By Joe Pulizzi published February 16, 2013

Content Marketing: Why You Should Buy Value Instead of Leasing It

content-marketing-buying-valueThe CMI team is in the middle of working on a video about content marketing and one of the key phrases we are using is, “Why lease when you can buy?”

If you are looking at a car or a house, there are pros and cons to buying versus leasing (or renting). To make a decision, first you have to understand the differences between buying and leasing:

“When you buy, you pay for the entire cost of the [asset] regardless of how [much you use it or what you get out of it.] When you lease, you pay for only a portion of [the real asset’s cost], which is the part that you ‘use up’ [while you are occupying it].”

Creating your own content is like “buying”

Think about that for a second in relation to the creation of content. By creating your own content, publishing it, then distributing it through print and online mechanisms, you’ve bought yourself an asset. Once you buy it, you could do nothing with it or you can distribute the heck out of it. Regardless, you still pay the same for that asset. Getting ROI out of it is ultimately up to you.

If executed correctly, you can leverage (and re-leverage) that asset to continually communicate with customers and prospects. A great example of this is CMI’s 100 Content Marketing Examples eBook. That piece of “owned” content was made up of about 50 other pieces of “owned” content.

For the most part, top-tier content marketing like this does not depreciate over time (it’s what publishing folks call “evergreen” content), unlike a car. Great content works more like buying a house or property — if it’s good, and can easily be found (location), it will go up in value.

Traditional advertising is “leasing”

Although more and more companies are buying content, the majority of marketing budgets are still spent on leasing or renting activities, such as print advertising, online display, or PPC. As in the definition above, you, the marketer, pay a small portion of the true asset cost or value (owned by the publisher or content distributor) for the area that you are “using up” during that particular time.

Since the publisher owns the asset (which is, essentially, the community they bring to the table for your benefit), they have the right to charge you for the space you are taking up.

Now, advertising absolutely has its place. We at CMI have even used it on occasion. But understand that once it’s gone, it’s gone. You have paid for renting the space, so there is no asset created, in and of itself. The activity generated from the advertising may ultimately create an asset, but the space you occupied with your brief message is essentially worthless after the period of “occupation” is over. Poof… gone.

That’s why your advertising had better work, because its value has an expiration date.

Why are more marketers buying/creating content today?

It’s quite simple if you think about it: As we see more technological advances, the consumers of content have more and more control over what they engage in. In the past, there were limited options (television, radio, newspapers, and consumer and trade magazines). Today, buyers can go to a search engine and find exactly what they are looking for in a second. And, since Google has democratized content, ANY company with great content can, over time, develop an audience.

Content is also worth more today since it is constantly “alive” on the web, and is available for consumption, even years after it was first distributed.

For example, this article on What is Content Marketing? was created more than five years ago. Over that period of time, well over 300,000 people have viewed it. Many of those readers have since signed up to receive more information and many of them, subsequently, became customers. From December 2012 through the present, this very old article has seen 16,322 visits. The investment to make this article? Just two hours of my time.

So while the value of traditional marketing vehicles is declining due to increases in media choice, lower technological barriers for content creation, and greater content accessibility, corporate content marketing has become more valuable — for the very same reasons.

Some “to-dos” for the traditional marketer

Don’t worry if you still spend a boatload on traditional marketing. However, you may also realize that the tide is moving away from traditional media, and you may not be sure what to do next. Here are a couple easy steps to take:

  • Don’t go canceling all your traditional print and online advertising (I’m sure you won’t). But do leverage those communities to distribute valuable, relevant, and compelling content that can entice a behavior. Blog posts, white papers, webinars, video shorts — all are good ways to engage with a target buyer. IBM has been using traditional advertising channels to gather attention for its white papers for years. Cisco systems promotes its thought-leadership articles on LinkedIn. The ultimate hope here is to leverage the current value of advertising to convert that prospect into a loyal subscriber.
  • Get serious about content in your organization. The title of Chief Content Officer is starting to pop up in more and more businesses. Why? Because content is a strategic marketing device that can drive substantial revenues, so it must be taken seriously. Content is the asset you create that becomes the foundation for your customer relationships. Give ownership to someone who can help guide your content ship.

When does it make sense to “rent” your content?

