Ohio business leaders are coming to embrace the concept of ‘content marketing.’ The transition from traditional outbound ‘interruption’ based marketing to an inbound or content marketing can be scary.
I can’t just STOP my outbound marketing activities (i.e. direct mail, cold calls, print & radio advertising)!
You’re right. You can’t. And you shouldn’t. But all successful marketing organizations…and I mean do ALL …have one thing in common; a disciplined approach to testing new media, new offers, new lists, and and new creativity.
Consider this first foray into content marketing a test of a new media channel. But rather than throwing something against the wall to see if it ‘sticks’, wouldn’t it be nice to have an outline of what you can and SHOULD expect when launching a content marketing campaign? Dale Covey would call this ‘starting with the end in mind.’
I’ve collected the most common questions I receive and distilled them into this handy blog post. Below I try and answer 3 simple questions:
- How much will it cost?
- How will I measure success (failure)?
- When can I expect to see results in a measurable ROI?
Normally, I’d blah, blah, blah a big long dissertation on the answers to these quests. But you’re busy. So, I’ll bottom line it for you:
- Somewhere between $1,000/mo. and 35% of your total marketing budget.
- Google Analytics.
- 12 Months.
The Nitty Gritty
There’s definitely more to the story here and further explanation is needed to fully answer these (seemingly) simple questions.
So, keep reading if you…
a) think I’m full of ‘it’;
b) want a further explanation to understand these cliff note answers better or;
c) are captivated by my engaging, honest and witty writing style.
How much will it cost?
As a rule of thumb I recommend budgeting somewhere between $1,000/mo. and 35% of your total marketing budget. A thousand dollars per month should be considered a minimum, as that doesn’t give you much in the way to work with while engaging external resources.
Truth is, there are many variables to consider when answering this question. There are external costs, AND there are internal costs.
What are the external costs of an online marketing campaign?
Outside consultants who can help:
- formulate an integrated content marketing strategy that works WITH your traditional marketing efforts.
- identify specific media channels to target and to distribute your content.
- identify the metrics you’ll use to measure results.
- provide analysis, so you can interpret those results and course-correct as necessary.
- establish a realistic content marketing production calendar.
- create, manage, and edit unique and interesting copy for your blog and landing pages.
- design, create, and implement new content on your site.
- re-purpose and extend that content into new formats including video, infographs, online presentations (slideshares), e-books, webinars, podcasts…you name it.
- manage the editorial process both internally and externally to help keep your marketing efforts on schedule.
These are usually negligible. Most of our clients don’t require special software to manage their content marketing efforts. They can be nice and certainly can help streamline both the planning and production process, but I’d put this in the ‘walk before you run’ category.
That said, you will want to make sure you have a tool like Google Analytics (which is free) installed on your site. How can you measure results without proper diagnostic tools? While not an absolute requirement for every site, you’ll find your life is made a LOT easier if you manage your site using any one of a widely available (ubiquitous) content management systems (CMS) like WordPress.
The software is free, but set-up and configuring it to manage your site may involve engaging a company like Sanctuary Marketing Group to port over your existing site design into WordPress. A solid CMS will help you take control of your site without having to know how to program HTML.For 99% of the businesses out there, I recommend avoiding proprietary / homegrown content management systems that your website developer may try to sell you. They tend to be expensive and can leave you feeling ‘trapped’ with that developer. You should have the freedom to switch your SEO firm if they don’t meet your expectations, so don’t let the tools trap you.
Internal costs of online marking
Meetings, emails, reviews, and approvals are just some of the internal costs that need to be considered when launching an online marketing program. If your online marketing campaign is to be successful, you’ll need to budget internal resources to assist in the content creation process.
If you plan to have you or your employees create the content internally, you’ll need to plan realistically on 3-5 hours per content element produced. I know it seems like a lot of time. How long could it take to write 500-700 words? Well its important to remember you are not going for quantity so much as QUALITY.
Your content marketing efforts need to attract the right audience (potential customers) and engage them in a way that the visitor becomes a CUSTOMER.
Even if you plan on outsourcing the actual content itself, you’ll need to be involved at some level, so that you can guide content creation activities, so that they meet the expectations of your staff and your customers. That means regularly setting aside some time each month (or even each week) to ask questions, review materials, confirm production is on schedule, and check-in on the results of your past activities.
How will you measure success (failure)?
