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Defending Content Marketing

Content marketing is getting a bit more respect these days, but the battle isn’t over. Many marketers continue to be skeptical about the discipline’s ability to deliver the same kind of tangible ROI that other media initiatives can. If you’re fighting a pitched battle attempting to convince skeptical senior managers that your content marketing indicatives are budget-worthy, here are some points to make:

Success takes time
Assembling a body of content sufficient to be “interest-bearing” in terms of generating leads, traffic, or other positive behavior doesn’t happen overnight. How much time should be allocated to accomplish this goal? I’d venture a minimum of six months to one year. How much money must be spent? Well, this figure will vary widely, depending on your ability to staff, hire, recruit, license, or crowdsource human resources to generate it.

How much content will you need to accumulate to reach “critical mass?” No “official” benchmarks exist, but I’d offer that 50 articles (with unique URLs) is a reasonable goal for achieving same. Many successful B2Bs may get fewer than 100 content consumers visiting each day, but if the firm makes the most of these visits, lead flow can begin to generate sufficient income to begin transforming a cost center into a profit center.

PR has value
Content marketing is no substitute for a good PR agency able to place your message before millions. But it can multiply the positive effects of any existing PR or media outreach effort you have in place. Content marketing can give you a voice and a podium from which you can frame your vision of the world. Regularly publishing interesting, high-quality content also matters to the press, which scans Twitter and other social media for story ideas, and has long used the Web to source “authorities” to comment on current events. Becoming visible as an online subject matter expert in your own community will increase the chances of major media pickup, as well as positioning your firm as a reliable “source” for commentary on industry issues.

Storytelling matters
The human race has never known a communications channel better able to convey stories and ideas. Blog articles, SlideShare presentations, videos, podcast, e-books, infographics, and webinars are relatively inexpensive to produce. Producing effective web content gives you an opportunity to create an emotional bond with your target audience – this kind of branding is as strong online as it ever was in the age of analog media.

The Long Tail matters
Most content you produce won’t ever “go viral,” but that doesn’t mean that it won’t have an impact. Even if it only ranks on page 2 or 3 of Google, many searchers – especially those who are deeply researching a given topic – regularly venture beyond page 1. Such traffic is low-volume, but can be very high-quality. My team regularly sees qualified leads drop in from articles that we had thought had “dropped off the radar screen” (or at least the primary Google SERPs) long ago. Crafting “evergreen” articles catering to this kind of long tail search behavior can provide a steady flow of relevant, targeted traffic over time.

Audience intel matters
How much are you paying 3rd parties for audience research? While traditional research mechanisms such as the focus group still have value, content marketing – used with analytics – can surface equivalently eye-opening insights that can drive real innovation at a comparatively low cost. Study the way different audience segments or personas interact with different content objects you create. You may learn some very unexpected lessons about consumer demand (perhaps pertaining to products or product variants that don’t exist yet but could be successful). Such insights can be plugged back into the editorial process so that future content optimally aligns with audience interest.

Content marketing isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for instantaneous ROI, you’re likely to be disappointed, because it’s a long game whose aim is increasing your company’s mindshare (and ultimately, market share). And your ability to do it correctly may be constrained, by budget or the difficulty of otherwise marshaling the resources necessary to get it done. Unfortunately, your competitors may not feel similarly constrained, in which case you’ll unfortunately find yourself profoundly disadvantaged in the future if you fail to match their efforts.

Steven Baldwin
Steven Baldwin
Author, Editor, Web Producer, New Yorker. Best known for bird-centric blog:

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