A close friend of mine asked me recently whether or not he should buy a house (as opposed to renting). I answered with these two points:

  • What’s the timetable? If you are only going to live in the house for a short period of time, it doesn’t make sense to buy. Renting makes more sense because of all the up-front work and costs it takes to invest in a house. The same goes for content. Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. If you need immediate return from your marketing, advertising may be a better way to go.
  • What are you willing to invest? The cost of the house itself is just a portion of the investment. You may have to buy appliances or furniture. You may have to fix the roof or the driveway. If you aren’t willing to invest to make your house a home, then renting may be a better option. The same goes for content. If you aren’t willing to invest in quality content, invest a bit more in how you plan to distribute that content, and also put in the time to build the right relationships so that content spreads, advertising may be a better option for you.

He chose to rent because he didn’t know how long he was going to stay in the area. Enough said.

Buy and build your house

A great content strategy does not happen overnight, but it’s very similar to buying and building your house. The more investment in skilled builders (internal storytellers, outside and inside journalists, epic designers, etc.), the better your house will look and the more it will increase in value (in terms of customer relationships, loyalty, and increased sales).

There are always situations where leasing works, but if you can buy the asset of content, and you know that (if done correctly) the asset will grow in value, why would you ever miss out on that opportunity?

Don’t miss more great insight on the content marketing landscape from Joe Pulizzi as he presents at Content Marketing World in Sydney, Australia on March 4–6. Register now to attend. 

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • yepi8

    That’s very useful information, thank you

  • renee groskreutz

    What a wonderful article. I think that your point about people coming back later to your article and the juice that carries is a critical point. I think that people forget how much longevity a blog post can have. Really great article.


  • aboer

    So you just paraphrased our “about us” page. We’ve had it up for a few years now, so we are declaring ourselves thought leaders.

    Here are some other areas where we have failed to convince people to own rather than rent.

    1) If you want to throw a wild party, you might not want to do it in your own house.

    You might want to reach an audience that you might not want to directly embrace. We have a clothing brand as a client that is very popular with fraternities, and likes more edgy, provocative content. We recommended that the brand rent that audience–since it might be too far from the brand’s image to own it.

    2) There are a lot of regulations around owning.
    Ever deal with an overzealous home owners association? Health content and legal content, for example, still have major challenges regarding what can be said, adverse effects reporting, etc. It may simply be cheaper and more effective to rent the audience.

    3) The content audience isn’t actually the customer. (No house metaphor here.)
    Some times there is a nice alignment between the brand/product, their content, and the audience. You get a nice product like a running shoe, you are looking for runners, and runners love running content. Perfect. But sometimes that alignment just isn’t there. Local is often like this…you have a rodeo business client that comes into a local market once a year. But they don’t want rodeo enthusiasts, they want mom’s with kids. How do you we build that audience with appropriate content?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hey Andrew…I love #1 and #2. For #3, you are correct…it’s a challenging deal. I would look at doing some content partnerships that make sense for people already reaching that crowd. But that’s what I love about this industry…there is no silver bullet for any of this.

  • Tom Repp

    Great analogy Joe. I work with industrial marketers and maybe your analogy can get them to understand the value of content distribution/marketing on the web. My only addition would be to make sure the brand message is done well to begin with. In other words, what
    would make a prospect select your company over the competitors? What makes your
    business…truly…different? (And “price, service, quality” do not count!)
    Once the brand message is clear then the entire marketing mix flows much
    easier…including the content you deploy on the web.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Tom. Great take. If you have any great examples of industrial marketers leveraging content marketing, please let me know.

  • Kris Reid

    Hi Joe

    As a content expert I would really love your feedback on our new service. We are providing people with professional writers to develop high quality original content for websites and blogs. We have even built a wordpress plugin to help automate the whole process for people.

    We started a soft launch early this month. It is early days yet but we have had some great feedback. I would really appreciate yours.



    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Kris…are you coming to Content Marketing World this year? Perhaps we could meet there.

      • Kris Reid

        Hi Joe

        I’m in Davao, Philippines so it’s a damn long trip to Cleveland 🙂
        Looks to be a great conference with the line up of speakers

        • Joe Pulizzi

          Totally get it Kris. The on-demand sessions may be more up your alley.

          fyi, we have over 30 countries represented this year.

          • Kris Reid

            I’ll check it out Joe, you’ve got some great speakers. Cheers