While the marketing world keeps buzzing about the power of content marketing above everything else, a lot of startups choose to avoid adding this marketing technique to their agendas.
Take Airbnb for an example. The company has never ceased to amaze us with great growth hacks and new product updates, yet content marketing was never really part of their marketing plan. Other startups like Buffer and Shopify, on the contrary, chose to massively invest in content marketing since the launch.
I asked Abdullahi Muhammed, a blogger, and owner of a six-figure content marketing agency Oxygenmat to shed some light on the issue. Abdullahi knows the talk firsthand. Before he got into consulting for startups on content marketing, he has personally launched 2 popular (and profitable) blogs, became a regular columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine and was featured on a good dozen of big name publications.
He agreed to share his point on why some companies say that content marketing doesn’t work for them and why that’s not always the case.
Content marketing – some startups swear by it, others say it brings no measurable results. What’s the deal here?
Ok, so I’m in the pro content marketing camp, that should be obvious ☺ But I can perfectly understand the opposition point of view as well. In fact, a lot of prospects coming to our agency feel reluctant about the payoffs of content marketing.
The major problem I see here is the lack of clarity in expectations. So, I’ll divert to a few simple explanations.
Most tech startups are obsessed with exact metrics. They want to track and measure each and every website visitor, always have precise analytics and get obsessed with their growth rates. That is understandable. There’s a lot of pressure from investors to consistently show good numbers.
Direct marketing like paying for display or Facebook ads allows you to precisely measure all sorts of metrics – clicks, conversions, purchases etc. You seem to know what each cent spent brings in.
Content marketing isn’t direct marketing, however. It’s more of a publicity. And it’s hard to measure the exact ROI of any publicity campaign.
You cannot apply the same direct marketing metrics to all the marketing and PR work you are doing. Sure, you can calculate how many people read your latest post, how many converted into a lead by taking action and how many clicks you receive from search results but those metrics will not account for all the possible ROI generated through content marketing.
Next, comes guest posting and contributing to other resources. You may measure the referral traffic you are getting when people click on the links you’ve placed in the bio section, for instance, and those could be painfully low.
What you can’t measure is how many people have read your column and afterward Googled you personally, your products/services and converted into a paying customer.
In my case, I get a lot of emails from prospects mentioning that they’ve read my insights on Forbes, Entrepreneur or my personal blog and would now like to partner with me. And I can’t precisely attribute those leads in my analytics to a certain channel as they might not have clicked the link to my website from the posts immediately, or instead choosing to Google my company later on.
The point here is startups shouldn’t attempt to measure ROI from news coverage and brand marketing campaigns the same way they do with direct marketing.
In that case paying for ads and getting guaranteed results is safer, right?
Yes, and no. I really like the points made by Samuel Scott in his column on Techcrunch. Paying for impressions often brings non-human traffic to your website or plainly speaking bots. And while you’re paying to get more human eyeballs to your content, you are actually getting absolutely irrelevant bot traffic. AdWeek previously reported that marketers blew some $10 billion on bot traffic in 2013.
And that’s just part of the deal. AdAge has conducted a very curious investigation into the kickback schemes media buyers have set up with ad networks. To cut the story short, a lot of executives in the media buying industry admitted that they “forget” to mention about some billions of dollars, which are made back from deals on the client’s’ behalf. That money hailed directly into the executives’ pockets in forms of rebates, kickbacks, and other murky schemes.
So saying that direct marketing is 100% transparent and measurable isn’t accurate enough either.
So how should startups approach marketing if the results may seem murky either ways?
Let’s put it this way – the problem with exposure through paid ads is that you have to consistently pay for those views/likes/website hits.
Content marketing will take some time to take off. But it’s a viable long-term strategy as evergreen content will continuously generate exposure for your website.
Say you’ve published one post and paid say $500 for producing it and an additional $1,500 for promoting it on social media. It gets lots of visits and shares, earns valuable backlinks and starts ranking well in search results generating 1,000 visits in the first month, 3,000 in the second, 5,000 in the 3rd and so on.
Yes, you could have spent that $2,000 on direct marketing and received 420,000 ad impressions immediately. But those ad impressions don’t actually mean clicks or conversions.
Unlike an ad, the content you run on your blog is more valuable to the user. They don’t ignore it or forget about it. They can choose to share it, bookmark and re-visit it once again, opt-in for your newsletter or trial deal and so on.
The value you are receiving, in the long run, is much higher than those of a one-time ad exposure.
Additionally, as Lars Lofgren from KISSmetrics pointed out: “Getting people’s respect and making sure they’re willing to pay attention to what you’re doing is very difficult because we are bombarded with so much stuff all the time. First, you have to earn that attention.”
You won’t earn it with an ad or through stalking users via email. This respect comes from consistently delivering value to the prospect before asking them for something in return.
Startups interested in content marketing should accept the fact that this would be a long ride before tangible results would start pouring it. There would be quick measurable wins through viral pieces, and yet some content will suddenly “pop” say in 3 months or in a year.
Still, how do you justify your spending on content marketing? There should be some metrics, right?
Startups should be measuring the CAC (customer acquisition costs) of content marketing regularly. That is everything you have spent on content production and marketing divided by traffic multiplied by conversion rates. You can measure your leads using the last click attribution and count everyone, who converted from a blog post as your lead.
The problem in this case is measuring those folks, who didn’t choose to convert instantly and took the time to familiarize themselves with your brand. Or returned as “direct traffic” or “search traffic” later on.
The bad news is – you can’t precisely measure them within the CAC of content marketing. The great news is – your CAC acquisition costs are probably lower than the number you’ve come up with so far as it’s not accounting for the users acquired through “publicity ” generated around your brand through content.
If you sit down and work with the numbers, high chances are that CAC cost of content marketing will be lower compared to CAC of PPC or paid advertising on social media.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.