… are: patience and perseverance. Without those, your content marketing program will fail.
Allow me to explain myself.
People who read this blog regularly, know that I seldom miss out on an opportunity to talk about the biggest misconception in content marketing. What it boils down to is the belief that, when you create a (great) piece of content and do some activation, this will in itself generate a number of leads, which in turn will yield a number of sales transactions.
Well, not quite. As I explained in this blog, it takes a number of iterations with your brand, before people will ‘convert’: download a trial, read a whitepaper, subscribe to an event, … whatever. These under-the-radar iterations are the necessary stepping stones towards that conversion. As Rand Fishkin explains in a video which encapsulates the true essence of content marketing:
“People essentially grow this memory about your brand, about what you do, and they build up kind of what I’d call a positive bank account with you. But that bank account, there are not coins and money in there. There are experiences and touches with your brand. Those content touches […], those build up the capital in the account.”
“Once you reach a certain level of memory and positive association about the brand that you’ve experienced all these things through, when you have the need for the product or the service or whatever it is they’re offering, then you might remember to sign up with them.”
It takes time and perseverance to get your audience to reach that ‘level of memory and positive association.’ It doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen after a few weeks of awesome blogging (more on that below).
During the past week, I came across three content experts essentially saying the same thing, be it from slightly different angles. I’m sharing these with you, as we content marketers can use all the intel out there to debunk the greatest myth in content marketing.
Don’t mistake the progress toward a goal, for the success of the platform
Robert Rose, in a talk titled “Bridging the Gap Between Experiences and Intelligent Content” (available for students at the awesome Content Marketing University), puts it like this:
“Don’t mistake the progress toward a goal, for the success of the platform. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see companies make. We launch a blog, and the goal of the blog is that it’s going to feed us leads. Great. And then on day 3 of the blog’s life, when it’s not producing leads, people go, “Oh, it’s a failure”.”
“No! The launch of the blog is day 1, that’s not day 365 or 90 in the life of this thing. We need to make the platform successful first, and then measure its contribution to the business. If we’re going to drive 10% more leads with this blog, what does the success [of the blog] need to look like first, before it gets to that? Maybe it’s a 1000 subscribers? Maybe …” (and so on).
This one really hit home for me, because it is exactly what happened when, in the days of yore, I convinced my boss to start an enterprise blog with helpful – instead of commercial – content (this was in the early days of ‘inbound’). After two weeks of this, he showed up at my desk and asked me to ditch the blog as it was “obviously not bringing in leads.”
I didn’t ditch it. I proved to him that the blog was slowly building an audience that came to us for helpful advice, after which they eventually and demonstrably found their way to our premium, downloadable content, and eventually our products and services. To the patient come the spoils.
It takes time to build an audience (spoiler: 18 months on average)
And that brings us right to Joe Pulizzi, co-founder of the Content Marketing Institute. In a recent blog post titled “3 Life and Marketing Success Resolutions for 2019”, he puts it like this:
“In researching for my book Content Inc., we found that minimum time from start to driving revenue for content marketing was nine months. The average was 18 months of consistent delivery. Why? Because it takes time to build an audience. If you aren’t delivering consistently to your audience, you are not content marketing.”
Does that mean you’re not able to measure the progress towards driving revenue? Of course not. If building a loyal audience is one of the steps towards driving revenue (and it is), you can and should monitor and measure your progress towards that goal.
The mission of content marketing is to drive awareness, visibility, and authority
Andy Crestodina, in a session titled “Content Strategy and SEO for B2B Lead Generation”, looks at it from yet another angle:
“It’s really rare in my experience for visitors who come to a blog to actually become a lead on a typical B2B website,” he says (as quoted in this blog by Dennis Shiao). “All those links to the content marketing content make your entire domain more credible, more likely to rank. They make every URL on your website more likely to rank, including the products and service pages, the pages for which the visitor who comes has commercial intent.”
Shiao concludes: “Don’t expect your content marketing to lead directly to conversions. Instead, the mission of content marketing is to drive awareness, visibility, and authority, bolstering your chance of appearing when prospects search with commercial intent.”
What all these experts – Fishkin, Rose, Pulizzi, Crestodina – are saying, boils down to this: it takes time and consistency for a content marketing strategy to pay off. That does not mean that – until it does – nothing is happening.
In this respect, the question put forward by Robert Rose, is one you really must answer: what do you need to accomplish first, before you can start proving contribution to the business? Find out what that is, and measure and report your progress.
And by all means, if you start out with content, don’t immediately stop doing whatever outbound stuff it is you do to bring in immediate business. Start small, monitor your progress, and when the time comes, you might just be able to shift more budget from outbound to inbound tactics.
Do you want your content marketing efforts to have (more) business impact? Subscribe to my blog. I post once a week, and I always strive to make it insanely relevant and highly practical.
Photo by Johan Desaeyere on Unsplash