution beyond their initial sound-bite idea for an article. This type of planning effort (we haven’t even talked about execution) magnifies when you approach weighty materials such as white papers.
- Search results improvement and inbound leads result from blogging, publicity, and authority content. All of the content marketing activities mentioned earlier are required to result in inbound lead generation.
What Should YOU Do with Content Marketing?
Each rationale for a type of content marketing has an associated time frame of immediacy, an associated level of effort, and an associated cost.
Web Site or Brochure: High Effort; Single project; One Time Expense. At very least, almost every business really needs content for prospects – a web site or at least a brochure. While this is usually a major undertaking, you only have to do it once. Copy for a brochure or a “brochure like” web site can be anywhere from a $500 or so to a few thousand dollars, depending upon size and scope.
Blogging, news and publicity updates: Low/Moderate Effort; Multiple projects; Ongoing Expense. Regular “news” style content production in the form of press releases and blog postings is the next level upward in terms of ongoing cost and effort. You as the business owner or marketing manager should be actively involved with initiating and helping to define, plan and research topics that will drive blogs or press releases. Assume that the copy for every press release will cost $100 to $400 and most blog postings will cost $50 to $200 apiece if subcontracted. Over time this could be much more costly than the creation of your web site.
Authority creation through advanced content: Moderate/High Effort; Multiple projects; Ongoing Expense. Long term authority positioning usually means white papers, case studies and similar pieces. A white paper is an informational article that is “short” on direct selling and provides insight into an area of challenge in which your business is involved. White papers can run from 3 to 20 pages, and may cost from $1000 to $8000 or more depending upon length of the paper, and the type and amount of research required. A case study is a narrative of a client problem followed by a solution provided by your business and would usually be priced similarly to a white paper, depending again on length.
You should select the type of content marketing that matches your goals, your personnel and financial resources, and your level of commitment to the process.
At minimum, your business needs a web site – or a brochure – which is a one time expense. If you don’t have any content marketing in place now, there is no question that your business will benefit from content marketing in terms of actual sales figures.
Publicity and news is the next tier of content marketing and both require occasional spending or continual levels of effort to sustain.
“Authority” style content marketing requires moderate to large sums of capital – outlays of a few thousand dollars at a time – or a dedicated employee to produce such material. This should lead to the corollary goal of such content, which is search engine visibility. This is the effort that will make your business most visible for inbound marketing purposes. It’s also the most difficult and most expensive form of content marketing.