There’s a debate raging in the world of marketing. How many times must a consumer be exposed to an advertisement before it changes his behavior?
According to one study, subjects “voiced a greater preference for the product after receiving three ad exposures” compared to those who received “either one or five.”
Other experts contend, however, that “A consumer won’t purchase your product or service until it has been a part of your campaign seven times.” Still others say that 20 is the magic number.
Who’s right? It’s easy to get swept up in the argument. When it comes to content marketing, however, the debate is completely irrelevant.
Content marketing is not advertising. The strategy, tactics, and even the goals of content marketing are different. Yet null — which is detrimental not only to their respective brands, but to the entire content marketing arena as well.
A Different Timeline
When the ideas behind content and inbound started to gain traction, a number of businesses sought to position themselves as thought leaders. They launched blogs, but they weren’t proactive in building out the right audience or getting guest posts. Because they saw no short-term increase in ROI, these companies abandoned their blogs after just a few months.
But content marketing is not designed to convert leads immediately. The goal is long-term, continuous engagement. In fact, many of our leads have been in our pipeline for quite a while. And that’s fine by us — we’re in no hurry. The more time our leads spend interacting with our content, the more educated they become. In the meantime, they begin to see us as a credible resource. That keeps us top of mind.
Eventually, an educated lead will see something relevant that triggers a response. Maybe, for example, the lead reads a competitor’s post and wants more information about the subject. We’ve already built the relationship, so the first call the lead makes will be to us.
Content marketing may take longer to convert leads, but over time, it significantly drives down conversion costs.
A Different Perspective
Sometimes a client will ask us to help design a campaign with a quick turnaround. When this happens, we make it clear that we’re not an advertising firm (though we’re happy to recommend some good ones).
Content marketing and advertising do share some common goals. Both seek to cultivate positive brand associations in the minds of a target audience. Only content marketing, however, has the power to develop brand advocates. These are people who trust your brand and understand it; because they’re so passionate about what you do, they take it upon themselves to evangelize.
That kind of clout can’t be measured in numbers of tweets, “likes,” or any of the metrics that traditional advertising chases. Though an ad campaign may yield short-term spikes in sales, a network of brand advocates has lasting power.
Preparing and Evaluating
When you’re planning a content marketing initiative, take the long view. Any solid initiative needs at least six months to yield impact. The day-to-day, however, is important as well. Evaluate and iterate constantly.
Typically, the biggest pain points in launching and sustaining a content marketing initiative are the creation of content itself and the ability to maximize the value of the content. But being prepared for these challenges allows you to invest your resources strategically from the outset.
Establish a content creation pipeline with clear deadlines and a division of labor. Ensure that your social, email marketing, and PR teams all leverage your content to maximize their know-how to repurpose any piece of content you publish and meet their departmental goals. And take a holistic approach to evaluation. Instead of just looking at sales figures, expand your analysis to include SEO, social engagement, brand loyalty, and talent recruitment.
Patience Yields Benefits
null . If you don’t see those immediately, don’t despair. Just focus on providing your followers with the most engaging content possible.
Stick to it, and you could create something like Grasshopper’s blog. Grasshopper, which is a virtual phone service for entrepreneurs, publishes high-quality articles full of valuable insight. They even break everything into categories based on the reader’s marketing experience level: “getting started,” “off the ground,” and “on a roll.” Because it is, first and foremost, a great resource site for entrepreneurs, the blog has garnered a dedicated following.
So has American Express’ OPEN Forum, an online community where small business leaders can ask experts for advice and share knowledge. Community managers facilitate conversations and help users connect in the most meaningful ways possible.
It’s clear that neither Grasshopper’s blog nor OPEN Forum is a marketing gimmick. These sites demand a real investment of time and resources. Each platform exists to provide long-term value to users, not to push a product.
As a result, user communities have emerged, making both the blog and the forum vibrant and dynamic. And because they’re actively improving people’s lives, brand equity compounds daily for Grasshopper and AmEx.
With a long-term content marketing plan, everyone wins in the end.
By John Hall, Forbes
John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that helps brands build their influence.
Originally published on Apr 14, 2014 2:39 PM, updated Feb 10, 2016