Content marketing delivers three times more leads than outbound marketing strategies – yet it costs upwards of 60% less!
However, 63% of brands do not have a concrete content marketing strategy – which means many of their efforts may be unpolished and untracked.
Luckily, creating a specific content marketing strategy is easier than you might think!
DesignRush sat down with Ryan Brock, Founder and CEO of Metonymy Media – a leading content marketing agency. Brock shares exactly which types of content marketing increase revenue, which tactics growing businesses should focus on, content marketing trends we can expect in the coming year, and more.
DesignRush: What are the most effective types of content marketing that drive efficient business growth?
Ryan Brock: The way that I think about this is that content marketing is like a multi-faceted tool with several different parts. Businesses should try to prioritize what they should focus on, with the goal of eventually putting every tool to work in its proper place.
Do blogs work? Yes, if you are consistent when you and share really good content that readers care about, it will build brand awareness. That will then increase the size of the net you’re casting.
If you’re asking if blogs will convert leads or give your sales team more leads – probably not. Lead generation happens when you go to the bottom of the sales funnel and offer your readers premium content, which your blogs should point to.
So, brands need to ask themselves, what premium content will entice consumers? How can it solve a problem or reduce a customer pain point?
Examples of helpful premium content includes white papers, lead generation forms, webinars, and so on. However, those all need blogs and social media to drive traffic and awareness to the premium content. And you often need consistent email marketing to keep your fresh content in front of your audiences to give them multiple chances to find their way to the premium content pieces you’re keeping for them at the bottom of the funnel.
Each aspect of content marketing needs to work together, as they all have their own uses.
DR: Why is content marketing so effective? What makes it different than other forms of digital marketing?
RB: The no. 1 thing to remember is that, in 2019, SEO is content marketing.
Ten years ago, SEO was a very specific set of tasks that businesses did to trick the search engine robots and win the game. But Google doesn’t want you to cheat and win the game anymore (they never really did) – they want you to truly engage consumers. And that is done through a robust library of quality content that reflects your ideal customers’ own experiences as they seek to solve whatever problem your brand can help with.
This is different from other forms of digital marketing – such as advertising or pay-per-click – which are traditionally about creating something from nothing.
I like to think about Don Draper in a pitch meeting creating an image of kids eating baked beans on the beach. He was creating an image that someone wants, making them feel like they need a product or service. But I for the life of me can’t remember the last time I got a bunch of friends together to eat baked beans on a beach. That’s not real.
But content is real.
When it is done right, content marketing is about telling real stories and giving real information. Content marketing ensures that people are connecting with your expertise and empowered to solve their own problems.
For example, a few years ago when a brake light went out on my car, I might have just taken it into a shop and paid who knows how much to get it replaced. But now I know I can go to Google or YouTube and find exactly the help I need to repair that brake light myself in about 10 minutes. Now, a brand isn’t earning my money by me doing that—but if I can connect with a local auto shop that can provide this kind of useful, educational content, I’m starting to build a relationship with someone who will be there for me when I do eventually run into a problem I need a professional to help me solve—and I will eventually run into that kind of problem.
Through content marketing, we all have this ability to solve our own problems, and savvy marketers should tap into this.
Rather than telling consumers “if you buy our product, it will create a better life,” content marketing puts tools, advice, and resources out there to enable individuals to make their own decisions.
It’s less about shoving things down consumers’ throats, and more about providing information to start a conversation.
DR: Which business objectives can content marketing support and help realize? Are there any goals that content marketing assists with more effectively?
RB: There are three major goals that content marketing can assist with.
- Increased brand awareness
- First, you can get your brand in front of people who desperately need you but might not know about you yet.
- This involves casting a wide net; by getting your brand in front of a lot of people, you increase the chances that some of them could be good customers.
- Increased customer engagement
- Second, you can stay top-of-mind among people who have bought from your business and people who have not.
- This involves creating a series of narratives to appeal to different people with different needs; this might mean building narratives around different value propositions, different products, or different customers.
- Increased sales
- Finally, you can give that desperate customer some immediate value at that moment when they’re most likely to make a purchase.
