Content Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising


According to the Custom Content Council, in 2012, 68% of CMO’s will be increasing their budget for content marketing. While big and small companies alike are seeing the shift, smaller companies are devoting a higher percentage of allocated budgets toward content marketing:

  • 34% of a company’s advertising budget with ten or less employees goes toward content marketing.
  • 26% of the advertising budgets of companies with 1,000 or more employees is going to content marketing.

blurbThere are numerous reasons for this shift, and one of them is that technology has changed consumer behavior. Consumers today aggressively search out information about your industry online. According to Ryan Northover of, before making a purchase decision, consumers now search out 10.4 sources of information vs. 5.3 back in 2010, when just 30% of consumers had Smartphones. This is rapidly changing the face of marketing and creating the necessity for content systems that engage, inspire, educate and inform information seeking consumers.

Here are 5 compelling reasons why you need a clear and robust content marketing strategy today, in comparison to traditional media advertising :

1. More Trusted 

A Nielsen survey of OECD consumers found:

  •  Only 10% said they trusted messages from display advertising.
  • However, 90%  said they trusted brand recommendations from friends or users they trusted online.

2. More Lead Conversions

Traditional advertising methods are generally directed to a broader audience, while content marketing’s  ‘narrowcasting’ strategy focuses on a smaller, core group of potential, high quality consumers. As a result:

  • Content marketing can convert 30% more organic traffic into high quality sales leads, according to MarketingSherpa (See case studies here)
  • Content marketing is aimed at high value customers who will return for more content.
  • Content marketing produces 3 times more leads per dollar than SEM and costs 30% less, according to Kapost & ELOQUA (ebook here)

3. Greater Influence Over Consumer Decision Making

A study by McKinsey Consulting shows that consumers are already well along in the sales process when they engage directly with a brand. Traditional advertising aiming for brand recognition may occur far too early in the sales process to make a difference at a critical juncture in the decision process. Additionally, heir search is more focused, targeted and active. According to a Roper Public Affairs study cited in Forbes:

  • 80% of business decision makers prefer to access company information via a series of articles over advertisements.
  • 70% of decision makers said content marketing made them feel closer to the brand.
  • 60% said content marketing helped them make better purchasing decisions.

4Enhanced SEO and Social Media Effectiveness

Search engines are steadily improving in delivering the right information to seekers of content. And as today’s search engines heavily weight relevance, social sharing and link buzz, the more engaging, shareable and targeted your content is, the better your SEO rankings will be.

Content is also the basis of social media strategy, because compelling content is what drives consumers to engage with your brand on social networks.

5. Greater ROI

Expensive paid advertising campaigns typically only run a few weeks. Content can last for a much longer time, which enhances your return on investment. Revisions in content marketing can keep it relevant even longer. Content marketing can also generate earned media because users and media outlets may share your content to many more users, potentially producing millions of dollars in free brand exposure.

“Content Is Queen”

Because good content marketing aims to help, inform, inspire and entertain a more skeptical, engaged and demanding audience, it is not experienced as a pressure pitch or disruptive. This is why major brands are heavily investing in content marketing. This helps brands capture mind share and position themselves as leaders in their category.

But if content is queen, it also demands to be treated as one. Content strategy requires many months of planning and strategic development to build the most effective content platforms, inventory and engagement streams.

Overcoming the Challenges

According to a Marketing Profs & Content Marketing Institute study in 2012, the top 5 reported challenges are:

  • Producing enough content: 29%
  • Producing the kind of content that engages: 18%
  • Lack of budget: 14%
  • Lack of buy-in / vison: 7%
  • Lack of knowledge, training, and resources: 6%

Overcoming these challenges requires ownership, consistency and measurement.

1. Ownership: Some committed organizations have appointed a Content Marketing Officer to drive these efforts and to be accountable for their success. As companies are slowly but surely becoming their own media, they will have to appoint an Editor in Chief responsible for overseeing this part of Marketing, and managing internal as well as outsourced resources.

