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The Evolution of Content Marketing

Fifteen years ago when a company wanted to communicate a message to its target audience, they had limited options to do so including print publications, radio and TV broadcasting and other forms of advertising. Media agencies formed to satisfy a business’ need to communicate to a large and targeted audience. The media agency industry profited handsomely from the amount of reach they had and the types of audiences they could reach.

Media publications attracted their audiences through the creation of expert content. What typically happened is that an agency would match a business’ needs for market exposure to a specific kind of audience and subsequently sell that business advertising on that particular publication medium. Whether you look at TV commercials, radio ads or print promotions, that advertising model worked effectively for a good many years; businesses reached the people they wanted and consumers got the content that interested them. Everybody was happy.

Content Publishing then and now...

The ability to produce expert content was regarded as highly prestigious. As a whole, journalists were seen as public figures which credited them with a high degree of value. By the same token, the publications that enjoyed that level of reach were also regarded as influential. Even just fifteen years ago, this was a company’s exclusive way to access the buying public.

Thought leaders from the business community also experienced limited exposure to the market because media publications had a finite number of pages that could be printed in any given month. That inherent constraint forced the media to be very selective about which expert content they would feature.

One of the net results of this dynamic was that the general business community were effectively trained to believe that they could never publish their thought leadership without the help of a public relations agency or an expensive ad campaign. As a whole, they thought that their ideas were undervalued and that the average business owner or consultant simply lacked the power to communicate to the masses without having to pay for it.

But today, things have changed as audiences have discovered new ways to consume content. These new forms of content include blogs, RSS feeds, videos and other forms of digital content, all of which are relatively inexpensive to create when compared to traditional methods of distributing information. The low cost of production has, to a large extent, removed the limitations that once existed for media such as newspapers who could only print and deliver so many pages per edition.

The Means of Production Are Everywhere

Technologies such as Wordpress have facilitated the creation and distribution of digital content to the masses; publishing that’s basically free from the controls that previously constrained the amount of content we produce.

In the end, the concept of the modern media agency has fundamentally changed. No longer must they hire a well-paid staff of writers to source the content that media publications rely upon. While it’s still necessary to keep a team of bloggers to maintain a website, the content production is now more readily sourced directly from within the business and thought leader community.

The result is that the cost of producing valuable content is now a fraction of what it once was which empowers the voices of those who, in times past, may have never been able to effectively convey their concepts and insights to large audiences. This opens up many new opportunities for business leaders and change makers to communicate their solutions.

The advertising model within the digital media space is still very similar to traditional publishing in that you will still see a lot display ads on blogs. The online space however allows for other forms of generating revenue including affiliate sales which can ultimately produce much greater profits than advertising alone.

Quantifying Return On Investment

When we compare the return on investment of conventional advertising to that of content marketing, we can accomplish that by assigning a given value to the reach that each medium achieves. For example, in a broadcast media such as radio, a radio promotion or “spot” would be broadcast to an audience, say 50,000 listeners, that fits the demographic the advertiser wants to reach.

For that individual spot, a business might pay between $350 and $500 for a single blast of their message. However, in order for that message to reach its intended audience, it has to be broadcast over and over again. The necessary repetition causes that approach to get expensive pretty quickly depending on how much a radio stations charges in their market.


In this image, you can see the advertising rates (also called a ‘rate card’) for the BBC World News radio. During the sales process, the advertiser most often commits to a contract for the frequency of their radio ad which effectively multiplies the total cost of their 30-second spot. The radio broadcast goes out but is essentially never heard again thereby imposing deep limits on the effect that ad might have and the potential for the advertiser to yield a return on their cost.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the data to determine how many potential customers are actually reached through a printed magazine or a radio commercial, giving us no real way to measure whether or not it reached its intended destination much less achieved the desired outcome. It really is a shot in the dark which underscores the decline in conventional display advertising in favor of digital marketing strategies.

Measuring Reach in the Digital Era

By contrast, a piece of content marketing (such as a blog post) we can use the same metric of reach to measure value. But, instead of how many listeners a radio ad may have reached, we can look at how many page impressions a given article would have gained. We also have additional metrics with which to evaluate our return on investment (ROI).

Other metrics for determining ROI include:

  • average time on page for a given web visitor
  • how many people viewed the post page
  • how many people interacted with the post
  • how many people bookmarked the post
  • how many people shared the post within social media

The image above is an actual screen capture of a high-quality, high-impact piece of content from leading Search Engine Optimization website SEOmoz. The best part is that when a blog post is bookmarked, and when it’s indexed by the search engines, it continues to generate traffic and beneficial exposure over time. You’ll want to compare that return to the benefit you could expect from a terrestrial radio spot which can only build brand recognition and awareness through costly repetition of the ad.

This naturally leads us to ask ourselves a question. When you’re trying to promote a product or service, or otherwise get your message out to the public, how would you rather spend your money? Would you prefer to spend $500 by buying just one radio spot, or would you want to publish an individual piece of content to the right online publication at no additional cost because it has the potential to continue benefitting you over time?

Let’s looks at the following chart which illustrates a comparison between the results that can be measured with a radio ad versus a content marketing piece:

Measurable Results:Radio Advertising:Content Marketing:
Estimated Reach116 million U.S. households94,000 Facebook Fans alone
Cost Per Spot$525 (weekday, daytime)$500 *(see note)
Actual ImpressionsUnmeasurable 5,193 and growing
Social SharesZero - Not Possible1,413 and growing
Audience Feedback Zero - Not Possible 158 reader comments
Unique Listeners / VisitorsUnmeasurable3,303 and growing

* NOTE: this comparative cost assumes that the piece of content was professionally produced and syndicated by a content marketing agency

The Life of a Blog Post

Life of a blog post

The screenshot above shows the cumulative Google Analytics data for a single blog post over a nine month period from the date of publishing to yesterday (February 2013). Notice that the content creates value over an extended period of time, rather than one time radio spot which simply cannot generate prolonged benefit for the advertiser.

The conclusion to be drawn from this comparison is that the old way of marketing a business solution or message truly is incomparable when put side by side with marketing in the online realm. Perhaps now more than ever, it’s essential that cost-conscious company owners be able to readily quantify results and justify the expenses related to their business development efforts.

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