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From the Trenches

The Coronavirus Fallacy: Content Marketing Was Already the Answer

Mike Sweeney | May 7, 2020
Content Marketing Was Already the Answer

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, I’ve paid a lot of attention to how positioning, messaging, and tactics have evolved in a 10-week timeframe.

Normally aggressive sales organizations started at, “Don’t sell.” Then it quickly became, “Find a way to sell without being tone deaf.” Within the last two weeks, it shifted to, “Look at our prospecting numbers. They’re off the charts. Coronavirus hasn’t slowed us down at all!”

Inside my CEO peer group, most went from “Oh shit” to “Take care of your clients first and hope you’re positioned to pick up new clients…at some point” to “It’s going to be fine. Double down on sales. Double down on content. Double down on snacks in the virtual lunchroom.”

Our clients, largely in healthcare and technology, have gone from “Should we publish?” to “What should we publish?” to “How much more can we publish?”

And inside content marketing circles, we’ve gone from thousands of articles about handling content marketing during coronavirus to bold proclamations of how coronavirus will be responsible for the explosion of post-coronavirus content marketing.

Graph shows massive increased in published material on content marketing

Source: ahrefs.com | The Explosion in Content Marketing Publishing

Here’s the real story, though. Progressive marketing leaders were already hanging their hats on content-driven marketing prior to the coronavirus.

All the COVID-19 crisis did was enhance those leadership positions, as organizations who had already embraced content-driven marketing, and therefore established trust with their audiences, had an easy time attracting attention during the crisis.

What else did the crisis do? It accelerated the necessity (versus creating it) for organizations to begin treating content marketing as a strategic approach, not just another line item on a spreadsheet.

Let’s explore how the leaders established their pole position and what you can do now to make content marketing a growth driver.

Why Crisis Content Marketing Was Easy for Some

While every business experienced (and is still experiencing) levels of panic during this pandemic, did you happen to notice that as the panic became “normalized,” some businesses seemed awfully comfortable not only with their position in the market but also their ability to produce high-quality content and to ensure their audience consumed it?

I certainly did. Not unlike observing an individual who is clearly comfortable in their own skin, the same shines through for authentic, well-positioned businesses.

Here’s the simple reason behind why it worked for them. They had already established the content marketing blueprint and had worked the blueprint for years. All COVID-19 did was force them to shift topics and messaging.

In establishing this blueprint, they had already:

  • Built an audience
  • Established trust with that audience
  • Codified processes to ensure production and data-driven results stayed on track
  • Determined which distribution channels worked best for their content

In short, they only had to shift subject matter. The rest of the machine just kept on humming.

Want to Become a Leader? Accelerate Your Content Marketing Approach

There are myriad reasons why you need to commit to an accelerated content marketing approach. If you don’t understand all the benefits, pieces like this or this will get you up to speed.

For our purposes, I want to focus on two that should be enough to have you looking at rebuilding your content marketing plan today.

First, let’s go back to the trust issue. As discussed, organizations who had built up an audience and trust within that audience (via content) have been far more comfortable and successful than others during this unique crisis window.

Do we all think this is the last time that audience trust will come into play? That this is the last crisis we will face? Beyond coronavirus and its health implications, we may be looking at prolonged economic uncertainty…will your audience be looking for guidance from you or someone else?

Second, and this is not covered nearly enough, is the compounding effectiveness of content marketing. Unlike advertising which tends to be a “Did it work TODAY?” type of play, content marketing has compounding results, like interest earned on a savings account.

Rather than just write words about it, let’s use an example near and dear to my heart.
Right Source refreshed a blog post covering core messaging on June 14, 2018, so approximately two years ago. See 23-months of page views data below.

Blog Pageviews Graph

On June 15, 2018 (the day we published), the post received a whopping 16 page views.

By October 3, 2018 the daily page view count was up to 63. Doesn’t seem that special, right?

At some point in 2019, the post picked up a dozen or so top 10 search engine rankings, including multiple #1 positions.

On January 9, 2020, we set our daily record: 73 page views. Still seems like a small number, right?

Over a 23-month period, however, that single post has driven right around 22,000 page views, is averaging 8:43 time on page, and is responsible for dozens of conversions.

All with zero paid promotion.

Now imagine 5 of those. 10 of those. 20 of those.

So you’re staring the trust issue and the compounding effects of content in the eyes and saying, “OK. I get it. Let’s get after it.” And you’re thinking of just assigning some pieces to an internal person to write. Simple as that, right?

Stop. I’ve never, ever seen a legitimate content marketing effort work without a comprehensive plan. Plan your route before you crawl. Crawl before you walk. Walk before you run.

What Will the Post-Coronavirus Content Marketing Leaders Look Like?

My first tip here: Start paying attention to what content marketing leaders are already doing. I’d rather not call organizations out (in a good or bad way) here, but seriously, contact me if you need examples of the leaders.

That said, here’s where the leaders start. Content marketing is not a PART of their marketing effort, nor is it a budget bucket item. It is a strategic approach applied to their entire marketing effort — the underlying force that makes all their marketing possible.

Specifically, here are the five characteristics that set the leaders apart:

  1. They create comprehensive, documented, nimble content marketing strategies and plans.
  2. They use data — meaningful data — on how both humans and search engines are consuming and indexing their content to inform every single piece they produce.
  3. They repurpose the hell out of their content in order to extract maximum value from already sizable content marketing investments.
  4. They remember that this is called content marketing for a reason and distribute using today’s marketing technology and via owned, earned, paid, and internal channels.
  5. They truly innovate, using new formats, new channels, and even new ways of scaling their content marketing operations.

If you start with those five characteristics, you will be practicing holistic content marketing and driving legitimate business growth. And you will see a lot more value from your content marketing investment.

What Will You Do to Prioritize Content Marketing?

Quickly, name the last time you made a considered purchase without viewing a single piece of content: blog post, white paper, social media post, video, or otherwise.

Your answer proves that you needed content marketing already.

Now try this. During this crisis, did you find yourself reading/viewing material from random sources, or ones you already trusted?

Your answer here proves that the building of audience trust never stops. It’s not a one-time project, nor can it be earned quickly.

Again, COVID-19 did not create the need for content marketing; that’s been a strategic marketing requirement for years. All the pandemic did was spotlight the success of the marketers who invested in this approach a long time ago.

You can’t change your level of commitment to content marketing up to this point, but you have the freedom to refocus your marketing strategy to prioritize the long-term benefits of content marketing in the future.

We’ve helped a lot of businesses like yours find their footing with their content marketing plans. If we can help, let us know.

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.