When Does Content Marketing Make Sense?

Alex Panagis

Alex Panagis is the founder of ScaleMath.

@alexjpanagis

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Some of the most common questions we get asked are:

  1. When does content marketing make sense for a company?
  2. Does content marketing make sense for us yet?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently, especially amid the current global pandemic (COVID-19). So, to help people thinking of investing in content marketing in this article, we’ll answer the burning question of whether or not content marketing is the right choice for you at the moment.

As an agency, we take a lot of pride in the fact that we consistently turn down new work. We take pride in only working with companies that we are truly ready to help get to the next level, and often content marketing is not the way for early-stage companies.

To us, from the perspective of content marketing, early-stage companies are ones that have not positioned themselves (found product-market fit) and those that struggle to market and sell to existing audiences/people. As a result, we don’t work with businesses at this stage going forward…

SEO & marketing is useful for virtually every company. Generating traffic as long as it’s the right traffic will generate leads.

But with early-stage companies, you have two problems:

  1. They won’t know what to do with the leads.
  2. Content marketing will take way too long.

It doesn’t take long for content marketing to work and for our clients to reap the benefits of our work multiple times over for companies that have fully positioned their product and are doing something noteworthy that people actually want.

With early-stage companies, this is too much of an unknown.

They may have all the potential you can imagine or they may have a product that needs more work before it can be brought to market. And that’s why exactly we actually believe that early-stage companies shouldn’t use their marketing budget on content marketing. All the traffic & leads could potentially never drive revenue for an early-stage company, and our work always has to drive three things – rankings, recognition & revenue. If we foresee just one of those missing or not being within our control then we don’t consider prospects to be good-fit clients…

Yes, as a content marketing agency this is something that we can confidently say. We don’t want to work with businesses that we won’t be able to help and the truth is that no agency can help companies at such an early stage so – as an agency – the responsible thing is to recommend they come back when they’re ready instead of just using clients to add to your own bottom line without adding to theirs.

Content marketing has become too trendy.

Software companies often think that the reason more people aren’t purchasing their product or service is that their website doesn’t have enough traffic or not enough people know about it. The result is they chase traffic & focus on the wrong things for where they’re at as a company. And, by the end of it, typically 6 months later they claim content marketing is dead and that it doesn’t work anymore

As with all marketing channels, as long as traffic generated is targeted if you’re not getting enough leads or not converting enough of those leads, that’s not an issue with the marketing channel, that’s an issue with your product’s value and it being too early-stage.

Good or even great marketing will never help you if your product isn’t good enough for people to see the value when you explain it to them let alone when they get their hands on it…

Most Agencies Don’t Do The Right Thing

At the time of writing, the only clients we’ve ever lost as an agency are those where we’ve notified them that we’ll be terminating the agreement because we don’t see the 10,000 monthly visitors or 100,000 monthly visitors we’re generating for them converting into revenue for them so it doesn’t make sense to continue justifying us as an investment.

I’m getting a lot better at identifying companies where this is possibly the case, specifically (as mentioned earlier in this article) by turning away these kinds of “early-stage” companies where this tends to be the case.

That being said, most agencies don’t do this, and, to some extent, I can’t blame them. Turning away new clients or purposely ending current client relationships isn’t easy and it can seem like a good idea to do whatever comes your way at least in the very early stages of an agency – though surprisingly I’ve seen a lot of bigger/mature agencies still do this which baffles me when potential clients discuss their relationship with SEO & content marketing agencies in the past.

Content Marketing Is Too Trendy

In all of the situations above, the absence of conversions (no real added revenue generated) was never a result of bad content marketing or content marketing being an ineffective channel for the businesses. Even with these other agencies, most of the time they did manage to deliver some quality work.

So, what’s the problem? Well, they did the work it took to drive vanity metrics because that’s what was in their control and they couldn’t care less that the thing that really matters for a business when they’re investing $5,000-10,000+ USD per month to work with an agency is that the work they’re doing actually generates additional revenue to pay for their services multiple times over.

Building An Audience First & Learning As You Go

When you’re just starting a business, it often starts as an idea. As a software company, things start long before you ever actually write a single line of code.

So, does content marketing make sense at this stage? Yes, it does.

