The Top Reasons Content Marketing Is Superior To Advertising

Advertising works a whole lot better when you can be found online. Take the house odds! Write blogs and then advertise.

Advertising works a whole lot better when you can be found online. Take the house odds! Write blogs and then advertise.

Content marketing has become ubiquitous in marketing circles thanks to marketing professionals like Seth Godin, Joe Pulizzi, and Rand Fishkin. Unfortunately, there is a fair chance that you haven't yet heard why content marketing can have an impact on the bottom line for interior design, landscape, architectural, and design-build firms. Let's start with the content marketing concept and move into the reasons it performs so well.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as, "A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action." Or to put it another way, small businesses should be publishers. It is the most effective least expensive way to make your firm known and nurture prospects into clients. Why is this so?

  • The best reason to consider a content marketing strategy at your firm is because it is measurable and accountable. Print advertising is the primary way built environment firms promote their organizations. I'm going to digress here because I have a few problems with print advertising as your primary means of promotion.

  • The only way you can tell it's working is sales and sales is a lagging indicator of success.

  • Print advertising is impersonal. An automated email campaign speaks to the specific needs of the prospect and allows you to tell your brand story. Print advertising is expensive and does not work by itself. To maximize the benefits of print advertising, you at least need half page advertisements at approximately $4,000 a pop running 6X per year. Add to it the magazine's events, and online presence on the publications' website and email spam and you're spending $30,000 or more annually on a leap of faith. That $30k could buy you 4-5 blogs a week for a year resulting in real leads for your built environment firm.

Unlike advertising in print publications, the return on your investment for content marketing is trackable and allows you to test marketing strategies for effectiveness in real time, not on an annual basis.

Content Marketing Is Here To Stay

There are plenty of come-and-go marketing trends, but content marketing is only growing, both in scope and quality. Why? Because content marketing has become the primary way to draw customers into your business (hence the term "inbound" marketing). Your goal as a content marketer is to create blogs, e-books, whitepapers, podcasts, videos, email, direct mail—any media content that is likely to attract your target demographic.

Compared to traditional marketing, inbound content strategies seek to offer something of value to their prospective customers, rather than winning their ear by being the loudest, most abrasive voice in the room.

Content Marketing Engages Your Audience

As we noted, content marketing is different from traditional marketing in that it's part of an inbound strategy—the attempt to pull customers into your business. The purpose of content marketing is not to replace traditional marketing but to provide an alternative (and increasingly popular) channel in which to expand.
One of the greatest benefits of content marketing is that, while it requires an investment of time and energy, it allows you to compete with your largest competitors without needing the same budget. If you're offering tips on carpet selection for rustic mountain retreats, all you need to worry about is creating the best piece of material on the topic—it costs you nothing extra if one or one thousand people read your content. Compare this to traditional methods like the back page of popular trade magazines, and you'll begin to understand the power of inbound strategies.

To create a great content marketing piece, the key is to answer a burning question in the minds of your prospective customers. By becoming that answer, you develop a reputation among your readers that builds trust, authority, and leads for your design business. To help your content get found by your demographic, make sure your title tags and headlines include keywords they're most likely to punch into Google.

Additionally, interior designers, architects landscape firms, and design-build contractors enjoy the unique benefit of an image-rich industry. If you're not posting photos of your work, you're missing out on a fantastic opportunity! Not only do your potential clients love the visual element in any piece of content, but you can define your quality and style with an image, rather than trying to convince them with your words.

No matter how effective your headline, be sure to back it up with thoughtful, informative content. There are plenty of shortcuts to gain the click-through from Web searchers, but you're not interested in just increasing traffic to your site; you're interesting in building leads for your business. And to build leads, you'll need to provide a level of expertise that helps them better understand why you're the best choice for any design help they might need.

And while most people feel capable of crafting a blog, not as many imagine themselves to have the production abilities for designing YouTube videos or e-books. Plenty of software tools make either of these processes remarkably simple. The key is that you keep the content informative and entertaining. There's no better place to be yourself—consumers are looking to connect with a personality more than a faceless brand, especially in the world of interior design. In fact, more and more, the personality and brand have become intertwined.

If you're still running short on topics or ideas, take a look at what your largest competitors are choosing as a focal point. They may have the research budget that you don't. Additionally, online forums are a great way to learn about how potential customers in your industry are talking about design, from blog topics to under-targeted keywords.

Content Marketing Provides An Avenue For New Customers To Find You

Each new piece of content is another opportunity to find a new customer. But that doesn't mean you should focus on the generation of quantity over quality. While there's no magic formula for content creation, there are some general guidelines that will help you stay on track.

The three V's of value, variety, and volume are a good way to spot-check your work. All three of these are ranking factors for search engines, but, more importantly, they've become ranking factors because they're also what your readers prefer. You need to create content of value with useful, expert information. You need to cover a wide range of topics to attract a diverse base of potential leads, and you need to publish regular, in-depth pieces for readers or watchers to take in.

If any of those elements is missing, you're unlikely to enjoy the fruits of a successful content strategy. At the same time, retaining those three virtues greatly increases your chances of tapping into the near-unlimited lead resource tool that is the open Internet.

Content Marketing Generates More Leads at Lower Costs 

So a solid content strategy sounds like a great, but expensive, idea? HubSpot's 2014 analysis demonstrates otherwise. When they looked at businesses of various sizes, they discovered that, in businesses of all sizes, inbound leads were consistently less expensive than outbound leads. The difference was most dramatic in companies from 51 to 200 employees, in which inbound leads cost just $70 while outbound leads averaged a staggering $220.

That said, most built-environment firms are smaller—sometimes much smaller. Yet still, HubSpot's analysis showed that the average lead for businesses between 1 and 25 employees was just $37 for inbound campaigns but $102 for outbound campaigns.

That means that content marketing not only has the potential to be successful but the potential to drastically reduce your marketing costs. Best of all, the primary factor in your success will be your dedication and expertise.

Content Marketing Allows You To Measure Successes (And Failures) 

Historically, content marketing has seemed more like an attempt to tap into the subconscious of your customers—the generation of print content without a means to measure its impact. But with digital content marketing, you have myriad paths to check on your progress.

Squarespace websites have visitor traffic analytics built in. Software programs like Hubspot, and SharpSpring, allow you to track not just the traffic to your site but the names of those who visit and what they do when they arrive. You can check overall performance or drill down to find the specific topics that resulted in the greatest (or fewest) number of visits to your site. You'll also be able to see how long visitors stay on your page, a measure of engagement—Google values sites that have longer average session durations. Additionally, you'll be able to check whether visitors filled out lead forms or clicked through to other pages on your site.

Proof That Content Marketing Works

We know content marketing works. Means-of-Production has a construction client that has seen visitors to their website go from 120 unique visitors monthly to over 21,000 unique visitors in exactly three years. Sales have seen a 15% or better increase for each of those three years. These are the effects of ongoing content marketing with blogging at its core.

About Michael Conway and Means-of-Production

My firm builds Squarespace websites, Houzz profiles, and content marketing and advertising solutions for architects, interior designers, design-build contractors and landscape design firms. Our all-in-one tactics attract the right clients with exceptional architectural photography and brand messaging that sets you apart from the competition. Contact me for a free-of-charge consultation and marketing review. It takes about 40 minutes and you'll be provided a list of actionable improvements designed to solve your specific marketing problems. 

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