Sales & Marketing | 5 min read

Great content marketing is not Enough

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“Build it and they will come.” It’s an idealistic notion at the heart of inbound marketing – and one that rejects the more traditional paid advertising and marketing tactics.

Most smart brands (tech or otherwise) are now publishers, and the popular narrative says telling a powerful story and promoting it with a series of clever tweets pulls in an interested audience. Does the company have a blog? Should they experiment in the podcast space? Are they utilizing the latest social media? We do each of these things at Intercom, but producing great content is just one piece of a sound marketing strategy. Corralling heavy traffic is another.

The work you publish is ultimately a service to your audience, a group that can quickly plateau when content isn’t easily discoverable for those who would be delighted to find it. In our experience, using paid promotion in support of inbound marketing leads to more quality leads engaging with your content, and ultimately, your product.

The Myth: Outbound Advertising is Just for Commodities

In commoditized industries like retail and beverages, aggressive paid promotion is not only important, it’s expected. Paid advertising works well for these markets because commoditized products aren’t unique. Take Coke and Pepsi, for example. Their taste is nearly indistinguishable, and each accomplishes the same job of quenching thirst in a sweet and satisfying way. Branding, packaging, and advertising represent the clearest paths to market differentiation for these two brands.

Following an era where unsightly, often ignored banners lowered the status quo for web and UX design and impersonal ads cloud mobile screens, a new wave of tech startups see advertising as obnoxious and unnecessary. Entire Reddit-style communities such as inbound.org are built around promoting alternatives to paid promotion or traffic.

These startups put most of their time and effort into content like blogs, ebooks and social media posts in hopes they’ll reach the right crowd and go viral. This approach ignores one clear fact: Virality is the result of an unpredictable equation.

Mass Awareness = Luck + Gut + Science

Instrumenting virality is both difficult and next to impossible to predict with content alone. A lot of marketers point to the Serial podcast as a great example, but “This American Life” was producing outstanding programs for years. That’s not to say Serial doesn’t become a hit otherwise; however, the legitimacy and audience that comes with a name-brand production company gave the program a massive head start compared to an independently produced podcast of comparable quality.

Rovio, the game studio, spent six years toiling to find a winning formula, producing 51 unsuccessful games, before hitting the jackpot with Angry Birds and its 3 billion downloads. The company’s sharp dip in year-over-year revenue and recent job cuts are evidence of how difficult this recipe is to repeat.

With so few guarantees, why not increase your odds? Search ads, remarketing ads and other paid channels are frequently used to establish viral momentum. A recently published survey from Moz, a SEO software provider, found original content and Facebook advertising to be the most cost-effective tools for attracting a large audience. At Intercom, we’ve found success using one tactic to fuel the other.

Fighting Through the Noise

It’s hard to make content marketing stand out on its own. We know because we spent three years doing it. Potential customers have to wade through oceans of material to reach your content. Sure, you can optimize your blogs, but there’s a ton of noise out there and search engines have wizened up to both high-frequency and low quality content strategies. Meanwhile, your owned social channels are competing for eyeballs in a crowded, fast-paced marketplace. When it comes to impressions among your followers – the percentage that actually sees a given post – single digits are not uncommon.

That’s why patience is such a key component of inbound marketing. Organic traffic is a slow-rolling snowball, and the growth process requires heavy-hitting influencers and lots of social media traction along the way. The issue with patience in the tech world? There’s pressure to get your content discovered faster than an organic approach allows. You’re struggling to beat competitors to market, take full advantage of your funding, meet investor expectations, and more. Every day counts.

A paid approach helps increase reach and velocity to meet those demands. As an advertiser, early exposure becomes easier to predict and measure. Paid promotion can also provide audience insights: Testing media and creative approach is an efficient way to see where and how your brand speaks loudest.

The Paid Engagement Payoff

Here at Intercom our first paid promotion journey started with basic paid social advertising and search advertising. After adopting a Jobs-To-Be-Done approach to product and marketing we saw a breakthrough in our ability to hone in on specific audiences. Promoting the wealth of content we’ve created over the past year effectively tripled traffic.

Strong content begins with knowing your audience, and successful advertising is no different. Tasked this past summer with getting mobile designers, developers and app creators familiar with Intercom’s mobile offering, we began a weekly RSS feed sponsorship at Daring Fireball, John Gruber’s highly regarded blog. As Gruber puts it, his site caters to “Mac nerds, designers, nitpickers, perfectionists and connoisseurs of fine sarcasm,” which we saw as an ideal overlap of our target audience.

Of those that jumped from the sponsor ad to our site, 80% were new visitors – and many stuck. The conversion rate from email signups to trials was 73% higher than the next, less-targeted paid advertising channel.

Great content is the foundation of an effective marketing program. Educate, entertain, and persuade potential customers with relevant how-to articles, customer stories, and thought-provoking industry commentary. Don’t just tell them how to use your product, tell them how they can be successful, with or without your product or service.

Once you nail content execution, the next step is not a question of promotion versus distribution, or push versus pull. Incorporate organic and paid elements into your marketing mix, and then “they will come.”