- This involves connecting each of your narrative threads and making sure they come together somehow; if you catch someone in that awareness net and keep them engaged, you eventually need to lead them to a conversion.
DR: Can content marketing offer a fast return on investment?
I think there are a few different things to think of when it comes to content marketing and return on investment.
The first being that content marketing isn’t something that is as immediately trackable as tactics such as pay-per-click ads. PPC and its immediate reach is something people have gotten used to. Businesses like eCommerce brands can experiment with PPC to get the sweet spot of ideal revenue.
However, it takes content marketing initiatives three months or more to start producing results and snowballing into success.
For instance, we have one client that did full content marketing for about six months and just scored several major deals because of it. In an industry where just one major deal per year is a big deal, that’s certainly a huge ROI—but it takes some time to get there.
But we have other clients who have been working on content marketing for years and just get a few leads a week. That works for them and their goals.
DR: So, which form of content marketing provides the most immediate ROI?
RB: I think email marketing is a great way to get someone to immediately take action, click through, and say, yes, I want to talk to you, buy this product, read this content, etc.
Plus, email marketing that is based on lists and people that have been qualified in some way will likely fit your demographic and, in turn, be more valuable for brand growth.
(I would advise any brand to avoid buying huge email lists and throwing the same message at them because that is probably not your target audience.)
Email marketing is also easy to track and measure. Say you hire an agency, develop punchy content, and invest a certain amount of money producing and distributing that messaging on email marketing. You can actually track those numbers, create automation flows, and personalize emails based on what people interact with. Therefore, it is very easy to see how that translates to leads and revenue.
However, all content marketing strategies need to work together. For instance, blogging will give you fuel for campaigns, social media and email marketing, but you have to do other things to ensure a return on investment.
Ultimately, blogging is good for the top of the funnel, email marketing is easy to measure, but overall your content marketing investment will require some time to truly begin providing you with trackable ROI.
DR: Which forms of content marketing offer the best long-term growth support? Why?
RB: Long-term growth when it comes to content marketing is all about building as many connected funnels of content marketing channels as possible.
Some companies are good at churning out certain things, such as blogs, videos or social media posts. But the best companies think about how to solve big problems with premium content, including:
- Video courses
- And more!
Then, they weave these various forms of content marketing together. The more of those premium pieces you have out there, with connected funnels of blogs and emails and social content driving the right audiences to them, the bigger your long-term growth machine becomes.
DR: How can brands build an integrated content marketing strategy?
RB: The best way to achieve this is to work with a few new pieces of branded premium content every few months and work backward from there.
Ask yourself what some blog post topics are that will meet people in a moment of need. Then see you if you can get them to take you up on a premium content offering and convert.
Talk to different audiences, sell different products, segment by geographic locations, and employ unique tactics. Start conversations, such as, “Hey, I saw you changed your brake light…” as opposed to, “Hey how did you find us?” Don’t make your website out to be a bloated concept that is all things to all people.
Once you have blogs that people find organically, targeted emails, strategic social media campaigns and other tactics in place, you’ll have a machine that is growing but doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. After doing that for a few years, you could have upwards of 8-10 different lead generation funnels that use can use in different ways.
Give people a “choose your own adventure” experience with content. That’s what leads to lead generation that is qualified, conversions and growth.
DR: For businesses that are just beginning to formulate a content marketing strategy, which type(s) should they begin with and why?
RB: Every brand needs to get a consistent blog going.
First, remember that consistency is more important than quantity. Focus on getting into content marketing with one blog per week. Make sure that you can handle that workload, and get comfortable internally with relevant subject matter experts and the fact that you’re regularly publishing.
A slow but consistent initial blog publication schedule also allows you to become comfortable with thinking about what your audience wants – which is the most important thing.
When you start blogging, you’ll be guessing and making assumptions about what consumers find valuable. But once you start putting content out there, you may find that the content you thought they’d like isn’t popular and other content is exploding in popularity.
The first few months will tell you what you need to know about what consumers like and don’t like.
Then, determine what your priorities are.