2. Consistency: It takes consistent efforts to build a captive audience through the creation of  a body of content worthy of the attention of search engines and of your target audience. Understanding what content types and what channels create the most engagement and generate leads takes consistent effort and experimentation. Generating interest and engagement for your brand, products and services requires a commitment to sustained and continuous investment in producing various types of content on a regular basis. By way of illustration:

3. Measurement: Naturally, the defined success metrics (KPIs) will vary according to the market, media and product. However, the ROI of content marketing is generally defined not by generic Web activity metrics, but  by a sales conversion funnel.

A typical conversion funnel could look like:

Step 1: user lands on homepage
Step 2: user reads a blog post
Step 3: user reads a product or service page
Step 4: user fills in a contact form

Defining performance in terms of web activity such as overall visitors and pages views of a website won’t reflect performance as much as much as measuring how many users start at step 1 (arrive on a landing page)  and progress to step 4 (conversion).

Takeaways: As shown above, the realities of today’s markets demand that a very focused and robust content marketing effort is put in place for an organization to position themselves as a thought leader, differentiate themselves in a crowded market space, and  reach the buyer at the critical stage in the purchase decision process to make a difference and drive conversions. Since companies are struggling beneath the weight of the sustained effort needed to become thought leaders through content marketing, investment in dedicated resources is increasingly recognized as indispensable.

Related Post:



What Stands in the Way of Compelling Content?

Nasheen Liu, VP of marketing at The  IT Media Group,  discusses hindrances marketers face in creating compelling marketing content and and recommends three strategies to overcome them.  Two key problems she identifies are:

  1. Lack of control over the subject-matter.
  2. Feeling too removed from their audience.

She shares some approaches for overcoming those  challenges that allows markerters to more effectively create and repurpose compelling content.

Three Strategies

Strategy 1: Be an avid journalist to your internal  audience

In brief, there is no substitute for interaction with your field organization and customers.  Your notes from these interactions should include insights  from customers that can be summarized in a report and communicated to  your stakeholders.

Liu’s recommendation is to repurpose these valuable insights as “Industry Newsflashes,”  “Customer Insights,” and “Opportunity Analysis” for your internal audiences.  Why is this important?

Marketers often fail to realize that their most important audience is the  internal one. To market anything successfully, one must first and foremost  create as much visibility as possible internally. Every employee is your message  carrier. You will not become a rock star marketer if you don’t have the support  of your internal stakeholders.

Strategy 2: Insource your content, but control the  output

To get a good handle on your subject matter, it’s important to identify the domain experts  – at least one person in each cross-functional area who can serve as your go-to resource. This will give you a ready supply of content.

Getting subject experts to be responsive is a key challenge. You’ll need to schedule some time interviewing them in person. The conversation should be targeted to extracting content from them in 30 minutes or less.  One way to set this process in motion is to create an editiorial calendar.

If you promote your experts and give them visibility, you can gain you loyal sponsors and  support for your endeavors.

Strategy 3: Outsource your topics to industry  experts

One of the most common failures that I see marketers make in trying to promote themselves as thought leaders or impress audiences with their products and services is the mistake of “singing your own praises.”  To gain the attention and trust of the customer, it’s much better to get someone else to do the praising in an indirect way.

In the technology space, I engage industry experts, media personalities, and  well-known bloggers. The kind of perception you are trying to create is this:  “Wow, these guys are associated with her? Impressive.”

To build on this,  you can build  an onging campaign in which your expert can help you in various activities. Some ideas:

An initial article can turn into a moderated customer forum. The  findings from the forum become a whitepaper. The whitepaper can be used to  develop a video case study. And so on. Such linkages can continue to develop and  mature over the life of the catmpaign.

As Liu points out, “content is the bread and butter of what we do in the world of marketing.” Yet it often seems to get lost in the flurry of planning and execution, and becomes an afterthought. A successful marketing organization exists as part of a larger context of consistent messaging accross all touch points, internal and external. Nothing promotes an organization’s brand value more effectvely than shared messaging.

HubSpot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog’s 30 Amazing Marketing Tools, Tips & Tricks We’re Thankful For, by  Amanda Sibley lists some of the tools, tricks, and tips that marketers say help them do their jobs better. Here are a few:

Social Media Tools

Facebook Global Pages – This newly developed tool tool allows marketers to create one central maintenance location with better targeting options instead of having to choose between a single Facebook page for an entire global audience, or multiple pages to target specific audiences.

