content marketing

The real ROI (and cost) of content marketing in 2020

What is the real ROI and cost of content marketing? Is it still as attractive as it used to be in 2019? If you're working on a new content marketing strategy make sure to read this first.

What is the real ROI and cost of content marketing? Is it still as attractive as it used to be? Read on.

Back when I was in college studying marketing, I remember my favourite uncle would call me from Egypt to check on me, as well as to make fun of me: 

“Hey Mr. Marketing how’s the advertising going? Can you get me some of those free promo mugs you’re giving away?”

If it wasn’t mugs it was branded backpacks, and anything else he envisioned I would spend all day doing.

He'd hoped for me to become a doctor or an engineer. Maybe he’s not entirely wrong. There was a time when this represented a large part of a marketer’s job description set by not-so-wise companies.

Today the name of the game is content, but it's not that easy either. Because the barriers to entry are so low, anyone and everyone can and is kind of already doing content.

With the unlimited amount of content supply, the bar was raised higher for what is deemed “quality” content. This means marketers have to now spend more time and resources in ensuring their content stands out and delivers, leading to an endless vicious cycle led by the highest bidder (or perhaps the best-organized team).

Ironically, this means that once again marketers have to prove the value of their content marketing efforts.

Think of it as a top athlete playing college basketball star having to prove himself all over again now that he’s made it to the NBA. To overcome this, we need to familiarise ourselves with the three external factors at play:

  • Competitors

  • Customers

  • Resources


1. Competitors

There’s a reason why venture capital firms care a great deal about whether an early stage startup they’re considering to add to their portfolio has competitors or not.

Competition can be a good thing for a number of reasons, including validating a market’s size and potential. Competitors compete for mind share during the buyers journey by creating as much quality content as they can.

Once businesses started seeing results from the inbound way of thinking and content marketing, it only made it more difficult for existing players to maintain their stature as well for new entrants to get discovered by the people who most need what they buy amidst the noise, purely based on the unlimited supply of content now available to buyers.

On a marketing department level, it made it much harder to show results and therefore ROI from investment in marketing, due to the volume of me-too content.

Hubspot suggests around 6 months of consistent, relentless content production and optimization in order to start seeing results from inbound. It may take businesses even longer depending on the competitive landscape.

This is where going niche, blue ocean, and doubling down on brand pays off.

Nevertheless, competition makes it more difficult to show the ROI of content marketing.


2. Customers

Potential customers are experts, albeit subjective, at assessing whether content they consume is quality to them or not.

Realistically no one watches a video or reads an infographic saying “ah, this is quality!” rather - validation of quality manifests itself more subtly, such as deciding to navigate to the homepage of that brand to learn more after watching a related YouTube video, or reading more than one blog posted on the brand’s website, and so on.

Marketers may monitor that in the form of traffic visits, bounce rate, conversion rate, and so on. The customer is always right. They get their vast experience from the volume of content they consumed relating to their interests, goals, and challenges.

When another brand comes along with content, they would have seen a fair share of articles, videos, or podcasts to be able to make a call on whether this “new” piece of content is worth their attention and trust, and more fundamentally, whether it adds anything new to them.

Because they have high standards, and because there is an unlimited supply of content, this drives the cost higher to stand out (therefore the cost of content marketing), and on the other side of the coin - the ROI of such an investment.


3. Resources

This one is straightforward. Let’s be conservative and consider this a purely external factor based on budget, headcount, and other circumstances within the company. Marketers have to constantly find creative ways to stay top of mind, gain mind share and build thought leadership.

All this leads to generating tangible results for their team and the company within the allocated budget, and with the accessible talent they have in-house.

Because businesses need money to make money (and content), project managing resources efficiently to create the highest quantity and quality of content is always tough for businesses when other competitors may be better funded or better organized, thus making the ROI and cost of content marketing an uphill battle. 

Simply ignoring content marketing is not an option for many companies.

According to Social Media Today and Marketing Week,

91% of total ad spend is viewed for less than a one second. As a result of that, $38 billion in digital ad spend was “wasted" in 2017.

Paid ads can be effective when done right, but all roads ultimately lead back to content marketing as the bedrock of building long-lasting brand and results, as opposed to renting attention on a pay-per-action basis. 

Hubspot reported that 47% of buyers look at 3-5 pieces of content before buying.

Daniel Priestley calls it the 7/11/4 rule - that potential customers need to experience a brand for 7 hours, 11 touchpoints, and ideally in 4 different creative mediums (video, blog, audio, written) before they start to fully trust a brand or become a client.

Furthermore, 65% of senior executives navigate to a site after viewing a related Youtube video, according to Single Grain.

If that’s not enough, content marketing is proven to get at least three times more leads than paid search advertising according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Especially when a product or industry is part of a longer (3+ months) or complex sales cycle, people prefer to do their own research and arrive at their own conclusions before going ahead with a purchase, or re-purchase.



While it is clear that there is still a solid ROI from content marketing, it is only guaranteed if us content marketers can find ways to overcome the 3 external factors of competition, customers, and resources to stand out.

It takes a great deal of creativity and resource management to truly do something memorable. There's nothing new under the sun. It's all about how you package it. 

Are you working on a new content strategy? If you made it this far in the article, here's one original way to package your content so it's more effective and creative while staying within budget.


Want to brainstorm with us more original ideas? Book a 15 min call now or chat to us in real-time.Book a 15 min Call 

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