Thoughts on Content Marketing for Growth

by Debra Andrews | June 19, 2018

It’s common that when we start with a new client, we’re taking the reins from a previous marketing firm. And often, the reason for the transition comes down to strategy. Without a focus on strategic objectives—or when tactical implementation predates a clear strategy—content doesn’t drive the returns companies want to see. Let’s talk a little bit about how content marketing for growth involves a lot of strategic foresight and commitment. And how, without that foundation, you’re going to struggle with returns.  

The Big Shift

Over the last ten years, businesses have tended toward creating content based on a self-centered, coal-shoveling-like perspective. The general notion has been something like:

  • Create content.
  • Publish.
  • Enjoy traffic.

And that “worked” for a while. With a simple keyword strategy (e.g., high-volume, generalized terms) and a big enough platform for broadcasting the content (e.g., social media support, guest posts, backlinks) you could drive your numbers. You could revel in rising pageviews and vanity metrics. You could present your first-page search listings and pat yourself on the back. All was well in the Land of the Lotus-Eaters. But then, a big client set sail for sunnier shores. Or the referral well dried up. Or a disruptive trend or new contender stole away market share. “Can we turn this traffic into revenue?” asked the Lotus King, as if that was the point all along.

Meanwhile, Back on the Farm…

It’s difficult to create a coherent strategy after the tactical fact. I like to think of tactics like farm animals and strategy like a fence. We need both, so we have two options:

  • Option A: Set animals loose. Build fence around them.
  • Option B: Build fence. Put animals inside.

You could try Option A, but there’s no question it’s going to be way more unwieldy, costly, and inefficient. It’s better to figure out what type of farm you’re trying to make first. (You can find more on that analogy and revenue growth here.) I wish I could say that Option A is rare in the wild, but it’s a very common scenario. The production of content feels great. Things are happening! We are getting out there! Look at us go! But when that aforementioned reality hits, there’s usually not much to show for all the effort. I’ll give you an example. About nine months ago, we started working with a client that was putting considerable budget toward marketing but wasn’t seeing their desired return. We’ve spent our time with them like we would with any client. Grossly simplified, that looks something like this:

  • Identify where they are (e.g., toolkit, budget, strengths).
  • Define their ideal outcome (e.g., customers, services, revenue).
  • Create a roadmap connecting Point A to Point B.
  • Follow the roadmap.
  • Adjust the tactics based on whether they’re getting us to Point B.

Unsurprisingly, defining a strategic focus and dialing in their tactics has generated results. We’ve created gated content pieces that speak to their target buyer. We’ve adjusted their blogging strategy to showcase subject matter expertise. And we’re seeing some progress in the year-over-year metrics:

(For those not used to accounting spreadsheets, black = over, red = under.) The client was producing content well before we showed up, but it didn’t have a strategic purpose. With a strategy in place, the content has been much more focused. The goal is clear, and we can create content that pushes toward the goal. That said, we still have a lot to do and a long way to go. We’re revamping their website. We’re working through big issues preventing us from really pressing the pedal and scaling up. We’re digging into marketing and business development alignment. In other words, while we’re seeing early return on our content, we have to finish building the fence before we can put energy toward full-scale production. You might be asking, “George, what does that mean for me?” And that is spectacular timing on your part. I was just going to get into that.

Content Marketing for Growth: Q&A

We can usually diagnose a lack of strategic foresight in content based on the presence of a type of question. This type of question typically revolves around ROI, but it also signals a fundamental misunderstanding about the role of content and how quickly it can bring you results. Let’s go over a few, and I’ll give some rapid-fire responses to each:

Why doesn’t my content generate contacts?

If you’re having difficulties generating new contacts through your content marketing efforts, it’s typically due to a few common problems:

Lack of Perceived Value

If you’re getting traffic, but it’s leading to few new contacts in your database, then it’s likely you’re not giving your audience much value through your content. To generate contacts, you must give your audience something to think about and engage in. You must offer a unique perspective. Simply put, they’re not going to opt into contact if it’s not worth their time.

Content Ordering Issues

Every content piece should have a logical next step for the reader to take. That could mean creating a related-blogs widget, creating clearer calls to action, or embedding forms higher on a page. Whatever the case, adding a natural next step for the reader gives them a simple way to continue to engage. If that step is clear, relevant, and easy, then it’s likely they’ll take it.

Traffic Woes

Building an audience requires understanding who you’re writing for and why you’re uniquely qualified to write about it. If you’re not getting traffic, it could be you’re not clear on either. Or maybe you’re not optimizing your content for search. Or you’re not picking topics or notions that you can rank for. Worse, perhaps your lack of strategy has made it difficult for people and search engines to understand what you’re about.


If you’re on strategy, just breathe a little bit. Focus on creating valuable content for your target audience. Build clear pathways for them to use on the buyer’s journey. Try to be helpful, share your company’s perspective, and be patient while driving to your goal.

Why aren’t we generating the right leads?

If you have new contacts in your database, but not the type of contacts that excite your sales team, then you likely have one of these mismatch problems:

  • You’re not writing for the right audience. If this is the case, you need to get some perspective. Try getting in front of a great customer—one you wish you could replicate—and pick their brain. (What drove them to look for a solution like yours? What do they wish they knew sooner? What made them pick your solution over others? What are they still struggling with?) If you can’t get access to a customer, then maybe role play and find some materials online, find a conference to attend, or pay for a research study. Do whatever it takes to give you more understanding of the person you’re trying to attract.
  • You’ve changed your strategy and made your old content irrelevant. Coming from my own experience, this is one of the more frustrating scenarios for a content marketer because it’s more of a business strategy issue than a content problem. Leadership needs to set clear long-term objectives and stick to them. So energy is best spent defining the strategic fence and getting buy-in on that long-term vision.
  • Your other tactics aren’t aligned to your strategic target. If you’re making good content for the audience, but not bringing them in, then you might just have a visibility problem. You’ll need to figure out how to get your content in front of the right audience, so they can interact with it. That typically means branching out in terms of outreach, whether it’s through social media, sponsored content, pay-per-click, guest posts, trade shows, or leveraging your referral network. Salespeople can usually help give a little guidance here, as they’re plugged into where the audience is and how to get in front of them.

Why are we losing marketing leads in the sales process?

This one is a more advanced question, and its underlying struggle can be very frustrating for leadership. But it’s fixable. It involves identifying disconnects between what you’re presenting in your marketing content and what the lead is experiencing in the sales funnel. Questions that can help you here are usually in this vein:

  • What do we wish leads knew sooner, so it was less of a surprise?
  • How can we better qualify leads before we pass them to sales?
  • How can we ballpark pricing before we get a lead on the phone?

These are great questions to start asking, as they make the relationship between marketing and sales clearer. To be able to scale in the modern age, the two functions have to be aligned and communicating. (Best case, this type of introspection leads to the more powerful, combined revenue team.)

The Wrap Up

I hope this gives you a sense that great content stems from clear long-term marketing strategy. A clear understanding of the objective provides the necessary structure to in which your content marketing can thrive. Image Credits:

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