Audience Targeting in Facebook Advertisements – Facebook’s ad platform audience targeting allows marketers to create ads for a specific target audience. This makes your ads more relevant and allows you to target custom audiences from email addresses in your database

Content Creation Tools

Evernote – Note-taking apps are helpful for writing or brainstorming content on the go.

Factbrowser  helps you find compelling stats or data points as you create content. It breaks down data by topic, source, format, region, and/or demographic.

CreativeCommons – This gives you another option for finding images for your marketing content. Instead of using stock photography or creating the images yourself, you can use CreativeCommons to search for free photos that are that are allowed to be used commercially, provided you give credit to the artist.

PowerPoint for Design – Marketers can create professional looking calls-to-action, ebooks, and infographics without hiring the services of a designer by using PowerPoint as a design tool.

Snipping Tool – This Windows tool lets you easily take screen captures. Hubspot provides an  overview.

Hubspot’s free template to help you easily create infographics.

SEO Tools

Free Site Crawl Tools – Free tools like Xenu and Screaming Frog crawl your entire site, and provide you a spreadsheet of all the pages, URLs, and broken links on your site.

Analytics Tools

VLOOKUP – You can use VLOOKUP in Excel to search for and identify particular sets of data, allowing you to analyze data quickly.

Statistical Significance Calculator – When you’re running tests in your marketing, statistical significance calculators can tell you when your test’s results are actually meaningful.

Collaboration & Planning Tools

Google Drive (Google Docs) – This tool helps everyone on a team to see and update information in real time.

Sales & Nurturing Tools

Landing Page Creation Tool – It can take a long time to get landing pages created working with IT.  to get landing pages created. Easy landing page creation tools like HubSpot allow you to create a landing page in minutes, making it easier to launch offers and lead generation.

Superheroes Teach the Art of Storytelling

Bryan Eisenberg of ClickZ recently attended Comic Con, and interviewed  Shane Gibson, chief social officer for Wizard World and Comic Con to discuss the power of these iconic brands and to discuss social media marketing with these audiences. The takeaway, according to Bryan, is the level of engagement people have with the characters.

Great content marketing planning follows the structure of a powerful story; using an inciting incident that compels you into the narrative arc, strong characters including a hero (protagonist) and an enemy (antagonist), and a sense of conflict and resolution.

Brand Persona As a Superhero

People relate to comics in very personal ways. They represent a form of wish fulfillment. Through them, we can safely explore our own hidden aspirations and desires – reflections of our values and beliefs. For instance, teenagers can relate to Spider Man as an insecure teen with problems just like them. Batman gives voice to our inner frustrations and deep seated need to prevail over what oppresses us. Superman or Wonder Woman express the strength of character within. During times of national trial, as in World War II, comics reflected our inner need for patriotic heros. Through the Hulk, Wolverine, and Daredevil we can come to terms with and prevail over our flaws.

We are likely to identify with certain heros more than others, since we see ourselves, our values and beliefs personified in them. A brand persona that can capture these feelings is highly successful. In Apple, we see ourselves empowered by technology and on the cutting edge of change. An automobile brand or brand of perfume magnifies our sense of what we long to be and feel ourselves to be deep within.

What is a Content Marketing  Persona?

A Content Marketing Persona is a related, but slightly different concept. These are a means through which we can better understand the customer’s perspective. If we know what our customers need in order to achieve their goals, we can better understand about their journey through the buying process.

While a Brand Persona is an image that our customers can identify with, a Content Marketing Persona is a reconstruction of our customer’s inner voice – the whole person that our customer is – how the customers see themselves now, what they aspire to become, and what they face as they make their way through life. In short, the Brand Persona, as opposed to a static, if evocative image, is a full and complex story.

Content and social media marketing should be focused around the conversations we are having with your customers, and the only way to deepen the conversation is to mirror the customer, just as we do when we have a meaningful conversation with a friend. As Bryan puts it:

Too many companies and their agencies are so wrapped up in their own sales processes they forget that customers have a different angle of approach to the problem or need that they could solve if they took the right perspective.

To truly communicate with your visitors, you must put yourself in their shoes…There are many segments and your personas can represent these segments…Personas will allow you to evaluate your content and identify the gaps in your content strategy to meet your potential customer’s needs.

