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ed marsh international b2b business development expertMost posts are written by B2B biz dev, marketing & export growth expert Ed Marsh.

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The Content Marketing "Keystone"...the mirage of inbound marketing


Fruitlessly struggling to distill a complex process into a "key step"

Anyone else tired of the lists?  For example these knock your socks off classics...

  • The 5 keys to social media
  • The 10 factors in content sharing
  • 7 factors in email open rates?

And how about this recurring topic?

XXXXX - The Most Critical Element of your Content Marketing Program

content marketing keystone fallacyI’m not sure if the folks writing those do so because they are struggling to keep up with their content calendar, or because they really bounce hyper-kinetically from one focus discipline to another. But the stream of categorical pronouncements has become almost comical. Here’s an example I saw recently.

I’m sure the good folks at Mesasix get it – and maybe only the eager headline writer at the Beaumont Enterprise is the silly one. But “Content Marketing Overtakes SEO & Link Building in 2013”?  Are you serious? What is great content if not the heart of your SEO? This sort of inanity misleads many small business leaders who want to capture opportunities but are misled by myopic “experts.”

Here’s the thing – as best I can determine, with the possible exception of strategy & planning, there is no single element more critical than another. And therein lies one of the real challenges of Inbound Marketing – it is a real grind.

Non-linear inputs & outputs

In many areas of business and life there is a generally linear relationship between commitment/input effort & outcome. If you never exercise, exercise two days/week or step up to double workouts daily you will find progressively greater benefit.

Similarly if you prospect just at trade shows, 1 day/month or 2 X ½ day every week you will find a direct relationship between your effort and results.

But inbound marketing is different. Let’s assume that it’s possible to identify all the key steps required to achieve Inbound Marketing perfection. My unscientific sense is that if you do 20% you will achieve 5% of the possible results. If you hit 50% maybe you’ll get 10% results. Hit 75% and you might get into the 40% range. But only once you start to get north of 85% of the ideal do you start to get 75 to 80% results.

The point is that it only works if you carefully execute the entire program, across all elements, according to a consistent schedule. Short of that it’s largely a waste of resources. It’s a classic example of the whole being far greater than the sum of the parts. Take away sound SEO and it fails; skimp on promotion and it fails; ignore social media and it fails; create crappy content and….you guessed it, it fails; ignore PR, events and other pieces and it fails. You must craft an entirely interrelated marketing machine….or you will fail.

Perspective is fundamental

What’s this mean?

First, if you’re an SEO expert (or video editor, or blog writer, or social media maven, or, or , or) you’d better get real serious real quick about rounding out your skill sets. Because even if you justify in your own mind that your activity is key to the total success (and your probably right) that’s irrelevant, because by itself it’s of little value.

Second, if you’re a business that’s tried to dabble, you’re deluding yourself. The blog link on your website that goes to last October’s ‘press release’ posting? That Facebook icon in your website template that goes nowhere? That twitter handle with 17 updates? They’re worse than worthless – they scream “we think we’re hip but we really don’t get it.”

Third, no software package is going to do this for you. No single person will pull this off. This is not a DiY or learn as you go activity. And there’s no easy way.

All that being said, it is incredibly efficient and economical. If you subscribe to the rule of thumb that a typical business ought to invest 5-10% of revenue in marketing, then I would argue that any company with $3,000,000 in revenue can create an awesome inbound marketing program. (If you want details on my calculation call me – basically I figured one FTE at $50K/year loaded @ 30%; software cost of $10K/year; consultant/outsource cost of 90K/year and a 5% of revenue investment)

A cavalier commitment is worse than none!

If you think you’re going to really nail it for $30K/year, save the money!

If your goal is that your business will be vibrant in 3 years, start today!

And most importantly if you can’t visualize marketing today as a completely integrated, multi-disciplined pursuit which demands that all components are concurrently and expertly executed, then you'd better hire someone who does….and prepare to work FOR them in the not to distant future.

Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog


Ed, I'm really glad you said all of this, because most marketers are either afraid to face up to reality or they are deluded by myths about digital marketing. It does take a lot of hard work to succeed, and you're either all-in or you're out. This is a lecture we have with all of our would-be and existing clients. There is too much competition for attention, for sharing and for sales to be anything less than 100% committed with strategy, planning and resources. Band-aids are useless. Experiments are doomed to failure. It's too late to be playing catch-up. Thanks for your bold statement, and I'm totally with you on your sentiments. Best, John
Posted @ Tuesday, March 12, 2013 12:03 PM by John McTigue
Good read Ed. I am guilty list myself too often. 
I generally agree with your all in stance but where does that leave smaller companies without 3 million in revenue? 
Interested in better understanding your thoughts on budget calculations. Is there something else you have written you can point me too. 
Posted @ Tuesday, March 12, 2013 3:57 PM by Patrick
@john - thanks for the kind words. it is hard for folks to accept because usually there is reasonable return even for mediocre effort. it's a lonely position to take sometimes. thanks for having my back! 
@patrick - fair question, and I don't have a good answer other than even more hours if that's possible. I would say the key is quality and consistency. So maybe it's a matter of 1 good blog post/week and 1 video, webinar, infographic, and offer/month with daily social media promotion. You can probably do that for about half the budget - if you're willing to do a lot yourself. Nothing written with more background on the budget.
Posted @ Tuesday, March 12, 2013 7:11 PM by Ed Marsh
Thanks for your support, Ed. I agree and seem to still be battling the same people that think online advertising is a fad compared to mags. 
Quality and consistency/integration across the business should always have been the keys to promotional success, so I'm not sure why this is still such a challenge. 
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