Maybe you have a good audience on social or strong returning customers – those could be further improved through a more tactical approach to social media or email marketing.
Saying hi to past consumers via email after one month could increase conversions. Or, use paid social media campaigns to generate valuable leads and drive traffic to specific web pages.
Every business objective will have a content marketing channel that will help it flourish.
DR: What advice can you give to brands who are revising or formulating a content marketing strategy? What best practices will ensure their content marketing initiative are successful?
RB: I see a lot of brands make the same mistake.
When you are part of the company – it doesn’t matter the size – you are still relying on internal perspectives regarding your place in the market and how you stand out.
And the value of your brand is important. But a major mistake is thinking that someone will care about your value propositions if you just state them.
Some brands make blogs about why their approach to consulting is better than everyone else. That’s fine… but who’s the audience?
We’re all the heroes of our own story. So, businesses might want to start a story with themselves. But instead, they need to focus on the customer as the hero of the story they are telling – not themselves.
For example, Obi-Wan isn’t the hero of Star Wars, but he knows the tools that Luke needs to overcome the challenge. Likewise, content marketers need to think of themselves as the wise mentors, giving their customers—the Luke Skywalkers of their own stories—the wisdom and the tools they need to overcome their challenges.
Consumers’ stories are likely going to be very different from the brand’s story, but you want to resonate with their experience and validate their feelings.
Position your offerings by focusing on the consumer. Provide them with valuable solutions, tools, and build a real bond with users online.
When you start by doing that, you’ll see that that approach is the most successful route.
DR: How do you think content marketing as a whole will change throughout the next 5 years?
RB: One word: Personalization – although I think people will argue that’s what content marketing has been about for a long time.
We all know what it’s like to visit a website, say to buy some shoes, and then see ads for shoes everywhere we go online. But a lot of that remarketing we see on social media is overkill, and it fails to offer the kind of personalization today’s consumers expect.
For instance, I was on Facebook a few weeks ago and got ads for stretch pants for women. Well, my wife is pregnant and could have been using my laptop – but these weren’t even maternity pants. So, in a few different ways, what they were selling was not reaching me. They were wasting their advertising dollars, and I was given a negative experience right out the gate. This is a problem a lot of smart people are trying to solve.
I think that as technology becomes more sophisticated, brands will become comfortable with a smaller but more focused number of contacts they’re targeting with their content and, as a result, content marketing will become more personalized.
Currently, content is never-ending. Many brands don’t know what they’re doing and project women’s pants to men in their 30s, showing that they aren’t reaching the right audience.
But down the road, I think content marketing will be more like Condé Nast for consumers. Condé Nast is a publishing company, but they have a variety of different brands for different interests—I’m a big fan of Bon Appetit, for example, but I don’t care Teen Vogue. And that’s okay! Teen Vogue is not for me. Likewise, I think brands are striving to be able to give their readers exactly what they want, even if they’re different. That’s sort of where we’re going.
Brands will develop really focused content models – and they should hone in on the actual person they really want to sell to. People are tired of being advertised to every second of their lives, so content and the ads that deliver it needs to be really pinpointed to make an impact.
DR: What content marketing trends will gain in popularity in 2019 or 2020?
RB: I think lead generation will get more hands-on.
For example, when the EU passed GDPR last year, it forced a lot of brands to rethink how they purchase huge email lists.
It also made American companies that use platforms like Mailchimp become more conservative. American companies that operate in Europe need proof that people opted in to receive emails and communication, and they need to be able to prove that email addresses they are importing have truly opted in. And even for American brands that don’t operate in Europe, the email platforms like MailChimp are becoming a lot more careful when it comes to where a brand got an email address from, and whether or not that contact has opted in to receive marketing communications. So, that said, it’s going to be important for brands to come up with more creative ways to generate leads to engage with email marketing—buying a big list and taking a spreadsheet approach is going to continue becoming riskier and riskier.
Content marketing in the near future will see creativity that is more than just putting a white paper behind lead generation form.
However, I am curious to see what different approaches businesses take to build email lists so they are confident they are legally opted in, want to be a consumer and will likely convert.
DR: Please share some examples of successful content marketing in action.
