In Content We Trust


In Content We Trust

Direct marketing can be a hit-or-miss business; most of the time, in fact, it’s the latter. As a result, too often, marketers have resorted to testing the marketplace as cheaply as possible to mitigate risk. Prior to the internet and e-commerce gaining traction, direct response practitioners would regularly produce multiple infomercials at a time, throw them against the proverbial wall, and hope that one might stick. Today, consumers hold the reins, deciding when, where, and how to engage with brands.

As marketers are aware, once the public is exposed to a product or service that seizes their imagination, prospects go online for a second- or third-screen experience, looking for affirmation in the form of opinion, reviews, and word-of-mouth. It creates a chicken-and-egg conundrum: Should the marketer build an entire ecosystem around an offering beyond a simple website, even while unsure whether or not there will be broad public acceptance? Or are they better off waiting to see if mass-media advertising spurs the kind of response that justifies a digital content build-out?

The short answer? No advertiser can afford not to develop its online content and attendant presence concurrent with, or prior to, mass-media advertising. Here are five key reasons why:

Your competition will eat your lunch. The moment your commercial is broadcast, the competition is set in motion. They will co-opt your searches and keywords, and divert leads by drafting off your advertising. Hence, your individual lead and sales acquisition costs will rise. Even worse, the other guys may knock off your product—essentially stealing your idea—before you can react, and establish a marketplace for your product by appearing to be the first mover. There’s an old saying in marketing: “First in wins.”

As if that isn’t bad enough, affiliate marketers will build their own content, such as fake review sites that masquerade as impartial opinion. Taking advantage of consumers, this content is designed to sell competing products, and the affiliate content builder either gets a commission or wholesales your competitor’s goods. The result: You get shut out, and your advertising dollars feed the competitor’s business.

Every bit of content you can create is another opportunity to nurture a brand relationship.

The content surrounding your product will consist of someone else’s opinions. There are literally millions of bloggers and vloggers with significant micro- and macro-audiences who generate content based on an advertising revenue model. They will review, demonstrate, and unbox your product. It is the authenticity and perceived independence of this type of content that give consumers confidence in the brand or product, and it can be the deciding factor in the path to purchase. Better to court these folks and (hopefully) make allies out of them, rather than leave it to chance. If all the content out there is unfiltered opinion, exclusive of your website, you’ve lost virtually all control over your messaging.

Consumers depend on social “proof” to make purchase decisions. Social proof, or the practice of relying on the views of others to form opinions about brands, products, and services, is a fancy way of affirming the old adage, “Word-of-mouth is the best advertising.” According to YouGov, 78 percent of American consumers check out online reviews before making a purchase decision. Another study from BloomReach indicates that 55 percent of consumers start their product research on Amazon, while 28 percent use a traditional search engine such as Google.

Like a consumer who tunes into a home shopping network versus those who happen upon an infomercial or commercial, these prospects have higher purchase intent. They are focused—there to shop and buy. Consequently, ratings, stars, and perspectives matter more than ever, and they are only going to increase in importance. It is incumbent upon marketers to proactively monitor and respond to both good and bad reviews by expressing gratitude to those who speak favorably of their brands, and exhibiting a willingness to problem-solve with those who are dissatisfied.

Video content is equally important, as more viewers turn to YouTube to research products and the prominence of video in social media continues to grow. We’re not just talking about advertising videos that feature calls to action, but also useful information that helps establish authority in the category, which is another mechanism for creating consumer goodwill.

Online content is like free advertising. One of the great things about creating and disseminating online content is that it is “evergreen” and continues to pay dividends. Think of it this way: Mass-media advertising such as TV sparks interest and generates initial prospects. According to Accenture, nearly nine out of 10 TV viewers watch with a second screen, so many of them will use their smartphone or preferred device to learn more about whatever it is you’re selling. Every bit of content you can create is another opportunity to nurture a brand relationship and move that prospect down the sales funnel by giving people the knowledge they need to form an educated opinion around your offering.

Such content also helps fortify your marketplace position against the competition. There is an initial investment required, but once it’s out in cyberspace, content works on your behalf for free, or at a very nominal cost. Think of it this way: Your content is essentially a chance to remarket to a consumer who has already demonstrated interest in your brand. These consumers convert at a higher rate and will help you achieve a more profitable media efficiency ratio (MER) than the audience that is being exposed to your message for the first time. Such content allows you to market in a much more targeted fashion, and deliver blended results that drive enhanced response and conversions.

Content will help improve your SEO. Good content helps improve your search engine optimization (SEO). You have more opportunities for links to your content to appear organically on the first page of search results the earlier you establish your beachhead. You risk ceding this invaluable real estate to competitors if you aren’t the first to lay claim to such virtual turf, and it will only cost you more in the form of paid search later if you don’t build the content framework and presence necessary for sustained success. A proactive approach will lower your overall cost per order from the get-go.

Speaking of beachheads, think of aggregated digital content as a kind of tide—one that will, over time, deliver profits to your shores, only to seemingly recede and then return again with even more profits. Your advertising (and especially television advertising) will act like a tsunami that stirs up interest and delivers flotillas of consumers eager to find out more about your product or service amid a sea of choice. The more waves you create in the form of organic content and properly managed SEO, the better your chances are of having those ships reach your shores. That content will help convert these prospects into purchasers who, over time, build a critical mass of sales and market share.

There’s an ocean of choice out there for consumers. The aim is to not get lost in it, and to appear on every horizon line.

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065, online at, and @thepetrydish on Twitter.