Opinion

Why are you doing content marketing – for vanity or because you want exposure?

When you approach content marketing with a short-term mindset, you end up creating a machine that is dependent upon your most recent win – writes Nicolas Cole

I have been involved in the content marketing world for a long, long time. Over the past four years, I’ve generated over 50 million organic views on my written content with zero dollars spent on advertising, retargeting or boosting.

I have a very unique philosophy when it comes to content marketing. In working with over 100 different founders, investors, and C-suite executives on publishing written content, I’ve heard just about every company desire under the sun:

  • “We want to go viral.”
  • “We want to get into major publications.”
  • “We want to create our own blog for SEO.”

But none of the above expectations actually move the needle for a company looking to attract the right kind of attention. In fact, many of the things companies think ‘work’ are given to them by people who haven’t actually walked the walk.

Of course a search engine optimisation firm is going to tell you that blog content on your website is what you should be doing. They’re incentivised to do so. Of course a public relations firm is going to tell you that getting featured in a major publication is going to have a huge impact on your business. It’s not.

So many content marketers sell the dream of what they haven’t actually executed themselves. And that’s disappointing. As a result, companies invest thousands of dollars into initiatives that don’t actually pay dividends. Instead, they chase short-term rewards rather than investing in a much longer-term pay-off.

And what nobody tells you about effective content marketing is that it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, that’s the entire point. There’s no such thing as ‘building industry expertise’ in three months. That’s barely enough time to figure out what it is you’re actually trying to stand for. And because it takes time in order to see a dramatic return on investment, most companies opt for the easier (and more costly) option instead.

It’s astonishing how many people want to see their name appear in a major publication. When you ask them why, the first answer usually has something to do with wanting millions of people to know who they are and what their company does.

Unfortunately, the average piece in a major publication receives less than 1,000 views. So while the entire website might be a content behemoth, the truth is your tiny mention is being buried beneath a pile nobody is going to sit through and read. This is a red flag, and shows that while companies talk about wanting to see a return on their investment, what they actually care about is vanity over exposure.

They would rather spend a few thousand dollars – or in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars – just to be able to say: “Hey, look at us being mentioned in…” Now, it’s worth acknowledging that, in some cases, it’s worth investing in building your credibility as a company.

When you’re first starting out, you should probably work on acquiring some industry clout. It’s important to let people know where your knowledge is coming from, and why you’re the person they should be listening to.

One of the big mistakes I see companies and executives make, however, is they chase the accolades and the credibility badges before (or sometimes, instead of) asking what’s valuable for them to share. They would rather pay a PR firm to chase down a columnist to write about how they great they are, instead of taking a moment to think about what’s going to truly resonate with the person they’re trying to reach.

This one simple decision then leads down two very different roads. When you approach content marketing from this short-sighted lens, you end up creating a machine that is dependent upon your most recent win. Your entire strategy is built around the idea that if someone hears you’re doing great right now, they’re going to want to do business with you.

But what happens six months down the road? What about a year from now? Two years from now? Five or 10 years from now? All of a sudden, that one content piece has no relevance. Nobody reads a piece about how a company executive was great in 2012 and thinks: “I have to reach out to this person—they’re who I want to work with.”

The above is what I like to call ‘the vanity strategy’. The alternative, although far less shiny, is far more reliable – and profitable. Instead of creating short-term content with the intention of telling people how great you or your company is, try to pull back and see the bigger picture.

  • What do people want to learn from you?
  • What knowledge have you acquired that would be incredibly valuable to share?
  • How have you learned what you’ve learned?
  • What’s your unique story and what aspect of that story can a reader hear and implement to yield similar results?

So write content that answers people’s questions, with your own personal story. Why? Well, for one, because you learn very quickly that the amount of viewership you receive by having a piece placed in a major publication is pretty minimal. Even when I was writing daily for Inc Magazine, my monthly viewership never once exceeded my viewership on Medium or over on Quora. Not once.

But two, in treating my content as answers to people’s questions, I slowly built a web that now acts as a long-term library on the internet. My 3,000-plus articles on the internet (an investment that has taken five years) have led to:

  • More than 40 per cent of our business being generated by inbound leads or people who read my content and introduce prospective clients directly.
  • Invitations to speak at conferences all over the United States (and internationally).
  • Invitations to contribute to major publications.
  • Invitations to appear on industry podcasts.
  • The ability to easily connect with industry leaders, authors, entrepreneurs and speakers.

All because I treated the content I wrote as a long-term investment, and not a short-term stage.

So don’t compromise the vision for today’s step. Too many companies get caught up wanting to see immediate results. If you’re dealing with programmatic advertising, like Facebook ads, then that’s a different conversation. But when it comes to written content, there is no such thing as a ‘three-month thought leader’. And anyone who sells you on that idea is lying to you.

Following this advice will, without fail, achieve results. I’ve watched friends go viral. I’ve watched clients accumulate hundreds of thousands of views on their work, and get invited to contribute to big publications. It’s the people who stick with it the longest, that reap the largest rewards.

Don’t settle for short-term vanity. I promise you, no good investor thinks that way so why should you.

Only if you do content marketing the right way will you get results, says Cole

Nicolas Cole is the founder of Digital Press, a content marketing agency based in the United States, and a version of this article first appeared on Medium

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