by Andrew Layton, American Lotus
Should you pay for advertising in the age of content marketing?
As with most big questions in life, the answer is: it depends.
Content marketing (which is basically making articles, videos, and other content your customers would find interesting) can be appealing in that it costs nothing to publish.
You get to build an audience who’s interested in your stuff on your terms, and then push it out to your blog, social media channels, etc. for free.
But you don’t have to do it very long to find out it still costs time and money to create all that content. This means the key advantage of content marketing is less about cost savings and more about working directly with your audience without having to pay a “middle man” for access.
So how does this tie in with paid advertising?
Old way: Pay to test
When you buy advertising, you are essentially renting access to an audience — readers of a newspaper or magazine, drivers along the interstate, visitors to a search engine, members of an organization, etc.
In the old days, you had to buy ad space just to try your message out. There were no “free samples” where you could see how the audience might react before dropping tons of money on an ad campaign.
As a result, you might spend tens of thousands of dollars working with agencies and publishers before landing on an ad format that resonated with your audience and brought customers through the door.
This model eventually led to massive quantities of bad advertising that has mostly taught people how to tune out ads altogether.
New way: Test before you spend
So how are things different today? In a nutshell, the internet has given us new ways to optimize our message and get the most out of paid reach. Social media and other tools of the content marketing trade like your blog, email subscribers, etc., are the perfect R&D lab for your marketing.
These tools let you test content and messaging for free by posting things to your various feeds and watching the reaction. You might not have a big following yet, but that’s ok. It doesn’t take a massive audience to see what works and what doesn’t.
Eventually you will discover what resonates with people and what your audience is really looking for. And that is when you pay to amplify your message to the masses through sponsored posts, conventional ads, paid search ads, etc.
But why should I pay for anything?
If your business and your online following are still pretty small, you may find you get plenty of organic (i.e. free) reach just by posting things to Facebook or some other channel. But once you get past a few thousand followers, you can expect your organic reach to decline.
Personally, I don’t find this all that shocking since companies like Facebook and Google have to have some way to keep the lights on.
What I see is a great opportunity to build a following and test your messaging for free, and then make informed decisions about where you spend your promotional dollars.
And when you’re ready to expand your reach beyond your initial following of a couple thousand people, you will have plenty of insight into who your audience is and what they want to see from you.
Small businesses of 30 years ago would’ve loved that opportunity!
So. Should you pay for advertising? I say yes, but only after taking time to really get to know your audience.
Andrew Layton is the owner of American Lotus, a technical marketing and creative agency in Rolla, Missouri. Andrew has been helping technical businesses with marketing since 2003 both as an independent consultant and on in-house marketing teams. He is also an accomplished photographer, musician, and amateur wine geek. Reach out with marketing or creative questions any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.