Content marketers are often asked how long it will take to see tangible results from content marketing efforts. Will it be months or years before the blog posts and newsletters turn readers into potential leads and, ultimately, customers? It is normal for businesses to want to see immediate results from their marketing efforts. But when it comes to content marketing, lasting results matter more than immediate results. Just as it takes time to build strong bonds in real life, content marketing also requires a business to spend time building genuine relationships based on trust and respect with the audience.
Businesses that provide valuable information may authentically engage the consumer. Does it mean they will avail these offerings right away? Probably not. But when they choose to avail these products or services, it will be because the business consistently engages with them through content. So as long as a company uses the opportunity to provide an unbiased solution or answer to their audience, they will continue to build brand affinity.
The idea of investing money in content without any near-term payback seems counter-intuitive to traditional marketers. Thanks to the internet, today's consumers have more options and more information at their disposal than ever before. This makes it more challenging to capture the attention of readers and turn them into loyal customers. Content marketing is an elaborate process that requires audience-specific strategy and a well-thought-out plan of execution. In this blog, we’ll explain why it is similar to a marathon in many ways.
It takes training
A sprint is run over a short distance, while a marathon is run over several kilometres. Marathons take weeks and months of hard training, regular workouts and endurance exercise. In addition to preparing their body, marathoners also invest in gear that will contribute to their success.
Similarly, businesses should do their homework by creating an excellent content strategy. They can begin by defining their target audience. Discover who they are, what kind of content they like, the format of content they want and the problems that need answers. Research the industry and subject matter in order to write content that stands out to readers. Just like marathoners invest in gear, businesses must also invest in tools that will help their content team upskill, manage tasks, automate processes and make it easier to reach the audience.
Maintain the pace
Every marathon runner knows that they need to set the right pace from the beginning. Setting an unrealistic pace and burning out is the recipe for giving in halfway. So marathoners learn to set realistic goals, start slowly, find their rhythm and distribute their energy evenly throughout the run to minimise fatigue.
Similarly, content marketers should set realistic goals to decide how often they will be able to publish content based on the availability of resources. Then they can smartly allocate roles to the team and have a strategy to scale slowly, with room to navigate and test what works best. In content marketing, quality beats quantity every single time. So show up consistently, make real human connections and bring value to the audience.
Moment of crisis
There is not a single athlete who has not struggled with doubt. As a marathon runner nears the finish line, sometimes their legs refuse to take another step. Their brain is tempted to give up, and all they can think of is that their efforts will be wasted. Yet, at this moment, marathoners remember their goal and know that everything they have endured will pay off once they reach the finish line.
Similarly, there is always a state of crisis because a business does not see immediate results from their efforts, or because they have not yet achieved the standard of content they would like to produce, or maybe due to lack of creative ideas, and so on. In moments of doubt, businesses must acknowledge that too many factors are at play and gather data until they find the root of the problem. Once the problem is identified, it is then possible to use the data to find a solution and improve performance.
With search engines and digital media platforms evolving rapidly, businesses must also be willing to tweak and improvise. They can use the moment of crisis to their advantage and reanalyse their actions to determine the root of the problem or to run an experiment.
Running a marathon requires good stamina and means extra sweat. As a result, marathoners need to stay hydrated. This is why there are hydration points every five kilometres along the route. Even though the athlete may not be feeling thirsty when they reach it, they usually have some water since it is advisable to never get to the point of feeling thirsty. The right amount of hydration makes a huge difference in the later stages of the run.
Similarly, businesses should fill their creative reservoirs to keep producing epic content. They should stay updated on new trends in their industry and find ways of reaching people more efficiently. They should constantly expand their knowledge base and upscale their content by learning about new platforms and content tools, staying abreast of algorithm changes, taking certified courses and more.
Reaching the finish line
Reaching the finish line means different things to different athletes. Some see it as pushing their boundaries, and for others, it is about testing their own strength. Still others are focused on winning the coveted gold medal.
Even content marketers have goals that look different from each other. They may include raising brand awareness, forging connections, increasing organic traffic, increasing sales, generating leads or a combination of these. Businesses often see these end goals as the finish line. They must remember it is not always about crossing the finish line first; it should be about successfully completing the marathon. They can focus on achieving small complementary goals that support their primary objective.
The game plan
While there is no exact formula for knowing when content marketing efforts will start paying off, businesses may be able to predict outcomes by creating a quarterly strategy. This will give the business a framework for executing their plan and also an idea of what to expect as they hit certain milestones. They will then be able to gauge whether they are seeing the desired outcome or if they need to tweak their strategy to improve the results.
Let us see what a quarterly strategy looks like:
The content team must begin by studying the business’ audience and their competitors. This will enable them to create buyers’ personas and get a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of others in the industry. They can learn what is working for others and make a note of the problems others are failing to address. With this information, they can craft a more flexible, informed and realistic content marketing plan based on available resources and the skill set of the team.
Further, businesses can also use tools to create content that both the audience and search engines love. Using analytics to gather data, keyword tools to improve SEO and automation tools to simplify the process will help them scale faster and with precision.
Once there is a constant outflow of quality content, Google starts noticing the existence of the business and indexes them higher on search results pages boosting organic traffic and sales. At this stage, the business must encourage customers to engage with their content and subscribe to receive updates. Cross-posting the content on different social media platforms to drive traffic back to the website is also an excellent way to increase conversions.
Focus on analysing the performance of the content, tweaking the keywords and engaging with readers. These efforts will not just be noticed by search engines but also by the audience and competitors. Content that is valuable and trustworthy is shared and linked to more often. These backlinks increase the SEO value and page authority of the website and build brand recognition within the industry. After six months of consistent efforts, the website will notice higher site traffic, high dwell time and more engagement. Now that a streamlined process is in place, the business may consider ways to scale their content marketing efforts, to repurpose existing content for different purposes and to engage on a deeper level with their audience.
It takes dedication and commitment to tap into the target audience's psyche and convert them into paying customers. Businesses must commit to offering content week in, week out for months on end. This may sound laborious, but being consistent will help businesses build authentic relationships with people who are interested in their products and services and are on the cusp of making a purchase decision. Once customers engage with a business they have trusted for a long time, they tend to become fiercely loyal to them.
Content marketing is about showing up and putting in the hard work. Choose the long road — create, engage and respond — and the audience will return the favour one day. The question is: are you ready for a marathon?