Aberdeen Standard Investments - Winner of Marketing and Innovation Award - Campaign Innovation

The Case For Content

An ever-present debate in content marketing is whether it actually works as an acquisition channel or if it's just an ongoing cost centre. Then, of course, there's the endless stream of punditry on how to calculate return on investment (ROI) and the naysayers on the other side of the discussion who say it's impossible to achieve.

By Josh Frith, Managing Director linkedin

31 Oct 2019 // 7 min read

I get caught in the centre of this conversation all the time. I run a content marketing agency that specialises in the financial services sector globally. Financial services brands by their nature have numbers inherently inked into their DNA so measurable performance matters. Let's put our clients to the side for the moment. As the managing director of The Dubs it's just as incumbent on me to know these answers for our own business.

When I Googled how to measure content marketing ROI I soon realised how pointless this was as there are a gazillion different viewpoints on how to "definitively" measure it. Thing is, looking at these various formulas and theories from an analytical business perspective they looked like soft veneers or were so opaque as to be useless.

I went back to a brutal basic. We obtain 100% of our income as a traceable result of our own always-on content program. We do not have full-time in-house business development managers chasing people. Nor do we use outsourced sales or appointment setters cold calling till the cows come home. We have no "traditional" sales team at all.

We used to have all this agency sales infrastructure for years and I never felt comfortable with it. I was a finance journalist with News Corp before starting The Dubs and I was trained as a communicator - not a salesman. Maybe I was a rubbish salesman but the long and short of it was the traditional sales approach never really worked for us.

Some years we posted small profits where others were like being dragged along gravel just to break even, and then of course there were years you lost money and felt like you were literally drowning. It was just awful. So we decided to ditch the traditional sales approach and bet the farm on content and we'd live or die off the back of that. Looking back it was a ballsy decision to make and I'd be a liar if I said there weren't any "three am sweats" where I'd think - what have we done! But it got us focussed.

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Content That Generates Business

We launched our content program in June 2015 and four years on we’ve gone from profitless growth to expanding and profitable. So let’s get back to the original point, calculating our content marketing ROI given it generates 100% of our business. For my calculation it’s simple. I’ve taken the net profit of the business and divided it by the annual cost of our always-on content program.

This gives us a current content ROI of 662.5% and the thing is our net profitability is growing year-on-year as we expand the depth and scope of our content program to deliver more quality inbound business for The Dubs. So enough chest beating on how great things are for us because while it’s positive there are always ongoing challenges to face. Let’s unpack the elements of how and what we did and continue to do.

The Dubs Content Marketing Program

We took the craft of news journalism and commercialised it in a contemporary context. When I was a finance writer my data came from scrutinising company profit and loss statements, balance sheets, annual reports and market announcements. The insights came from interviewing business leaders to dig behind the numbers to find out what was going on in their company or industry, reporting this back to the business community for their benefit in making investment decisions.

It means we can squarely look our clients in the eye and say every strategy, advice or tactic we propose to them is exactly what we do for ourselves.

Flip to today and our data is mined from the various martech platforms we use for our content program and the insights come from interviewing practitioners in the financial services sector. The content we create addresses the key issues facing financial practitioners in their content marketing ambitions.

The other reason we create our content is it educates our own people at The Dubs as to what’s going on in our industry and builds their understanding and experience so they can better execute their craft for our clients. And by default, it also means we can squarely look our clients in the eye and say every strategy, advice or tactic we propose to them is exactly what we do for ourselves.

We have real skin in the game and practice what we preach. Now let’s have a look at our content marketing stack and how we drive it. For a start – we are always-on. We never stop publishing and amplifying our content.

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Industry Blog

The core of our content program is our website and financial marketer industry blog. We have a consistent schedule of quality editorial published twice a week. All editorial covers a topic from multiple angles which allows us to promote it in various ways to targeted audiences. This also means we can atomise our content so it never has just one use. And by applying a largely evergreen lens to content it means content continues to be as useful and relevant as when it was first written.

Social Amplification

To actively promote our content we amplify it across social channels we’ve deemed most relevant for our business and audience. We organically post content daily on our LinkedIn company page and Twitter handle with existing articles from our content stream. Twice a week we amplify our new content with targeted LinkedIn and Twitter sponsored posts and we A/B test these with varied imagery, editorial headlines and calls-to-action (CTAs). This allows us to scrutinise the data to understand what content and posts are performing best and resonate most with our audience, ensuring failures are not repeated.

Search

A key channel for us is search given financial marketers are active researchers for material they need to help form views and make decisions. We have an active ongoing search engine optimisation (SEO) program whereby we perform an SEO gap analysis to understand what terms and phrases ranked by volume are being used by our target audiences. We also research where our competitors sit within Google across search terms and phrases.

From this research we work out where we have gaps in our content mix and then commission content to be created to plug these gaps and better serve our audience. By default we also use tools to analyse the technical SEO performance of our website and blog and perform ongoing fixes to ensure it’s properly optimised for desktop and mobile display.

We use SEMrush to monitor our SEO efforts which gives us an average Google Visibility score of 30%. We also run paid search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns to cover temporary gaps where we don’t have top search returns until we have covered these rankings with organic content ranking highly.

Earned Media

Traditionally earned media is the realm of public relations experts pitching stories to journalists for editorial coverage in publications. We tackle it in a different way, earning coverage off the quality and strength of our editorial content, by how well we promote it and its performance in organic search. Journalists and bloggers are constantly searching for quality content to help bolster the points of their own coverage and we provide it. We monitor backlinks via SEMrush to gauge the referencing of our content across credible and prestigious publications which helps improve our own SEO visibility and widens our reach for relevant audiences to discover The Dubs. Examples of this include:

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Forbes
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Adobe's cmo.com
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Telegraph group's Business Reporter

Owned Distribution

A key goal of our content program is to prove to our audience the ongoing value of our content as a news and research source so they sign up to our email newsletter. We publish our new original content to this email database so subscribers can read other relevant articles they may have missed that month. Our fortnightly email newsletters achieve an average 30% click-through rate (CTR) to our industry blog.

Account Based Marketing

We have recently adopted an account based marketing (ABM) approach for targeted distribution of our content to the marketing teams within finance services brands. Marketing The Dubs in a business-to-business B2B environment generally means there will be more than one person involved in the decision of engaging us so ABM makes sense to make ourselves known to the wider marketing teams within financial services brands. Before we started ABM we had lawyers review our privacy policy and other statutory obligations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to make sure we were compliant and not spamming. The way we run ABM is to first create an accurate database of marketing contacts within a financial sector across a specific territory and of the organisations that fit this criteria. As an example, we may target asset managers in the United Kingdom and identify the list of organisations and the marketers within those brands to create a target database.

We then select a bank of content specifically relevant for these marketers and work out an episodic sequence of distribution of this content best suited to their roles, interests and needs. This includes emails direct to the individuals in this targeted database as well as sponsored posts via LinkedIn to organisations in the database.

We take the key learnings from each ABM campaign to refine future campaigns to other target databases. This content-led approach works well for us and creates an inbound funnel of warm leads with financial marketers making contact when they feel ready to do so.