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Content Marketing Can Do More Than Survive in the New World

Following the tenets of content marketing can be more than a survival technique in 2020 and beyond.

In fact, content marketing is poised to be the shining star of a brand’s marketing mix in this new world we’re living in.

#Contentmarketing can be the shining star of a brand’s marketing mix in this new world, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. Share on X

I know, I know, you’d expect someone from the Content Marketing Institute to say that. But I’m not the Pollyanna of content marketing. I know these challenging times are affecting every industry, and content marketing is not immune. Businesses are making and will have to keep making tough decisions. Talented people will be laid off. New business models will be forced to emerge.

But I believe content marketing – and content marketers – are in a good position to weather and excel at those challenges as well as possible.

Let me explain.

Traditional paid advertising is in precipitous decline

Traditional media outlets already have been in crisis mode – ceasing print publications, laying off staff, and focusing on digital. Why? Fewer companies are spending money to advertise in them. Sadly, the coronavirus effect is accelerating that trend. We might see more media outlets shutting down in the coming months as a result. But that doesn’t mean people need less high-quality information or education.

Lesson: Act like a publisher of content (not a marketer of content) and be the one to fill the widening information gap, enticing people to subscribe to your content.

Act like a publisher of #content, not a marketer of content, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Share on X

Does that really work? Yes, 68% of top performers use content marketing to build a subscribed audience and 83% of the top performers use it to nurture subscribers/audiences/leads. (Note: All the CMI research I’ll reference comes from the B2B Content Marketing 2020 report, which uses results from a 2019 survey.)

Example: Salesforce regularly provides content to grow and nurture its business-focused audiences. In mid-March, it added a Leading Through Change feature to its blog – a smart way to help its audience get the information it needs now. Note the call to action is information-focused and clearly explains what subscribers will get. There are no product pitches, no selling. And I’m also appreciative of surrounding content that discusses how Salesforce is helping its employees as well as the community.

Digital paid advertising is dropping

In the current crisis, social media use is growing. But paid advertising on those platforms is in decline. For example, Twitter is up 23% in daily usage this year, but analysts expect a 20% drop in paid advertising revenue in March alone. Facebook reports indicate a similar trend.

Do I think that means these social platforms will go back to the good old algorithms when significant organic reach was possible without spending a dime? No, probably not. But you are more likely to find your audiences using these and other social platforms.

Lesson: Update how social media integrates with your content marketing strategy to take advantage of the increase in visitors and the decline in paid advertising. 

Does that really work? Yes – 93% of the top performers prioritize delivering relevant content when and where a person is likely to see it.

93% of the top performers prioritize delivering relevant #content when and where a person is likely to see it via @cmicontent. #research Share on X

Example: Office Depot’s Facebook platform offers a mix of relevant content – and each post includes a link to drive people to its website to continue the story or a helpful article.

Content marketing doesn’t demand big investments

In this new era, marketing budgets will be scrutinized more closely than they ever have been. Content marketers can do a lot with budgets that pale in comparison to traditional advertising and marketing vehicles. Content marketing is certainly not free to do, but it can be more affordable in generating positive outcomes.

#Content marketers can do a lot with budgets that pale in comparison to traditional ads & marketing, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. Share on X

For example, content marketers can incorporate user-generated content, publish guest articles at no cost on reputable third-party sites, and grow the brand’s community through digital means. This is a smart strategy at any time, but especially now.

Lesson: Elevate content marketing’s role in your company’s overall marketing and advertising mix. 

Does that really work? Small teams are the norm in content marketing for many companies. Over half of all businesses with less than 1,000 employees have a small or one-person content marketing team, while 12% of companies with over 1,000 employees do.

Example: I share an oldie but a goodie – GoPro. The video camera company has had massive business success with a tiny marketing budget because of user-generated content. As this Fast Company article reports, GoPro doubled its income between 2010 and 2011 to $24.6 million with a marketing budget of only $50,000. In 2013, it made $28 million more in net income by only adding $41,000 to the marketing budget.

Early indicators hint at a better future for content marketing

In an early snapshot of the global pandemic’s effect, content marketing was one of the least impacted among agency services (and even saw a slight positive impact) among the 122 agencies surveyed by Orbit Media Studios and Agency Management Institute. The survey was conducted on March 26 and will be repeated in the coming months.

In the early stages of this crisis, it’s hard to tell whether these agency clients recognize the value of content marketing now or if they prioritized easier cuts, like media buys, that could have an immediate (and bigger) impact to their bottom lines.

But smart brands are recognizing the value of content marketing in the short AND long term. Though your audiences might not be looking to buy now, they are looking for information or even entertainment – and you can provide that in a way that complements your brand. Then, when your audience is looking to buy down the road, it will already see your company as a trusted resource.

Lesson: Treat content marketing as a bridge in the short and long term to stay connected with your audiences.

Treat #contentmarketing as a bridge in the short & long term to stay connected w/ audiences, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Share on X

Does that really work? Yes – 84% of the most successful content marketing programs build loyalty with their content marketing, according to CMI’s annual research.

Example: With stay-at-home orders dominating the country, Planet Fitness facilities are closed. But that shouldn’t stop people from exercising – or connecting with Planet Fitness. That’s why the company launched United We Move: Home Work-Ins, a daily Facebook livestream class taught from the homes of its instructors.

Content marketing has stood the test of time

More than 275 years ago, Ben Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack as an indirect marketing tactic for his printing business.

In 1888, Johnson & Johnson launched a publication, Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment, aimed at the needs of doctors who bought bandages from the company.

In 1924, Sears launched its World’s Largest Store radio program using content from Sears’ Roebuck Agricultural Foundation to keep farmers informed during the deflation crisis.

In the 21st century, BlendTec entertained millions with its Will It Blend? video series. And L’Oreal paid seven figures to acquire the non-branded domain to serve as its content repository.

This handful of examples spans the centuries because these businesses recognized their role as more than a provider selling a product or service. They played the long game – taking on a bigger role in their audience’s lives.

Lesson: Use content marketing to have more than a transactional role with your audience.

Use #contentmarketing to have more than a transactional role with your audience, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Share on X

Does that really work? Yes – 88% of the top content marketing programs prioritize audience information needs over the organization’s sales/promotional needs, according to CMI research.

Example: As the last recession was ending in 2010, American Express launched OPEN Forum® on the premise that “small businesses have the power to help re-engineer our economy.” The microsite – – told the stories of what owners are doing to run their businesses better. Later in the year, American Express launched a live-event element with the debut of Small-Business Saturday, which has become a retailer phenomenon.

You are a shining star too

Do you know what all these successful ideas and examples have in common? They’re crafted by creative and empathetic thinkers who know how to work across platforms to deliver what audiences want when they want it. That, fellow content marketers, is the way to shine in the professional marketplace.

As all of our stories of content marketing evolve, I’d love to hear from you. What are you finding works for your brand now? How are you planning for the future? Do you need help getting buy-in in this new world? What topics would you like to know more about? Please share in the comments or email me at [email protected]. I wish you all good health and happiness.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute