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Wall Street’s Problem with Content Marketing

by Frank Strong

Wall Street Marketing, Content Marketing

The Pyramids of Giza as seen from the the top of the Saladin Citadel.

Wall Street’s got a problem with content marketing.   Or maybe a better way to frame this conundrum is that content marketing has a problem in Wall Street. That problem is three months long and repeats itself four times a year, every year.

Wall Street wants results quarterly, preferably in the form of a hockey stick with a sharp tick up.  Blips, misses and mishaps are punished severely in the form of a depressed stock price.  Nothing puts senior management into a short-term tizzy like a stock plunge.

The investor phone calls start first, then the financial analysts begin to prod, and on a really rare occasion, for those publicly traded companies that mix of the masses of the middle market, a reporter starts sniffing around. 

Such events trigger two-pronged strategy, for lack of a better word, in marketing.  PR ignores the journalists and hopes they go away, while direct marketing puts on a full court press:  the re-marketing budget is suddenly inflated, pop-up ads are reluctant to close with a click, and the email hose is turned on full blast.  After all, email still beats Facebook and Twitter in sales.

It’s desperate.  The end of the quarter is around the corner.

Desperation Marketing

To be fair, marketing in a publicly traded company is incredibly challenging.  Investors are in fact owners and an owner has every right to question priorities, methods and results. Being publicly traded brings an entirely new set of stakeholders to which a company must answer, and opens a company up to a different level of criticism, constructive or otherwise.  Still, it comes across to customers and prospective customers as desperate.

A piece on Marketplace titled, In Egypt, political turmoil hits tourism business, describes how some locals are so desperate for business, they actually invite themselves on a taxi with tourists in an effort to force their business on travelers.  Such aggressive “marketing” happens often around popular tourist destinations, like the Pyramids of Giza, but has grown so bad during the recent chaos, Marketplace says the State Department issued a warning calling recent methods “closer to criminal conduct.”

Having spent a year in Egypt, I’ve witnessed what western culture would perceive as high pressure sales techniques first hand. When we did have the chance to travel to Giza, we were escorted by the tourism police because clean shaven Americans, even Soldiers, are easy targets.  We had some pressure, but the fact our escort was perhaps the largest Middle Eastern man I’ve ever seen —  at about 6’6″, easily approaching 300 lbs and visibly carrying an Uzi, kept us filtered from much of it.

Still, it reminded me then, as this story did today, of the second and third order of effects of such aggression.  Sure, an aggressive approach might lead to a sale or two in tough times, but in the long term, people stop going.  A subsiding tide lowers all boats.

The same is true when companies turn on the high-pressure tactics to meet a quarterly number: they stop reading, they stop engaging and they unsubscribe.

wall street content marketing

Nurturing as important as customer acquisition, in email marketing goals.

Nurture Marketing

A recent survey by B2B Magazine analyzed by eMarketer found that customer acquisition and nurturing were tied for the top email marketing goals.  Nurturing nests nicely with content marketing, because content marketing is a relationship building vehicle.  It’s about creating content that educates and helps a consumer which in turn leads them to buy from us, rather than a competitor, but at a time of their choosing.

A plumber that develops videos for how to replace a sink might think he or she is giving away trade secrets that cannibalizes business, but in fact the opposite is true:  a potential customer that interested in replacing  sink, is more likely to search for that content, find it, view it and then hire that plumber to do the job anyway.  This approach — vis-a-vis — blasting the email list with a 20 percent discount if the customer buys right now.

Content marketing is a slow build.  It takes time and effort the way it takes a lot of inertia to propel a giant ship forward.  The upside is that marketing is also subject to the laws of physics like Newton’s Law:  objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

It’s a real challenge to convince Wall Street that a little patience today, will pay dividend tomorrow.  The reality is however, the interruption marketing ship sank long ago.  Perhaps due diligence one day will include a content marketing audit, and then perhaps Wall Street will “get” content marketing, rather than having a problem with it’s slow build results.

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9 Responses

  1. jacobvar

    Thanks for the thoughts. Maybe you can showcase some publicly traded companies that DO get content marketing as a follow up to this piece?

  2. jay_zo

    Interesting take and I totally love the sentiment but shouldn’t a public company have the audience and resources to do both – hit near-term goals with content and play the slow burn game? I think pure slow-burn content is for those building audience still.  What do you think?
    For instance, as a new member of the HubSpot content team, I’ve been surprised to see how a quarterly or even monthly goal (which is how HubSpot sets itself up – monthly, believe it or not) can be met with content.
    I’m not 100% sure whether this is because we already have an audience (maybe those playing the “slow burn” game are still building reach) or whether it’s because we have pretty robust social and nurturing campaigns running to promote that content, but whenever we’re running behind in the month it’s usually solved by providing fresh content to our audience and our internal teammates.
    A couple things we’ve noticed:
    Really useful, how-to posts generate slow-burn results because they rank on search and gradually but consistently bring in audience. They don’t spike at first or “go viral.” Example would be a blog post about Facebook pages from 2010 that consistently ranks in the top 10 each month in traffic and lead-gen.
    Then we place some “big bets” each month, like our exhaustive look college course-style at the history of advertising and how we got here, over on SlideShare. These kinds of things DO pop and get shared and generate a lot of leads right away, which helps sales hit near-term goals.

    Just some thoughts, I love this topic/challenge of scale and of near-term vs slow burn. What do you think?

    1. jay_zo Hi Jay, I think in theory you are right, but it quickly breaks down in reality because it implies the assumption, that as a culture, larger organizations understand the value of the *inform vs. promote* schema.  By far and large they do not.
      Secondly, as you say, HubSpot has already invested in a community — but you guys didn’t just wake up one day tracking sales from content.  HubSpot invested in content long ago, and has galvanized an army of “inbound certified” consultants that share the inbound message and add social proof and validation over and over every day. That didn’t happen overnight. 
      However, I’m very glad you chimed in — and look forward to hearing from you six months after (if and when) HubSpot goes public. Personally, I hope you go IPO instead of the acquisition route because it’ll bring an entirely new level of awareness to content marketing among publicly traded companies.

      1. Frank_Strong Thanks for the reply, Frank! Again, love the blog. Yep, definitely an audience and an investment in content (and a well-established way to measure sales via content) help us charge ahead quickly. I share your desire for us to take the IPO route vs acquisition because I do see a gap between companies like Coke who are massive and brand-focused and “get content” and the other public companies who should get content but ultimately look at Coke and say “well, we can’t do ‘branding’ like they can.”
        Bottom line: I agree with your slow play idea and that ultimately content is about resonating deeply with people, not necessarily buying attention with interruptive tactics that convert, A to B, but may hurt you in the long run.
        And anyway, I prefer the long game, not the short game. 
        Keep up the good work on the blog. Cheers!

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  4. Excellent post. When senior management gets involved with content marketing and understands how it works I think it has a positive influence on company culture and how they interact with shareholders.
    It reminds me of my time in sales. There were managers who would support your  efforts to build relationships with prospects because they understood that given time there would be a big pay off and those who wouldn’t do it because they feared the long sale wouldn’t happen or would take too long to help.
    Some of those places treated people like a commodity that you could buy, sell and trade, but that is a slightly different tack than the one you are going in.

    1. Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Yeah I can see the similarities to sales. That makes a lot of sense.  So many of these challenges we address in our own little niches seem to have alteregos in every other function.  And suddenly we’re talking motivational speaking! Thanks for the comment, bro.

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