RB: The first is of Highline Outdoor Group, an executive recruitment team focused on placing driven, talented professionals with active lifestyle organizations and outdoor industry manufacturers of sporting goods, bicycles, consumer goods. These guys are seriously talented at navigating complicating hiring processes and finding the right people for executive positions.
Their industry is very relationship-driven, so content marketing was a natural fit. Highline has built a content marketing strategy that leverages the decades of experience shared by their executive search professionals. Each piece of content is filled with data about hiring trends, insights into key risks companies face when making important hires, and practical actions hiring managers can take to improve their chances of securing their no. 1 candidate with each hire.
Their current strategy consists of one new blog post per week, including timely commentary on industry trends; regular social content on LinkedIn and Facebook; premium content offerings like webinars and whitepapers; and a monthly newsletter that shares top articles and lead-gen content. And since their industry is so relational, they’re very active in constantly evaluating their strategy to ensure their content is valuable, and that it actually gets noticed by their readers.
By staying top of mind with current and past clients and other leaders in the outdoor space, they are able to generate leads for new projects as they continue publishing and sharing valuable content.
The second great example is from Life Settlement Advisors, who help seniors and financial advisors who work with seniors to sell unwanted or unneeded life insurance policies for cash, more than the surrender value, to third-party investors. For the right individual, this process—called a "life settlement"—can remove high insurance premium payments from a tight retirement budget, and also offer some immediate spending power.
Many seniors and financial advisors don't even know life settlements are an option for those life insurance policies that don't make sense, so they end up surrendering those policies without getting a return on the investment made in premium payments. For that reason, LSA has a big job to educate their potential clients about life settlements and how they work.
Their current content marketing strategy is two-pronged, with regular blog content dedicated to educating seniors and their families; additional blog content aimed at financial advisors; active messaging to advisors on LinkedIn; and some powerful email marketing to financial advisors in order to stay front-of-mind. They also produce valuable premium content resources on a variety of subjects relevant to seniors and their trusted advisors.
With weekly emails in the form of newsletters and automated drip campaigns, LSA stays top-of-mind with a large volume of advisors, which results in regular leads on cases they can help with.
DR: Anything else to add?
Something that I like to talk about is the idea that it’s sexy to talk about the tech tools and digital marketing platforms and automation that’s going on in the digital marketing world, but creativity is something that is important and will continue to be important.
Brands have plenty of resources at fingertips to get the right message to the right people. It’s important that brands have a way of standing out.
One of the ways Metonymy Media focuses on creativity is by hiring people that have degrees in writing, creative writing, poetry, nonfiction, and other more artistic fields. These experts have the ability to learn how to become someone else, do the necessary research to speak intelligently on a variety of subjects, and (most importantly) tell a compelling story.
One mistake that brands make is treating content marketing like journalism. They say that their marketers are journalists, write in AP Style, act like a newsroom… but they aren’t.
I give a lot of workshops, and the way I explain “brand journalism” is like this:
Think of the movie Office Space where Jennifer Aniston’s boss always reprimands her for not wearing enough “pieces of flair” – but we never actually see her do her job. The only thing we are told to care about is the superficial flair.
Make the assumption that people will care about your brand like a piece of flair you put out there. Consumers are way more like the main character of Office Space – generally apathetic. It’s on brands to give their readers a reason to care. And unfortunately, brand journalism doesn’t really make people care.
However, validating the feelings of your consumers and offering something real will help you reach your goals of increasing leads, traffic, or revenue.
Personally, I pick up a newspaper because I care about what’s going on in the world. I don’t go check out a corporate blog because I care about some award that the company won. I read a brand’s blog post because it’s relevant to my experience. No one will care about your brand unless you make them – and storytelling is the way to do that.
DR: So, how can brands invest in effective storytelling?
RB: Storytelling involves rhetoric, meeting people on a different level, and incorporating creativity. Businesses should constantly be thinking about how they can tell creative stories that other brands aren’t telling well.
When there is so much being published, it is the brands that connect with people on a real emotional level will have the most success. Engaging creative writers is the best way to achieve that.