This year, 84.5% of large companies (with over 100 employees) are doing it, according to eMarketer. Content marketing budgets increase almost every single year, too.
But I see a big problem with this.
Each company is unique at the end of the day. The success of a strategy is highly dependent on a business's customers, resources, and timing. So blindly copying the competition doesn’t work as well because you don’t have these same things.
Imagine this scenario. You want to advertise online to get more customers. Let’s say your competitor pays $1 per click, though, while you pay $2. So we’re assuming that your cost to acquire a customer ultimately is more expensive than that competitor.
Is that a bad thing?
No, not necessarily. What if your average order values are higher? What if your customers stick with you longer (so the lifetime value is higher, too)? It would mean that you could afford to spend more, regardless of what the competition is doing. The point is to focus on ROI, instead of costs.
The same thing applies to the content space. You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel or be first to try a strategy. But you should do a few things differently so you’re not competing head-on with your rivals in a can’t-win game.
Here are a few other examples I’ve learned about content marketing.
Get inspired by adjacent industries, but raise the execution hurdle. American Express started the Open Forum blog in 2009. Blogging, however, had been around since at least 1994, according to some accounts. That means Amex was 15 years behind a trend, and yet its blogs are still considered among the gold standard of content marketing today.
That happened because the company took a basic format that had already been proven to work and significantly raised the bar.
Daredevil stunts weren’t exactly new, either, until Red Bull Stratos upped the ante by dropping a person from space. (And setting a then-record of 9.5 million live streams on YouTube.)
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be first to see the most success. But it does mean that you need to raise the bar significantly.
Identify and exploit gaps in the marketplace by doing things your competitors won’t (or can’t). In 2009, Ford was looking to break into social media. The company could have started firing off tweets and blog posts like every other competitor. But it didn’t have to, because it already had bloggers in the space doing so. Blogging numbers doubled down in 2013 when Ford gave away free cars to bloggers.
In other words, you should do more innovating and less benchmarking. That doesn’t mean guess, but instead, identify gaps in the marketplace and be willing to use your unique attributes to do something a competitor wouldn’t or couldn’t.
Tie big content direction back to brand goals. ESPN laid off its primary hockey journalists in 2017, all but decimating its coverage of the sport — all while in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
Today, all of those journalists work at The Athletic, which swooped into the hockey space and expanded coverage.
Weird, right? Obviously, one of those companies was wrong and the other was right?
Except,they’re both right to a degree. Continuing that kind of coverage didn’t make sense for ESPN’s ad-based business model for a sport outside the top three. But it did for The Athletic’s subscription-based, reader-supported model that has since grown 20% month-over-month with a 90%+ retention rate according to one source quoted by Forbes..
At the end of the day, all these examples show how “content” is just a medium, or a way to communicate with customers.
And the goal is always to use it to highlight the unique aspects of your business, as opposed to copying surface-level tactics just for the sake of it.