The Dark Side of Content Marketing

By: Mike Le

The dark side of Content marketing

"Create awesome content." "Deliver value." "WOW your users." "Master the art of storytelling." "Users will find your content online." "Build relationships with customers first, they will buy when they need."

We've all heard it and it all sounds great.

In marketing conferences, we often hear “Brands today need to act like publishers”. At a recent event, I heard speakers encouraging businesses to hire journalists to work full-time to build "journalist-standard content." Seth Godin, one of the finest marketing minds of our time, said "Content marketing is the only marketing left." That's aggressive.

But, there are some hidden problems in this picture. First, the cost to make awesome content, on an on-going basis, and the cost to promote that content, could be extremely expensive for many businesses. Second, the ROI of content may not validate the cost.

If you’re considering launching content marketing initiatives, ask yourself these four questions first:

1. How frequently will you publish content?

Many marketers write a nice blog post once in a while, add in some keywords, and hope the post will find its way to the "top of Google search" or go viral. That’s unlikely to happen. Writing one to two blog posts a week is like dropping a cup of salt into the ocean. It makes no difference.

But to make an impact, you usually need to create 10 to 20 articles a week, if not a lot more. A mattress company launched a content platform as its core marketing strategy. They prepared over 100 to 200 articles before launch and maintained a speed of eight articles day for almost a year. They employed a team of four full-time writers, plus an editor. It paid off for them, but not every business can easily allocate such resources for content initiatives.

Elite Daily, in its early days, created around 100 posts a day for its millennial readers. Imagine you’re a brand that wants “act like a publisher” to reach millennials through content marketing, think about outpacing those publishers to get your customers’ attention.

2. Who will create that awesome content?

You have three choices. You could write great content yourself, have your internal team create content or hire outside copywriters or agencies.

If you’re considering writing "awesome content" yourself, because nobody knows your business better than you, remember this: Writing great content takes serious commitment.

You may have great expertise, but your writing skills may not be as good. If you are lucky to have both expertise and writing talent, you may simply not have the dedicated time required for writing.

If you are assigning content copywriting to an internal staff, or a freelancer, or an agency, there is a rule to know: "A piece of content is only as good as the person who wrote it."

Hiring an intern to write gives you intern-level content. Hiring an experienced freelance copywriter may cost you $100 to $300 per post (now think of 20 posts a week). An agency or high-profile expert may charge you $15,000 to $30,000 just for creating a content strategy.

3. How will you promote your content?

Most content marketers today agree on the fact is organic visibility is dead. Facebook recently announced that their users are unlikely to see brand posts in their feeds, but more from their family and friends. Long gone the days that consumers find you on the Internet via search engines and social shares. Even the best content needs paid promotion to fire.

So, on top of the ongoing content creation costs, you need to add ongoing content promotion costs. Taboola, Outbrain, Facebook promoted posts and Google Adwords all cost money to drive eyeballs to your content.

4. How will you measure ROI?

Isn't the goal of marketing to increase revenue? At least, most CEOs and CMOs think so. But be careful if you start content marketing with that revenue goal in mind.

Content marketers talk about various types of metrics, like pageviews, time-on-site, likes, shares, downloads and form submissions, but they often speak softly on ROI.

If you’re a brand that pours millions into TV and offline ads, these metrics may be familiar. But if you’re a performance-driven company that watches sales numbers each day like a hawk, you may want to think twice.

ROI conversations are less popular because it’s harder to measure the direct ROI of content marketing, as well as the impact of content marketing to other marketing channels.

And even if you can, the numbers don’t always look good, so many agencies just take it off the grid. I've seen countless blogs and company Web pages that have no call-to-actions to motivate readers to act. And many brand and corporate websites don’t set conversion tracking for their campaigns.

Know the road ahead.

Content marketing could be very costly, and difficult to measure returns. But this doesn’t mean that content marketing never works.

Companies like American ExpressGE, and Hubspot brilliantly use helpful and fascinating content to reach their target audience and generate amazing outcomes. But you need to be practical. You have to know what you are getting yourself into. You must know the investment behind the greatness.

  • First, consider if content marketing is a solid marketing choice for your business. Given a limited marketing budget, some other marketing channels can boost your bottom-line faster. A strong PR article on GQ launched Warby Parker onto their success track. Optimizing their shopping experience helped Seltzer Goods national stationery supplier achieve over a 4 percent Ecommerce conversion rate and almost double its online revenue. Could content marketing outperform other marketing channels for your business?
  • Second, look at content marketing from within the big picture of your marketing mix. How strong can content marketing support your other marketing channels and boost results? For example, if you are a retailer or online marketplace that relies heavily on SEO to generate online revenue, content marketing will be a great catalyst for your search success.
  • Third, check if the direct and indirect return of content marketing can surpass the investment and the effort. Given that the cost to execute an effective content marketing strategy is high, small business may find it harder to get the return they expect. But for medium and big-size businesses, it could be easier to validate the return as the lever is longer.
  • Last, if you decide to go with content marketing, go strong. Make sure you allocate resources and time for content marketing to work. In the era of information overload, you’ll need to create both awesome content and in a consistent frequency to truly reach and influence your audience. Fire up your content marketing with paid promotion to generate organic momentum later on.

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