Expected Result: More Relevant Conversations and Interactions

Once you begin to develop customer personas and write from these perspectives, we can begin the process of planning content marketing scenarios that will draw people to participate in the conversions and experiences that are critical to the success of our business.


Questioning the Conventional Marketing Wisdom

The conventional wisdom on content marketing is that you need a lot of content to generate sales.

At best, a typical B2B supplier can expect to get 12% of a customer’s total share of attention across the purchase process. So marketers are betting that increasing the frequency will maximize their share of attention. The mathematical logic of as explained by Patrick Spenner in Forbes is as follows:

  • You need 4 personas for different target audiences.
  • You must identify their top 3 needs.
  • You must develop content for all the channels that matter – conservatively, 5 channels.
  • You need to refresh your content periodically – monthly updates total 12 per year.

That’s 4 x 3 x 5 x 12 = 720 pieces of original or versioned content.

With so much content,  you tend to create a mass of mediocre content that becomes part of the noise for your customers, which actually dilutes your share of attention. In following the conventional wisdom of B2B marketing, marketers are sacrificing quality for quantity, and the content they develop become just more of the noise that surrounds customers every day. The implications of grinding out frequent content:

  • You risk reducing even your 12% chance of being noticed.
  • You decrease your odds of influencing customers to act.
  • Your expenses increase as you increase your investment in marketing automation, process, dashboards and metrics to support the drive for content, and divert resources to get content produced.

Distinguishing Quality from Quantity

Patrick Spenner‘s follow up article discusses what really matters most in content marketing. To determine what high quality content really is, CEB reviewed the research studying the B2B customer and purchase path. Their findings suggested that effective content needs to go far beyond just capturing attention:

Breaking through the noise to simply win the customer’s attention isn’t enough.  High quality content has to fundamentally change the customer’s direction by teaching and motivating the customer in specific ways.

The Customer Purchase Path

The research shows that information-empowered B2B customers are seeking to answer three questions:

  1. Relevant Features: What is important? (in terms of buying criteria)
  2. Quality: What is an acceptable level of performance? (a minimum threshold for each of those criteria)
  3. Price: What is the lowest price I can pay?

Self-Directed Product Research: Spenner draws an analogy to how we making a complex family purchase decision, like when we buy a car.  We typically answer the first two questions about the relevant features and quality online before visiting a car dealership, and show up at the dealer lots with a specific car already picked out.  Knowing all the options we want,  we’re just looking for the best deal. In other words, we have reduced the role of the sales department to that of the fulfillment department.

Suppliers Engaged Late in the Purchase Decision Process: Likewise, in B2B purchases, empowered customers self-direct their own product learning, waiting until late in the process to engage suppliers late in the process:

Implications: Content Must Sell: This research strongly suggests that supplier content needs to do more than simply gain the customer’s attention and generate a lead, but must change the customer’s direction on buying criteria in a way that narrows their choices down to you.

Content that Changes the Customer’s Direction

Results from CEB’s B2B customer research, in which they surveyed thousands of customers about a recent B2B purchase are summarized in the chart below.  Those customers who say that they experienced a significant change in buying criteria direction described the most influential content characteristics that caused them to change direction on their buying criteria. The number by each bar is the regression co-efficient for each characteristic—essentially, showing the impact of each characteristic on likelihood to change the customer’s direction. The most statistically significant drivers of purchase direction were just these two:

  • Know Your Customer: Teaching something new about the customer’s own business needs/challenges.
  • Call To Action: Providing compelling reasons to take action.

These are the characteristics of the supplier content that caused customers to change their purchase decisions along the path to purchase.

Snap! principle of Content Marketing:

To cut through the noise, increase your odds of reaching more customers and effectively influence their buying decisions, you need to focus less on content saturation and hone in on the quality of your content.

Related Article:

“Content Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret”

Click here for a Webinar on Content Marketing presented by Socialmediatoday.


Cliff Figallo of Socialmediatoday writes:

Over the past 20 years, concepts like the 3 Cs (Content, Context and Community) have attempted to explain consumer behavior, but these structures always acknowledged that Content was the main attraction for the “eyeballs” of the marketplace. Now, the pivot toward social media online has established Community as a primary driver of online behavior, making for savvier consumers and more competition for their attention. Delivery and presentation of content must rely on knowledge about the audience.


