Content Marketing: Tapping Custom Digital Content Assets for Sustained Growth

How much would you pay for a revenue-producing asset within your exact industry? What if it directly or indirectly influenced up to 90% of your current revenue right now? Likely, there would be a sense of urgency at the highest levels to acquire it as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, this scenario is not fiction, but a real opportunity for all companies.

Right now, savvy competitors are using custom digital content, or branded content, to build and extend their web presence and win new customers. Through content marketing, they are able to execute their scalable programs in a trackable and controllable manner with high return on investment (ROI).

They are able to do this because their top executives realize that branded content is not an expense, but an Intellectual Property (IP) asset. They saw that making the investment to create compelling content had more in common with creating a new product than with the “collateral” or “printing” line item on their profit and loss statements. Why would a CEO make such a shift? How are companies adapting?

Transience vs. Permanence

The reasoning is straightforward. Brochures are printed, distributed and then discarded. This cycle repeats at varying intervals, depending on the company and industry. Custom digital content, once created and distributed onto the Internet, is much more permanent. Ask any CMO to provide a website report showing the origins of the company’s visitors (referring URLs). For established companies, the list can be thousands, even tens of thousands, of different referral sources. Much of this customer acquisition occurred as a direct result of the company’s online presence. Their online presence was driven by branded content, which could have been published last week – or a decade ago. In most cases, it is still accessible.

Unmeasurable vs. Measureable Results

Another important reason for the shift relates to the fact that, unlike traditional collateral, which can be problematic to track, digital content’s performance is easily measured. Most web analytics software packages give CMOs the ability to quickly zero in on how many visitors, leads and buyers originated from a specific piece of content.

Because the results can be measured, determining a clear return-on-investment (ROI) through content marketing is a straightforward process. For example, a retailer was able to directly determine how many additional units of a product were sold as a result of the creation and distribution of one piece of digital content on its website. As a result of highly detailed trackability, more savvy companies have begun to look at custom digital content (and the broader area of content marketing) as another scalable customer acquisition program, like paid search advertising.

One-Time Results vs. Sustained Results

By moving custom digital branded content from a marketing general and administrative expense to a marketing media or advertising expense, these companies have made a push in the right direction. However, they have not made the final step: redefining custom digital content not as an expense, but as an asset. That transition most often cannot come without broad understanding and buy-in from the company’s top executive.

Any asset has value which may be depreciated over a period of time. For example, a computer may have a 3-year depreciation period. Other assets, like machinery or a factory, have much longer depreciation periods, because that value is derived over a longer period of time.

In contrast, an advertisement in the yellow pages is generally purchased, placed and run for a defined period of time. The results of the advertisement are tallied up and measured against the amount spent. With custom digital content, there really is no defined end date. Prospective customers will continue to find, read and respond to it as long as it is available somewhere on the Internet. The result is a value curve generated over a long period of time, much like a product.

The quality and strength of the content will directly influence the value curve of its content marketing utility. For example, a simple blog posting may generate 90% of its value over the period of 3 months, while an expertly-written whitepaper or eBook may have a value curve lasting years. A single piece of content can be useful for customer acquisition months, even years after deployment. The more effort and investment made in generating the highest-quality content, the better and more lasting will be the result, just as with any other asset.

Even the search engines have shifted their views of content. Last year, Google made several sweeping changes to their search engine algorithms. In the past, there was more focus on the taxonomy of the page, contextual relevance of the content and inbound link strength. They now have added emphasis on both the quality and originality of the content, as well as the frequency new content is added to the website. This makes smart content marketing an absolutely essential part of any company’s overall search engine optimization and customer acquisition efforts.

Adapting to Asset-Based Digital Content

Once companies mentally make the transition from viewing content as an overhead expense to viewing it as the asset it is, they must retool their marketing organizations. In a sense, companies need to become brand publishers. While some choose to build-out the entire infrastructure required: content managers, writers, editors, content syndicators, etc., most opt for a fully outsourced or partially outsourced solution. Regardless of the implementation approach, the end result is the same: deployable assets, roll-out of a new customer acquisition channel, increased revenue and a more defendable market share.

Sources

Dinner, Isaac, van Heerde, Harald, and Neslin, Scott (2011), “Driving Online and Offline Sales: The Cross-Channel Effects of Digital versus Traditional Advertising,” pg. 25-28.