No, Content Will Not Kill Advertising

Stop SignsAdvertising is dead (again). The latest killers are the social media and content marketing stars.

Not so fast.

Marketing is a spectrum. At one end might be the experience someone has using your product or service as you intended. At the other might be a tiny mobile banner or a transit bench on a side street.

Advertising isn’t dead. Comparing different parts of the marketing spectrum is like comparing visible light to X-rays; “better” is entirely dependent on your purpose.

The Spectrum of Marketing

A mobile banner? An email? A television spot? A white paper? A webcast? Talking to a salesperson?

Each makes an impression, each has a cost and each can be scaled to some degree. Not every company needs each one, but they can’t just be substituted for each other. Here are a few of the impressions made across the advertising, marketing and sales spectrum.

The Advertising Experience
Advertising can deliver a high level message. Most ads can’t communicate more than a few words effectively: a claim, a promise, a benefit. It is a claim without corroboration but it is also a claim without immediate challenge.

Although it is a weak impression, advertising delivers that impression at scale while often pushing towards a marketer’s content. Conveniently, content is the next step.

The Content Experience
Content encapsulates your perspectives, advice or even elements of the customer experience. Compared to advertising, content can make a big impression.

However, content doesn’t deliver the same scale. Even HubSpot, a prolific content marketer, and in many ways a publisher, just crossed a million visits a month to their website. That’s a huge number relative to many B2B marketers but it pales in comparison to the breadth of most B2B advertising campaigns.

The Sales Experience
What happens when content has made a great impression but the experience with sales makes your prospect question if you can actually deliver? The potential deal vanishes.

Conversely, a great sales experience that directly addresses how your solution is right for their business can overcome a tarnished perspective from marketing.

Maureen Blandford put a finer point on this when she commented on Three Reasons Marketing is the First Budget Cut, saying “For years, I’ve been asking Sales Execs in the US and Europe: ‘what would happen to sales if marketing quit producing anything new for six months?’ ‘Probably nothing,’ was the response I get every time.”

Although I believe marketing should have made a difference, this perception from sales reflects the fact that in B2B, sales is able to close even when marketing hasn’t helped. However, marketing cannot close an enterprise B2B sale without the help of sales. The sales experience should always be a more meaningful experience than what marketing delivers, but it impacts a still smaller audience.

The Customer Experience
The actual customer experience is the ultimate experience but it reaches the fewest people. Any false perceptions created by sales and marketing activities are blown away, replaced by the real experience of working with you.

Marketing Must Deliver Stronger Experiences

At every step, marketing moves potential customers towards more meaningful experiences and brings more meaningful experiences to broader audiences. The power of the real customer experience is why so many sales and marketing activities offer a glimpse of that experience, from demos and trials to encouraging clients to share their experience in social media.

However, those more powerful experiences reach progressively smaller audiences. So let’s stop calling marketing activities dead just because they are different.

Advertising isn’t dead. Neither is content, sales or a great customer experience. Each has a role to play in creating and shaping opinions of your company and product.

Your Turn

Ok, I’m done ranting, the comments are yours.

Photo Credit: brainware3000 via Flickr cc

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  • Good stuff Eric. Advertising serves as the tool to keep a company top of mind. In b2b it is unlikely to be the cause attributed to the purchase; however, if you aren’t even being considered, you can forget about the sale.

    • Thanks Josh. Definitely agree, advertising isn’t going to be the reason someone buys (and neither is a single piece of content for that matter). It’s about understanding the full toolbox.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Charmon Stiles

    Great post Eric! There is definitely an interconnectedness between all the pieces that make the whole experience.

  • Pingback: Content is Drinking Advertising’s Milkshake « Eloquality()

  • Mark LeVell

    Greetings Eric,

    Thanks for commenting on my response to this, “Content is Drinking Advertising’s Milkshake.”

    Although we may disagree over the main premise, I really like the point you made about content and advertising merging. This is happening everywhere and I think the best content comes from the deep intertwining of selfish-messaging with customer-value. It’s a new skill and many marketers have trouble finding the right balance.

    It’s even arguable that what we call “content” today, (as produced by marketers, with an agenda), is exactly that… an amalgam of self-advertising and (more) altruistic customer-focused information.

    Blog Post Referred to is here:

    • Thanks Mark. I appreciate the dissenting perspectives and the opportunity to see additional sides of an issue. Thanks for the response and then taking the time to comment here as well!

  • tomdebaere

    Hi Eric,

    As a B2B marketer I am always puzzled how to balance the power of advertising with the power of content.

    On-line advertising is gaining momentum, witnessed by the decline in print-media income and the rise in on-line ads (look at the recent Google results, that’s convincing enough).

    On the other hand, impressions are low, and clicks even lower. For B2B the numbers are less than 1%.

    That’s why I think advertising money should be spent wisely, and combined with a strong set of content. I always have been charmed by the idea of advertising with the content you have.

    In the end, I am still puzzled. People are blind for advertising, and only subconsciously influenced (and I don’t have the money/time/resources to measure it like they do in B2C). On-line ads are not working, as said before.

    Not sure if this is an addition to this post ;-). I guess it’s just a thought.

    Warm regards,