I was recently on a sales call with the marketing director of a growing consulting company. He was trying to nail down a content marketing plan, and since it was a video call, I could see him as he rubbed his forehead in anguish.
"There are just so many routes I could take, and I have no idea which one is right for us," he said.
I could feel his frustration and confusion through the call line (and I'm sure both our computers were listening, so we'll be targeted with marketing ads galore for the next month). Feel familiar?
When it comes to content marketing, one size does not fit all. It's crucial to pick a strategy to go along with your resources to accomplish your goals. There are a few things you should consider before choosing your approach: the size of your company, the maturity of your current content plan, and your budget. Once those are clear, you can narrow down which marketing solution is best, specifically, for you.
I've seen companies in every stage of their content marketing journeys and find that there are four primary solutions: DIY your strategy with freelancers and software, build a team in-house, invest in a sophisticated platform, or engage an outsourced agency. We've broken down the whats and whys of each to help you make the best decision for your company.
What it entails: Using a mix of your own current employees, freelancers, and free or budget-friendly software
Who it works for: Small marketing teams with $2,000 or less to spend on resources (monthly). If budget is your biggest limitation, this is the lowest-cost solution to get your content marketing engine running.
Something to consider: If you choose this DIY solution is that you’re going to need a pretty big toolbox. While there are endless amounts of tools and programs designed to make content creation easier, here are the basic ones you need to start off on the right foot:
Whoever is overseeing marketing will need to have a strong command of your content strategy and how different pieces of content work together to accomplish your goal. Since you're using freelancers, you'll need to have a cohesive style guide to give to your freelance designers and a fleshed-out tone guide for copywriters. You'll need to be deeply involved in editorial to ensure your brand voice is coming through in each piece. If possible, find two to three writers that you can preference consistently.
A side note: If you're in a highly technical field, this is going to be even more challenging. The likelihood that an Upwork writer is going to have an extensive background in niche product development for your medical software company is pretty low. You'll need to develop a system for pulling insights from your internal experts in order to remain credible in front of your technical audience. I'd recommend hiring a writer from somewhere in the depths of Reddit if you can find one.
Your time commitment as a marketer will be the heaviest with this solution. Even though you have other people writing and designing — and some automation tools — you need to herd all those cats together and make sure your left hand knows what the right is doing. Pitching to publications is a full-time job as well, and you likely will not have additional budget for hiring a PR firm. Expect to spend a significant chunk of time submitting and following up with editors to secure published pieces.
The sole responsibility of your content performance metrics will also fall on you. A freelance writer isn't accountable for how well your content performs in organic search; he or she is simply providing a transactional service. You'll need to be adept at analyzing multiple sources of data and painting a cohesive picture of how all of your content assets are working together to accomplish your goal.
What it entails: Expanding your marketing team and capabilities by hiring several specialists to oversee all content creation
Who it works for: Companies with a sophisticated, mature content marketing approach and a significant hiring budget. If your company relies on inbound marketing, organic search, direct traffic, etc. for primary sales this investment is a wise choice for you.
What you need to think through: Cost. The benefits to this solution are innumerable. Keeping your content in-house means you have experts for every stage of the process who intimately know your company and your customers’ needs. Your overall business goals are held to you and your team, so you're not constantly justifying vendor spend to your executives, nor do you get any information secondhand. You have a better finger on the pulse of your voice, your internal experts, and your workflow.
As content nerds, we're always going to be advocates of building your own team — but it comes at a high price and will likely need to be scaled over time. We've broken down the costs for you associated with writers, editors, content strategists, PR professionals, etc. Based on your goals, you may not need all of these positions, but you will need several. When you start factoring in digital expertise, automation platforms, and project management tools, you're looking at an investment of upwards of half a million dollars...minimum.
What it entails: All-encompassing technology with powerful analytics tools — a true end-to-end platform. Think full-fledged strategy creation and market research, API integrations, global talent networks for editorial services.
Who it works for: Big enterprise companies with multilayered teams, departments and content needs.
What you need to think through: Cost and necessity. Major players in this category include powerhouses like Contently, NewsCred, and Kapost — and with big names come big price tags. Most of these solutions start at $60,000 and up for an annual seat on the software alone. When you start including editorial services, strategy development, and distribution, you're looking at a hefty price tag. If you've ever looked at your CRM and thought, "What am I paying for? Am I actually using all of this?" then you're probably not a good candidate for one of these enterprise-level solutions. They come with a ton of top-shelf analytics and capabilities, but if you aren't ready to implement them, you'll be paying for a lot of unused services.
What it entails: Your marketing team (or a single member of it) working with a content marketing company to help strategize and execute by outsourcing some of the work, deliverables, and capabilities you don't have bandwidth for. Unlike the patchwork approach, you'll have a team dedicated to your content to ensure strategy development and implementation happen cohesively
Who it works for: Everyone from an individual to an SMB to a Fortune 100 company that doesn't have in-house capabilities for specific marketing efforts. If you're considering outsourcing to an agency, you likely value partnership over transactional deliverables. This solution is best for companies that have some internal tools but need to expand.
What you need to think through: Depending on the size of your company, the challenge you need to consider is either cost or workflow. If you're a small or growing company, you need to be prepared to invest relative to your goals. An agency approach is going to involve strategy sessions, likely a software component, and writers, editors, designers, and more. You're paying for expertise as well as tangible deliverables, and setting expectations early on will be important. You may want a full-fledged lead generation strategy, but your team may advise (given budget constraints) phasing in that strategy over time. For larger companies you may have a lot of the pieces of your content puzzle in place but need guidance and capabilities that go beyond your internal resources. For you, maintaining collaboration while also letting the experts do their thing will be crucial. You know your company and your potential customers best, but your partner knows how publications/whitepaper development/inbound lead funnels/etc. work. You'll want to establish a transparent system that allows your in-house capabilities to shine while making the most of your content agency's strengths. For this to work seamlessly you'll need to relinquish control and value your partner's insights and suggestions.
Regardless of which approach you take, the question is no longer "Do we need content marketing?" but “How will we implement content marketing?” Every solution comes with its pros and cons. What's most important is finding the fit that helps your company create consistent, valuable content that continually pushes you toward your marketing goals.
I like my coffee black, my whiskey straight, and travel when I can afford it. I think most people just want to feel heard, and I’m happy to comply. I've also taken a sworn oath to never eat sushi.