My ‘short’ answer above for how you will measure success was ‘Google Analtyics’. And that tool — or possibly something like Adobe Omniture — will be critical to the reporting process. However, they are just tools.
The first step in measuring the success of your online marketing campaign will be to ARTICULATE what ‘success’ is to you.
Whatever your investment in content marketing, you’ll need to determine what online metrics will drive the growth of your business.
Whether you’re an eCommerce site, a local retailer in the Akron, Canton, or Cleveland area, or a specialty manufacturer — you’re ultimately looking to measure ‘conversion’.
Some examples of conversion include:
- an actual, honest to goodness online sale
- a contact form submitted through your website
- a request for directions to the retail location of one of your Ohio stores via Google Maps
- a request for a free quote, assessment, consultation or proposal
- a special phone number dialed from your web
The important thing is to select metrics that YOU believe will eventually lead to a sale.
Whatever the metrics, I recommend keeping them consistent. Be wary of ‘flavor of the day’ reporting which only highlights the good and brushes the bad under the rug.
At Sanctuary Marketing Group, we work with clients to identify 3-5 MEASURABLE indicators in a simple dashboard. We define what those measures mean, how they drive your business, and exactly how you should plan to measure them.
For each metric, we establish a baseline AND a target for the coming year. We then report on the baseline, target, and actual results for those measures on a monthly basis. Targets will be missed, but at least they are a line in the sand of where we WANT to see the number go. It allows us to course-correct and coordinate with our clients to ensure we’re working the right things to improve our results, so that we can increase sales and grow their business.
When can I expect to see results in a measurable ROI?
Online marketing takes time and is an ongoing investment. I once heard someone lament that it’s like a hamster wheel – once you get on, it’s going to be hard to get off. There’s an element of truth in it.
But I wonder what marketing initiatives are one time expenditures? I can’t think of a single marketing channel that doesn’t require continuous refining and investment in order to see sustainable growth. Content marketing and search engine optimization efforts are no different.
The difference is latency. With direct mail and print ads, you’ll know if it’s working within 3-4 weeks. Radio and TV respond within a day or two. PPC and email let you know just about instantly. Each has their pros, their cons, and their place in an integrated marketing strategy. Again, I strongly recommend an online strategy that supports and is aligned with your traditional efforts.
With content marketing you need time to see if the strategy is working. There are certainly ways to confirm you are on the right path, but ultimately slow and steady wins the race. With Google Instant Search – some content you publish will show up on search results pages (SERPS) immediately. This will almost always result in seeing initial spikes of organic traffic to your site (Google loves new).
The content then needs to stand on it’s own. With each ‘view’ on a SERP, with each click, with each bounce registered through Analytics, Google is grading the quality of your content. If it’s a quality piece of content that is relevant to what searchers are looking for, that volume can be sustained and built upon.
If it’s a really good piece of content, people will ‘plus’, ‘share’, ‘like’, and blog about it. This increases your reach and improves the credibility of your whole site.
All of these interactions take 3-4 months to BEGIN to see if your strategy is on course to meet annual goals. But even at that, you should be committed to investing 12 months of effort.
Online marketing — all marketing — involves a process of continuous improvement. If you abandon efforts too quickly, you won’t have enough time to make the informed decisions you need to grow your business.
My recommendation to most companies starting out is to commit to a 12 month strategy at a budget that won’t break the bank. I don’t recommend throwing too much money at it too quickly. If you’re just starting out, invest enough to make an impact based on the competitiveness of your market, but not so much that the success of the entire company is banking on the success of this effort.
Our goal is to establish a profitable marketing model. With a measured approach, a conservative budget, and a reasonable timeline, you should see positive results after a few months. If after that you see indications that the campaign will scale profitably, then you can invest more money in your online efforts.
- Invest enough that you can compete, but not so much that it will cause stress for you or your company.
- A good rule of thumb is $1000/mo. or 35% of your total marketing budget (whatever is greater).
- Define what success will mean in measurable results – what’s your target?
- Report regularly on a small set of key metrics comparing baseline, target, and actual results for the period your measuring.
- Be sure to configure your analytics program (Google Analytics, Ominiture, etc.) to properly measure these results.
- Schedule regular discussions with your team to review what’s working and what’s not working, what work was done, and what work will be done, to ensure you’re on pace to meet annual goals.
- Commit to investing some internal time to manage your content marketing campaign — even if you’re outsourcing it to a company like Sanctuary Marketing Group.
- Give your content marketing campaign enough time to succeed.