Give clients “real business metrics,” says, Joe Lazauskas of Contently.

Walking the halls of my first Content Marketing World I wasn’t surprised to hear lots of agreement that high quality content is essential to effective marketing and sales.

But I was surprised at the mixed messages about whether the goal of that content should be to generate short-term benefit in the form of qualified leads and sales, or if it is enough – or even better – if content captures the right audience and makes you the dominant “voice” about whatever you’re selling.

The answer to this question will determine everything from your editorial to your distribution and content marketing measurement strategies. Hence, it’s something we need to figure out before producing a single piece of copy. Check out these arguments from both sides.

Show Me the Money… 

First, as if anyone needed convincing, research from the Content Marketing Institute and business news publisher SmartBrief  reinforced “the value of content marketing in guiding prospects during the purchasing process.” Among the findings: Two thirds tap sources other than manufacturers or vendors in the initial information gathering stage of a purchase, and almost as many said the most important consideration was that the information speak to their specific needs or pain points. That seems to point to the need for content to generate leads and sales, and to be measured on that basis.

One speaker, Joe Lazauskas, director of content strategy and editor in chief at software and services provider Contently, argued in favor of “accountable real business metrics” that generate return on investment, rather than just “impressions” when a reader sees a piece of copy. Another speaker, Jeannine Rossignol, chief executive and marketing officer of Edge Building and Construction, urged content marketers to think more like sales people and design content to drive sales, not just hits on a Web site.

…Or Show Me the Audience

But an Curran, CEO of content publishing software and services vendor PowerPost, argued that the real road to success for content marketers isn’t  in generating leads, but  in capturing share of “voice” – being a or the leading authority on a subject. The market presence and leads will follow, he argues.

But don’t his clients want hard dollar results like quality leads, I asked? Unfortunately, no, he said – because they often lack the internal processes that would let their sales forces put those leads to good use. This is a real and continuing problem, with some research indicating sales forces ignore a full 50 percent of the sales leads they’re given.

Robert Rose, chief content advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, had an even more revolutionary take. Maybe, he said, we’re not really in the business of creating content but of creating audiences. Those audiences can then be tapped for anything from advertising (Google) to sales of goods and services (Amazon) to tracking their needs to fine tune new products and services. Rose’s stance is not that sales and lead gen isn’t an essential goal for content marketing, but that focusing on it exclusively can blind you to even greater benefits.

“Strategic content creation helps build an engaged audience of people who exhibit specific, desirable behaviors – like greater willingness to share personal data, greater interest in upselling opportunities, and greater brand loyalty and evangelism,” he blogged in October 2016. “When your content compels your audience to adopt these behaviors, not only does it become easier for your business to achieve its long-term marketing goals, it can also open up new business opportunities – and even new revenue streams.”

When Things Go Bad

I can’t help think that, if and when the economy slows, our clients are going to revert to (if they’re not there already) demanding quality leads and not just share of voice or audience to justify their content spending.

But even so, should we be giving equal attention to building long-term audience and “share of voice” along with short-term qualified leads?

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.