Whether you’re the marketing manager of a launching startup or the VP of Sales at an enterprise firm that’s trying to generate new leads for a flagging product, content marketing is an effective strategy to meet your business goals. From increasing your visibility to finding new leads, it’s an area to that can bring new life to your brand. But marketing professionals struggling to demonstrate the ROI on content marketing to their teams or managers can be facing an uphill battle. Here’s a closer look at strategies and statistics that you can use to help demonstrate the power of content marketing to your executive team.
Framing the discussion
Any discussion with an executive needs to happen at two levels. First, you need to skip straight to the impact on the bottom line. What does this exercise in content marketing mean for sales, leads, and revenue? From there, you can back up to talk about secondary benefits such an increased engagement, brand awareness, and thought leadership in your space. Always start with the big impact, and then be prepared to back into the deeper discussion. With this in mind, it’s absolutely critical that you have a solid foundation in the economics of content marketing.
The second component of content marketing that you must communicate is that it’s strategic. Many people outside the field don’t understand that there’s a whole craft to the process that ties topic selection, content placement, and promotion plans to broader business goals. Many of these decisions are driven by advanced metrics, statistics, and data. Discussing both the art and science of content marketing with your CEO and other top execs can help get them comfortable with the idea that this method of marketing is likely to yield a solid ROI. For some great resources on the strategy component of content marketing, see these articles:
- How to Build a Kickass Content Strategy
- The New Era of SEO: Content Strategy
- How to Execute a Converged Media Content Strategy (And Why You Should)
- 11 Places to Find Awesome Content Marketing Ideas
As with any conversation where you’re going to sell an idea, it’s important to understand your audience’s potential objections. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common issues that I’ve encountered in my work with executives when we’re discussing content marketing:
- The CEO doesn’t know what content marketing is.
- They’re unaware of the potential value of content to sell products and services.
- They don’t see the connection between content creation and their sales funnel.
- They have outdated notions that the hard sell is the only way to drive conversions.
- They’re not comfortable with indirect attributions of lead generation to revenue generation.
- Content marketing seems too experimental, new, or too much of a buzz word.
- They lack context that content marketing can be both strategic and scientific in the way that it’s approached.
- They’ve had bad experiences with other forms of marketing (such as SEO or email marketing, for example) and this sounds too similar.
- They’ve bought into the Madison Avenue perspective of brand marketing, and fail to see the power of direct marketing in their business.
- Conversely, content marketing feels as though it’s not “direct marketing” enough to make the sale.
- They’re under the impression that content marketing only works for “sexy” industries, and that their industry is “boring.”
Chances are good that with a bit more brainstorming, you’d be able to develop some additional ideas as well. Based on other conversations about related issues with your team, you’re likely to be able to identify their specific concerns. Spend the time to do that. It will make it much easier to have a successful conversation.
Conducting research before your conversation
Whether you’re preparing a report or getting ready for an in-person conversation: The more research that you do before you sit down with the CEO, the better chance you have of selling a content marketing campaign. Your prep work should fall into several different steps. Here’s a framework that you can use to organize your thoughts and make sure you’re going after the right information.
General background and company context
It’s important with any marketing approach to show specifically how the approach in question is right for your company, and why it’s the best option (of the many available) to solve the most pressing marketing concerns. Here are some specific questions that you can answer:
- What business challenge are you facing that content marketing can solve? Why are you having this conversation, now?
- Introduce the concept of content marketing: what it is, and why is it the right solution for the problem that you’re facing?
- Give some examples of content marketing: email marketing, blog posts, video, etc.
ROI and effectiveness
Become familiar with general ROI statistics for content marketing. Focus on metrics that are meaningful to your business: leads generated, cost per customer, cost vs. lifetime value of the customer, cost for creation, cost vs. revenue generated. Get clear about which metrics matter and try to find general back up on that area.
Some good sources exist. Eloqua has quoted some powerful ROI stats – for example, did you know that content marketing is 31% cheaper than search marketing? According to Hubspot, inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound leads. Budget and ROI are two of the biggest areas for discussion in executive conversations on any topic that can be labeled an expense.
