New Report: Content Marketing Is “the Show Horse” of Customer Acquisition

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Content marketing is the show horse of customer acquisition and retention — and second only to social media as a digital marketing spending priority among U.S. brands, according to my newly published report for Gigaom.

The report, Workhorses and Dark Horses: Digital Tactics for Customer Acquisition, examines how companies use digital to acquire customers (beyond awareness building). Content marketing emerges as an essential priority along with email marketing, social media, and search engine optimization. Workhorses and Dark Horses counsels brands to apply content systematically across digital touch points to guide prospects them along a path to acquisition and conversion.

64 Percent of Marketers Use Content Marketing Regularly

Workhorses and Dark Horses is based on a new Gigaom survey of 300 U.S. digital marketers. We wanted to understand how brands are using digital marketing tactics across the marketing funnel, spanning awareness, customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. We also asked marketers to tell us about their 2014 spending priorities. Our survey affirms that digital marketing is being used consistently across the entire customer experience. Here’s what we learned about content marketing:

  • 64 percent of marketers use content marketing regularly, making content marketing the fourth most popular tactic behind email, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO). The popularity of both content marketing and SEO together underscores the importance of inbound marketing.


  • Marketers find content marketing most useful for awareness building and customer retention.

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  • Content marketing is the second most popular choice for 2014 digital marketing spend, with social media being most popular. Companies with smaller digital marketing budgets (less than $1 million) are accountable for most of the content marketing spend.


Content and Social: A One-Two Punch

It seems fitting that social media and content marketing rank Numbers 1 and 2 as the two most popular marketing tactics for 2014 digital marketing spend. First off, the two disciplines are interrelated, with social having emerged as a cost-effective and efficient way for marketers to share branded content. (Think of social as the quick-release publishing platform for content.)

Second, in both cases, marketers are emulating a popular consumer behavior. Just as brands have become publishers, so have consumers: More than 76 million blogs exist on WordPress alone, and new publishing platforms (both visual and text-based) emerge constantly.

And by and large, consumers have accepted brands becoming content publishers: according to software producer Kentico, 74 percent of consumers trust content from businesses that aim to educate readers about a particular topic, and 94 percent of consumers have shared “educational information from a company” with a friend or loved one in the past.

Content Marketing Critical for Brands with Smaller Budgets

However, when we look at marketers’ spending plans, content marketing differs from social in one key way: whereas the growth of social is fueled by big spenders, content marketing’s growth is coming more from companies with smaller budgets. It’s possible that the popularity of cost-effective publishing platforms such as email and social media make content marketing especially attractive to businesses operating on smaller budgets. It also might be easier for smaller marketing operations to take ownership of content: according to the Content Marketing Institute, small companies are more likely than large companies to have someone who oversees content marketing strategy.

Use Content to Create a Path to Customer Acquisition

My report suggests that marketers apply branded content systematically in order to acquire and keep customers. When your customers encounter your brand across the digital world, they should see content that guides them along a path to acquisition and conversion — as opposed to a random collection of disconnected product offers, blog posts, and real-time content sprinkled across your website and social spaces.

Using a content optimization tool like HubSpot can help companies systematically apply content for customer acquisition. Case in point: Thermo Fisher Scientific, which provides laboratory equipment for life sciences research. The company generates leads through an approach focused on the creation of blogs and thought leadership optimized for search in this fashion:

  • Thermo Fisher Scientific posts useful data and information designed to help scientists with their research on a blog connected to the company’s main website. (The company optimizes each post with keywords to attract visitors.) The focus on blogging is guided by the company’s own insight into its audience (its potential customers frequently go online to supplement their research).
  • But simply posting content on your site does not result in acquired customers. What’s key to the company’s approach is that it shares the content on social spaces such as LinkedIn and Facebook, based on research that indicated that scientists use social media more than the company had thought initially. In doing so, the company relies on social platforms to guide prospects over to its website for further exploration.
  • For both awareness and retention, the company re-purposes its content into emails that are sent to clients (for retention) and industry influencers (for awareness).

By taking a thoughtful approach to guide prospects to the company’s website with relevant content, Thermo Fisher Scientific has seen an improvement in awareness (a 154-percent increase in Twitter followers) and acquisition (a 132-percent increase in organic website visitors over a period of eight months; 30-percent increase in sales-ready leads generated on the website).

Let Consumers Be Your Guide

Content marketing is not new. But digital has empowered marketers to find new and more effective ways to acquire customers with branded content. Social media platforms have made it easier to rapidly create and produce branded content on a much wider scale than was possible in 1895, when John Deere produced a customer magazine, The Furrow. Using customer insight tools such as social listening will help marketers understand how their potential customers are finding and sharing content across the digital world. Let consumers help you decide when and where to apply content marketing in a systematic way in order to create customers.

Note: Work Horses and Darkhorses is avaiable in full to Gigaom clients. Moreover, you may download the report free of charge by visiting the Extole website (registration required). Extole underwrote the report.

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