If you are planning on developing SEO software and have real knowledge to share from results you’ve generated in your past. Have something genuinely valuable to share, then content marketing will work. As a matter of fact, it’s the perfect way for you to attract an audience for the official launch of your product (or its beta prior to that), and understand what it is that people are actually looking for so that you can build it for a pre-existing audience…that way you can build something you know for sure people actually want.

Sidenote: For companies that have the budget, they may often find that hiring an agency that has experience with or in the market that they’re planning on targetting, they’ll be able to get a clearer picture on whether they’re building something worthwhile and save a ton of money in the development process.

A Former Client Story: Great But Early-Stage Product; Selling To A Cold Audience 😕

Quite a while ago, we worked with a client that was running an early-stage software business in an extremely competitive market and was dead-set on investing in content marketing. I emphasized my skepticism going in and recommended that if they want quick results or conversions their best bet might not be content marketing especially since their product is quite early-stage (and still in the positioning phase). Nevertheless, they were eager to work with us so we signed the contract.

Just two months later, we had to end the relationship. At the end of the day, our homepage currently says “ScaleMath sets reasonable expectations and focuses on ROI. Above all, we’ll never sell you anything your business doesn’t need” for a very good reason. It’s very rare but when it does happen and we’re in a situation where most agencies will just continue focusing on driving vanity metrics, such as the traffic generated, we’re not afraid to make the tough but right decision to end the relationship. This is not to say that their product wasn’t good or that I don’t believe in what they’re building, because I do, but they’re not ready to sell to a cold audience yet.

What Is Considered Selling To A “Cold Audience”?

For the purposes of this article & content marketing, selling to a cold audience basically encapsulates the process of selling a product or service to anyone who has no connection to the company and no prior knowledge of what it does. Basically, can you pitch someone and sell them on the value? Whether it’s inbound (through content) or outbound (email outreach).

If your current positioning can’t close cold people then the chances are you’re an early-stage company.

So should early stage companies invest in content marketing at all?

Yes, but be realistic and make sure it’s right for your business.

It’s more than ok, as a matter of fact, it’s a great idea to invest in content marketing in the early-stages of a company, but it’s important that you don’t approach it desperately looking for an incredibly high or any number of conversions for that matter – until you’ve proven it’s possible to sell to a cold audience…

For companies at this stage, content marketing has to be approached with the mentality that you’re investing in an asset. Meaning that, to begin with, it’s not going to be the main source of new customers, but the audience you build will help you iterate on your product and ensure you’re building something people really want (as we covered earlier on in this article). And then, once you reach a point where you can sell to a cold audience and your positioning/messaging is on point all of the work you’ve done up until this point will start paying off.

Important: Hiring An Agency As An Early-Stage Company

Although, as mentioned above, we strongly believe that content marketing is a great investment, the approach and mindset when making the investment is important.

If you’re starting or ramping up your content marketing efforts together with the effort of your co-founder, then you’re in a great position. Though on the other hand, some “early-stage companies” as defined by our definition for content marketing may already be larger and would not tackle that internally – i.e. choose to work with a talented agency to do so. If this is the case, it’s extremely important to be careful when doing so.

Oftentimes, businesses that don’t have everything on their side ironed out & ready for prime-time will try to delegate blame onto the agency or freelancers that they’re working with – when, in actuality, it’s something that’s obviously out of their control. Understandably, if it’s hard to portray value and sell to a cold audience then how are you going to help an agency understand your value proposition and make sure that they communicate that in their content?

Evidently, this is no easy feat.

As a matter of fact, the actual topics or audiences to market to will even become a topic of discussion. Using the example of an SEO software company, are we targetting SEO professionals or businesses doing SEO?

The fact is that it’s simply too early to say, you won’t have the full picture and complete understanding of what customers you’re trying to attract, what features you want to highlight, and what the pain points are of business owners you’re targeting.

Clearly, the reason this isn’t a problem for companies that have proven to be able to sell to a cold audience because the pitch they’ve used is proven. At this stage, all they need is a content marketing agency to get them more eyes on that pitch. Get more leads into their pipeline. And problem solved, you scale your content marketing efforts over time and it turns into one of your favorite & the best sources of growth for your business…

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