Content marketing has its roots in custom publishing and loyalty-driven efforts, and for more than 100 years its primary goal has been customer retention, says Joe Pulizzi, founder and executive director of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). In recent years, however, content marketing’s objectives have broadened, and it is playing a much more important role in the overall marketing strategy at many companies, both B2B and B2C.

A new report by CMI and MarketingProfs on content marketing benchmarks, budgets, and trends in North America finds that B2B companies have earmarked an average of 33 percent of their marketing budgets for content marketing in 2013, up from 26 percent last year, and they intend to boost that expenditure to 54 percent in 2014. A similar report on the B2C segment finds that 28 percent of marketing budgets, on average, are allocated to content marketing, and 55 percent of consumer marketers plan to increase their content marketing spend. Currently, 91 percent of B2B companies and 86 percent of B2C firms use some form of content marketing.

Content marketing initially proved its worth as a customer retention tool by delivering consistently valuable content to current customers, a strategy that has proven effective in keeping customers longer and driving increased cross-sales and up-sales, Pulizzi reports. “Customer events and print customer magazines have scored high in effectiveness over the three years we’ve been measuring it,” he says. But its role is expanding dramatically in areas that include building brand awareness, customer acquisition, lead generation, thought leadership, engagement, and more.

Customer acquisition is an increasingly important mandate for content marketing, singled out as an organizational goal by three-quarters of both B2C and B2B companies in surveys by CMI and MarketingProfs. Citing Google’s Zero Moment of Truth research, Pulizzi notes that the average buyer engages with more than 10 pieces of content before making a purchase decision. “If your content is not part of that mix, odds are you will be left out of that process,” he warns. All organizations need to position themselves as informational resources in their particular niche. “As far as top-of-the-funnel activity goes, content marketing may in fact be one of the best tools for customer acquisition.”

Content marketing’s effectiveness as a customer-acquisition strategy is maximized by including a call-to-action within the content that drives consumers to a landing page associated with the brand, suggests Marc Purtell, director, SEO at MediaWhiz, a performance marketing agency. “The more buzz-worthy the content, the more likely it is that customers will find your brand’s content,” he says. Content marketing also serves a more intrinsic long-term customer-acquisition value of increasing brand awareness and influence while supplementing search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, he adds.

Content marketing experts argue that the strategy offers a number of distinct advantages over other marketing and advertising techniques:

  • It can break through screens. “People everywhere have generally rejected ‘selling by yelling,’” says Brian Sheehan, associate professor of advertising at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and author of Loveworks. People have many ways of screening out conventional advertising messages, which are very “uni-dimensional,” while content marketing enables brands to be “incredibly personalized,” he explains. “Content marketing allows people to find your brand through content they may already be interested in, in a tone and manner that enables them to engage in their own time and on their own terms.”
  • It lasts a long time. Advertising can work wonders, but an organization is codependent on the advertiser, says Laurie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy, Inc. “Unless ad dollars are being pumped into the ad vehicle, there will be no visibility. Content grows and has a compounding interest effect, where small investments of content compound into a large footprint online.”
  • It is organic and can boost Google rankings. Good, solid content is the key to getting and retaining high rankings on Google, says Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO of online book marketing and publicity agency Author Marketing Experts, Inc. “Ads won’t get you ranking,” she insists. “They may get you visibility, but you won’t keep consumers on your site, or coming back, if you don’t give them a solid reason to visit.”
  • It puts your business in control. An ad is a shot in the dark; you put it out there and hope someone finds you. With content marketing, you create content based on your customers, not your business, says Mike Wolfe, president of WAM Enterprises, an inbound marketing agency. “You can take questions you are often asked by your customers and turn those into content. Now you have solved a problem, saved your business time, and have something to share via social media,” he says. “Content gives you a voice; traditional advertising only allowed you to rent space.”

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