Specific industry case studies
The ability to share relevant case studies can be highly persuasive. Many executives are under the impression, for example, that because they’re in a “not sexy” industry that content marketing will not be an effective means of reaching their customers. However, by looking at specific industry-related case studies, executives can be persuaded of content marketing’s effectiveness.
Another approach to case studies is to find case studies that translate to your industry, even if it’s not a direct fit. For example, if you’re developing a content marketing pitch for a tractor company, you may not find a compelling case study that focuses on tractors. But you may be able to find one on combines, another agricultural tool used by the same target audience, which helps to make a persuasive case. If you’re unable to get that specific, you might develop use cases on forklifts or dump trucks, to show that industrial equipment can be sold through content marketing.
Be creative, and look for reputable case studies that help build executive confidence. Major brands and familiar products are being sold via content marketing, and leveraging this can be extremely helpful.
Show the executives that you know your audience. It’s important here to dig beyond the typical demographic and sales data that they’re accustomed to seeing, and to build a full-fledged buyer profile. With this as a starting point, flesh out the information that’s available about their buying habits. What does the buying cycle look like? At what points are they seeking information such as white papers, case studies, user videos, or product information that you’re failing to provide? Where are they going to consume that information?
Demonstrate how you can get in front of these audiences by creating infographics, guest posting on specific venues, or other creative approaches. Your deep knowledge of your audience’s content and buying habits, merged with your understanding of how different content types and platforms can be used to reach them, will help your proposed plan take shape in your CEO’s mind.
Once you’re in the room (or presenting the report)
Your background research will now form the foundation for your campaign to get your CEO on board for adopting a content marketing strategy. You’ve taken the time to get very clear on what objections and concerns you’re overcoming, and you’ve armed yourself with the information needed to do that strategically. Here are my top strategies for gaining consensus and interest when you’re around the table:
Bring the right people to the meeting: It’s important that any key advisors or decision makers that work with the CEO be present. This could be a trusted aide, a finance person, or a marketing resource. If there’s a person that would need to be present in order to make the decision, try to ensure that they’re with you at the meeting.
Connect with these secondary advisors ahead of time: Find out what the prevailing mindset is about content marketing. You may encounter curiosity and be able to provide some reading material ahead of time. You may find that you have an advocate that believes in content marketing that you can use as a foil during the discussions. You may discover stringent objections based on bigger strategic plans or budget constraints that you can address as part of your presentation, or be prepared to discuss. The more background information you have, the more likely you will be to succeed.
Get right to the point: It can be easy to get mired in the background details. Instead, focus on quickly defining content marketing, establishing the company’s problem, and being clear about why this is the right solution. Treat your presentation or report development with a storytelling angle, and really focus on the big takeaways, results, and impact to the bottom line.
Be prepared with background info: If you’re ruthlessly creating a storyline to take your audience through their concerns to the point of agreement, you’ll have a great deal of information that you can’t immediately use. These could include case studies, statistics, representative campaigns, and more. Have this information prepared in a way that’s easy to access. It’s useful to pull out to answer questions, to provide as background material, or to send as a follow up to your discussion. You’ll find that throughout the decision-making process, this information is unlikely to go to waste.
Create a call to action that’s hard to say no to: It’s possible to dip a toe into the water to confirm that content marketing is right for you. One way to gain early consensus is to propose an initiative that’s limited in scope, budget, and potential for anything to go wrong. This could be launching a blog, trying a campaign around a white paper and guest posts for a specific product, or another discrete campaign to raise awareness. Make it easy to say yes in small ways and you’ll be far more likely to get people on board.
Getting your executive team excited about trying a new form of marketing or advertising can take some work. But if you’ve evaluated the landscape and are confident that content marketing is right for your company and its most urgent marketing challenges, this specific framework is likely to help you gain traction and support. Have you successfully convinced executives and company leadership on the power of content marketing? Let us know how in the comments below.