  • What is Content Marketing?
  • Who is excelling in content marketing right now?
  • Where does good content come from?
  • How fast does a marketing department have to move to keep up with changing tastes?
  • What kinds of businesses are best at content marketing?

Speaker Panel


C.C. Chapman is a leader in the online and social media marketing space, the host of Passion Hit TV,  founder of Digital Dads, and coauthor with Ann Handley of the best seller Content Rules,” that explains how companies can create remarkable blogs, podcasts, webinars and ebooks. “Amazing Things Will Happen,” is due out in November, 2012.

ImageAnn Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, which provides business marketing know-how for more than 420,000 subscribers and co-author of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts,Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business  and a monthly columnist for Entrepreneur magazine. She was the co-founder of ClickZ, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.


Maggie Fox is the founder and CEO of Social Media Group, one of the world’s most highly respected  independent agencies helping business navigate the socially engaged Web. They have developed social media strategies for some of the best-known brands in Europe and North America, including; Ford Motor Company, SAP Global Marketing, Norwegian Cruise Line, 3M and Thomson Reuters. She was also named one of the Top 100 Marketers in the 100th anniversary edition of Marketing Magazine and sits on the Board of the Empire Club of Canada.



Click here to find out more!

The Growth Of Branded Content

The growth of branded content has been precipitous, especially electronic branded content.  Branded Content advertising spend is at an all time highAccording to a study by the Custom Content Council (CCC) in partnership with ContentWise, based on a survey of 100 US corporate marketers, titled “A Look at How Corporate America Invests in Branded Content”:

  • 75% of US corporate marketers say they are aggressively (16%) or moderately (62%) shifting spending from traditional marketing to branded-content marketing.
  • Total spending is at its highest level ever: rebounding in 2011, to$1,913,609 per company on average, among those surveyed.

Below, additional findings from the report titled “Spending Study: ,” by the CCC and ContentWise.

Among other spending-related findings:

  • Branded content accounted for 26% of overall marketing, advertising and communications budgets in 2011 on average, down from 29% in 2010 (likely a result of large increases in overall 2011 marketing budgets, the study notes).
  • Publications budgets were up 68% year over year, the biggest driver of branded-content growth from 2010 to 2011.
  • 30% of corporate marketers expect their branded-content budgets to increase again in 2012.
  • Digital content spending in the category is expected to increase 39% over 2011 levels with the smallest growth expected in print (up 16% YOY).

Top Content Marketing Goals: Educate and Retain Customers

The top-ranked reason marketers use branded content is:

  • Educate their customers (49%)
  • Customer retention (26%)
  • Enhancing brand loyalty (14%).

Similar goals were cited in 2010, with customer education ranked first (52%), followed by customer retention (23%) and brand loyalty (12%). Up-selling to customers (5%) is ranked as a low priority, reinforcing the idea that marketers view branded-content initiatives as long-term investments rather than transactional ones.

Branded Content The Most Effective Engagement Tactic

Among corporate marketers, branded-content initiatives are considered more effective than other leading forms of advertising and marketing:

  • 69% say branded content is more effective than public relations, compared with 63% who said so a year earlier.
  • 69% say branded content is more effective than direct mail, and 72% say it’s more effective that magazine ads.

Outsourcing Is Common

One-half (50%) of corporate marketers say they outsource at least some aspect of branded-content initiatives to external agencies (such as custom publishers, PR/marketing firms, design firms, video production companies, and interactive agencies).  However, outsourcing was more prevalent among print forms (51%) of branded content, than among electronic (31%) or other forms (35%).

About the report: The research was conducted via online and mailed methods targeting a random sample of companies across all industries. More than five thousand invitations were distributed and roughly 100 surveys were completed in the fourth quarter of 2011. Among the responding companies were: Allstate Insurance, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cephalon, Graybar, ICF International, Sports Authority, State Farm Insurance, and the University of Maryland.

For the survey, branded content (AKA custom media, custom content, and custom publishing) is defined as the creation and distribution of educational and or/compelling content in multiple formats to attract, educate, up-sell, and/or retain customers.