Jonathan Young

For some companies—especially start-ups or businesses undergoing major turn-arounds—content marketing can seem like a luxury.

Content marketing—good content marketing—frames the case for why one approach to a business challenge is the way to go, or why one particular category of solutions is better than another. It’s not a pitch for your company or products specifically. It’s the background for your pitch.

But sales is always clamoring for more higher-quality leads. And sales teams need materials to help close what they’ve got. Does it make sense to invest time and money in a higher funnel activity that’s at least two steps away from yielding marketing-qualified leads?

The answer to that question will vary according to your industry, product and the state of your company’s growth. But there’s one universal truth: not all your prospects are ready to buy right now. A hyper-tactical approach to immediate lead generation is like trying to live on coffee and candy bars: it may work for a while, but you’re not building for the future.

At some point, your re-positioning and new messaging will exhaust any previously untapped pools of suspects in your paid search, channel, affiliates, cold leads data and whatever other low-hanging fruit is available.

Of all your strategic business-building marketing initiatives, content marketing can contribute the most to both the bottom- and top-lines … if you approach it strategically. If you treat it as one more tactic, it can easily be counted as a failure … even if it works. Here’s why:

It doesn’t generate leads

“How many leads did it produce?” is the critical question to ask of any marketing initiative. Even when the content is gated—by a form that visitors must complete to access the piece—we all know that a name and email address doesn’t equal a lead.

To answer the all-important question about leads, you must be able to attribute those names and addresses to their source. You’ll need the digital infrastructure in place to associate that first contact with the eventual outcome … hopefully, a sale.

Without such infrastructure, none of your upper funnel activities will show results. That doesn’t mean it isn’t working. It just means you can’t see if or how it’s working. If you have the diagnostic tools, you still can’t count on content leads to show up in the same quarter as you deploy the materials.

If you lack analytical infrastructure, that’s not a reason to do nothing higher up on the funnel. It just means you’ll have to weight your efforts toward near-term wins while you get a more robust operation in place.

At some point, content marketing will produce leads. How many leads of what quality is the next question.

It doesn’t match the company or products

The right and best way to frame any marketing initiative is from the point of view of the prospect. What are their goals? What are their challenges?

Some marketers stop there, especially in the technology space. Their understanding of their audience is too superficial. For example, if your target audience is CFOs and you’ve never spent serious time with a CFO, do you understand their life and worldview?

Instead of doing the necessary homework, marketers—driven to show results ASAP—too often resort to generic promises like “winning in the market.” Or worse: vapid benefits like “more time with the family.” Is that a challenge for your audience? Maybe. But does your product solve it? Unless you’re working for a cruise ship line, the answer is usually “not directly.”

Your content should have a direct bearing on the gaps in your market. At the same time, your audience isn't necessarily ready for a pitch. They want perspective. They want information. They want news they can use. Most serious prospects are looking for answers, not just empathy.

Making your company the source of these things is your content’s job ... at least until the prospect is in front of a salesperson.

It’s outdated

For better or worse, information sharing now travels at the pace of news cycles.

Let’s assume the vision your company’s founder had when they started the business is fundamentally sound. But its context has undoubtedly evolved. The problem it solves might be the same, but the symptoms look different. Maybe the entire business world faces the same issues as your original target market, and now you appear to be a niche product.

If you’re promoting your content—as you should—and that content is outdated, it has the exact opposite of your desired effect. Instead of looking like a thought-leader, your company comes across as a laggard. Instead of driving the conversation, your company may not even be in it.

This doesn’t mean you have to create new content from scratch every time. You just have to keep it up-to-date. A quarterly winnowing, supplement and refresh of your most popular downloads should be easy and worthwhile.

Doubling your ROI on content

Content marketing is part of a long game and should be guided by a larger strategy. The goal of that strategy is to increase the total value of the company. It’s the one set of deliverables that most directly connects your brand and positioning to your lead generation … when it’s done correctly.

At the tactical level, content is an obvious call-to-action for lead generation. The goal isn’t to drive downloads. The goal is to attract qualified prospects. This might seem like two sides of the same coin. But what drives downloads may not necessarily contribute to more qualified leads. The measure of success is how much your lead quality improves over time.

Better leads mean more sales. And that builds the company up from the bottom line.

To improve lead quality, the content should align with the product promise and the company’s positioning. These are likelier to follow the lead of the stories being picked up by your PR than what your SEM ad text says.

Prospects who respond to such content are likely to share your company’s view of the world; what their business needs right now, and where their industry’s going. So, such prospects are likelier to buy from you.

By reinforcing the company’s positioning and brand vision, your content can establish your company as an industry leader, even a visionary. That adds topline value to the company, which pays off in both improved sales close rates and higher company valuations.

Only content marketing hits the bottom of the funnel and the space above the funnel in this way.

That’s hugely valuable—and hardly a luxury.


Jonathan Young is marketing services director at Media Frenzy Global.