For startups, the question is not whether content marketing should be included in your core marketing strategy, but how much of your limited time, money and resources you should put into it.
Through my consulting practice, I see many startups “chasing their tail” by writing blog posts, creating graphics for social media and enlisting expensive marketing automation software with very little return on investment to show for it.
When done well, recurring content such as blog articles, audio podcasts, video webisodes, etc., can fuel the fire of lead generation, warm existing prospects and keep you “front of mind” when their buying window opens.
The problem is this: It takes a lot of time and/or money to create. It also requires talent to pull off well. In my experience, most startups tend to create sub-par content just to “check the box.”
To avoid this trap, start with a focused strategy determined by the five factors below.
The five factors
There are five factors that determine the marketing style you should focus on as a startup. Ultimately, you may end up using a combination of these styles, but start by focusing 80% of your resources on the style that fits your specific business type until you’ve grown large enough to widen the focus.
1. Average lifetime value of a customer
The first determining factor is your average lifetime value of a customer (LTV). How much does a typical customer spend over time including up-sells, cross-sells, subscription payments, etc?
If your average LTV is less than $10,000 you’ll most likely be looking at an inbound lead generation style. Inbound is when leads find you, for example, by stumbling upon your advertising, running across your content or using a search engine.
With inbound lead generation strategies, there’s typically more of an emphasis on content marketing; especially if your marketing budget is limited or you have strong content creation talent on your team.
2. B2B or B2C?
If your average LTV is more than $10,000, the next question is whether you sell to the end consumer or to other businesses. In other words, are you Business to Consumer (B2C) or Business to Business (B2B)?
If you’re a B2C company, focus on inbound lead generation. If you’re a B2B company, you’re looking at an outbound lead generation style. Outbound is when you find individual leads through targeted lists or manually prospecting.
You’ll want to avoid wasting too much time on inbound strategies, including recurring content marketing. Instead, come up with a really good piece of content such as an explainer video or a one-sheeter and set up systems for sales development reps to track down individual leads with the job titles at the kinds of companies you want to sell to.
3. Social referral tendency
The third question is a wildcard and overrides the first two. Does your product or service lend itself to referrals as the primary source of leads? If so, you should focus 80% of your effort on referral-based lead generation instead of inbound or outbound.
There are certain types of products or services that lend themselves to referrals. Social media platforms are a great example. If there is a viral nature to your product, you’ll want to base your core marketing strategy around facilitating referrals.
Recurring content can play a part in facilitating referrals. Emphasize case studies in blog posts, podcasts, videos etc. Be sure to incentivize customers for referring your product to others.
4. Length of sales cycle
The next determining factor applies only to the inbound lead generation style. What is the average length of your sales cycle?
Do customers tend to buy products in your niche within the first or second encounter with your product, marketing materials or sales personnel? Or do they need three, four, five or more encounters of information gathering and processing to make a decision?
As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the product or service is, the longer the sales cycle.
If your customers make buying decisions in two or less encounters, your business will most likely fit into a wide content funnel strategy. A wide content funnel has broad reach and a short conversion period.
Content such as advertisements, web pages, videos, articles, etc. is more focused on the benefits of your product and what sets you apart from your competitors.
If your customers need more than two encounters to make buying decisions, you’ll most likely fit into a deep content funnel strategy. A deep content funnel has narrow reach and a long conversion period.
The initial goal in a deep funnel is to capture some contact information and build trust over time. Your content should be aimed at helping your leads solve problems even if they don’t buy from you. Save talk about the benefits of your product or service until you’ve built a foundation of trust with your prospects.
5. Size of advertising budget
The last determining factor is the size of your advertising budget. How much have you set aside per month to spend on advertising (which could include paid search, social, traditional media, and marketing software)?
If the answer is more than $1,000 per month, then you should focus on a paid traffic strategy and put less emphasis on recurring content.
Paid traffic is much more predictable than organic traffic. The “golden ticket” in marketing is to optimize paid traffic to convert into sales with a positive return on your advertising dollars.
The goal is to create a machine where you insert $1 and take out $5. If you can do this, keep putting money into it until you reach saturation; and worry about content marketing later.
If your advertising budget is less than $1,000, use it for software and focus on organic traffic. Organic traffic strategies include search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, podcasting, organic social media marketing, viral content, etc.
In this case, recurring content becomes much more important because it’s the key engine fueling your traffic. Spend time getting to know the problems that your prospects are looking to solve and come up with a lot of genuinely useful content.
The rise of content marketing, along with the amount of effort it takes to create, has provided a challenge for founders and marketing professionals.
As a startup, your time, money and resources are precious. It’s important to invest them in high-leverage activities that have the best likelihood of generating a return on your investment.
You may end up using a combination of the strategies outlined above after your company has grown large enough. But until then, focus 80% of your resources on the style that fits your specific business type.
Brian Lee is founder of Relevant Content Marketing, based in Omaha, Nebraska, which provides marketing education and consulting to entrepreneurs and early-stage startups. Learn more at RelevantContent.Marketing.