Does Content Marketing Actually Work?

Kid-Reading-Under-Covers

Have you ever wondered whether content marketing will actually work to generate sales?

I have a confession to make. Well, two confessions, actually…

I was not an early adopter of content marketing or inbound marketing techniques. In fact, when my colleague, Phil Donaldson started experimenting with these strategies, I’d catch him on Hootsuite and accuse him of wasting his time on Twitter and social networking when he should be marketing and bringing us new clients.

[You should have seen the look of disdain on her face when she would find me in Hootsuite or on LinkedIn! — Phil]

There, it’s out. I really did accuse him of this (he reminds me frequently).

Let’s face it. I’m really a sales person at heart who became a marketer. No, scratch that.  I’m a BUYER FACILITATOR. I don’t sell anything. I help the buyer make a decision on how to improve their results, and if I do it well and am working with a buyer that I can really help, then they make a decision that benefits me and my company. I don’t really like calling it “sales.”

So as a “buyer facilitator” who is responsible for delivering results every quarter in terms of cold hard revenue, I need consistent results. And those results only happen when I’m on the phone, talking to prospective customers and driving leads into my funnel. It’s a numbers game. Right?

But back to Phil and his insubordination…

I hired Phil to run marketing for PropelGrowth, to help with client projects, and to expand our company’s offerings with some amazing motion graphic skills. Check out this content marketing video he created. I did NOT hire him to “play around” with social media all day.

[I was also reading blogs, listening to podcasts and attending webinars. More like "learning around." I was also getting other work done as well. Buyer facilitators can sometimes be so hyperbolic. :-D – Phil]

Fortunately for PropelGrowth, Phil is an independent thinker (he likes to remind me that I wanted an independent thinker and not a “yes man”). So on his own, he started researching inbound marketing, content marketing, and thought leadership strategies and figuring out how to weave these into our marketing programs. For him this came naturally. He used to work in the pharmaceutical industry where the medical education part of the business had to be educational, not promotional.

He started pushing me to blog…regularly. He pushed us to create compelling thought leadership of our own. He inspired this white paper on thought leadership, that has now been picked up in lots of blogs and even been incorporated into a couple of professional marketing curricula.

Ok, now for confession #2. Deep breath…

I expected instant results.

When our blog didn’t attract 1,000 visitors the first week, and several qualified sales leads the first month, I said it wasn’t working.

But I have a pattern of expecting instant results.

A few years ago, I planted cilantro from seed. I’m not much of a gardener, so growing something from seed was new to me. The package clearly said that the seeds would germinate in 14 days. But after a week, nothing was happening. I wondered if the seed was old. I dug a few up to see if roots had sprouted from the seeds yet. Nothing. No change at all. I decided I needed new seed.

But I have a busy schedule, so it took me about a week to go get the seed, and before I got it in the ground, I noticed that I had hundreds of tiny cilantro sprouts in my garden. Exactly 14 days after I’d planted.

What does this have to do with sales or marketing? A lot, really. Every expert on content marketing points out that it takes 6-12 months of consistent work, delivering high quality content before you start to see results. That’s exactly what happened to us. After about 6 months of steady content publication, we started to attract a following. People started subscribing to the blog and following our work on social networks like LinkedIn, the TabbFORUM and SeekingAlpha.

[What's ironic is that Candyce told me to read Ardath Albee's book and apply the principles to our business. Then, I signed her up on Focus and would catch her in "fits of Focus," answering questions all over the place. — Phil]

So what happened?

About 8 months into the process, we started getting leads and closed a couple small deals that were generated from our content marketing activities.

Fast forward to today. We’ve now been blogging and publishing content since 2009. We’ve posted 64 blog posts (not impressive compared to other bloggers). We now have more than a thousand visitors a month reading our blog, and we’re generating a steady stream of new well-qualified sales leads. In fact, today, 100% of our recent engagements were influenced during their buying cycle by our content marketing.

Yes, I said 100%.

So what do I mean by that? Here are three recent examples:

One client saw my article on TabbFORUM about writing a white paper about FX eCommerce. They wanted something similar and called us.

One client has been following my updates on LinkedIn for a couple years, and saw the archived webinar we did on Content Marketing for Niche Markets. They emailed me asking for a similar program.

I met another new prospective client at a conference last year. I tried to open up an opportunity with them after the conference, but couldn’t get anywhere. So we connected on LinkedIn, and I occasionally pinged him with a friendly email. They followed our updates, saw the events we put together on emerging markets last year, and are engaging us to do a series of webinars on a similar topic.

So there you go. Yes, it does work. But follow the instructions.

  1. Plant fresh and high quality seed (quality educational content – not marketing mumbo jumbo).
  2. Consistently water and fertilize (add new content and syndicate it where your target audience is).
  3. Don’t expect germination before the seeds are ready (6-12 months for germination, 12-18 months to start harvesting).

Here’s a link to some of our blog posts about content marketing.

(Update as of June 2014:  We’re now up to 147 blog posts, and I have not made a cold call in FOUR YEARS. All of our business now comes from our content marketing, referrals, and repeat business.)

So I’d like to hear from you…

Do you believe in the power of content marketing?

Have you seen it deliver results?

Would you like to give it a try?