Content marketing vs. direct response marketing … is there really a difference?
Well, it depends on your marketing philosophy.
If you want to measure marketing ROI, then yes, they’re the same.
Because content marketing funnels are the same as other marketing funnels.
You use marketing material at every stage of the funnel to:
- Rank in search
- Drive social media traffic
- Nurture leads
- Educate website visitors
- Compel action
All this is direct response marketing — marketing that gets measurable, calculable ROI.
However, if you view content marketing as an ambiguous way to “be seen” online … without measuring results … then that’s not direct response marketing.
Content Marketing vs. Direct Response Marketing — Two Names for the Same Elephant
You know that old story of the blind men who have never seen an elephant?
When they come across the elephant, they touch different parts of the elephant … its tusk, its legs, and so on.
But they disagree so vehemently about their perspectives that they eventually get in a brawl over “what an elephant is.”
Marketing is the same way.
Describe marketing from the perspective of new-school digital technology, SEO, and Google, then you call it “content marketing.”
Describe marketing from a direct response lens, then content marketing is just direct response.
Any type of marketing can also be seen from the viewpoint of general advertising.
Your marketing approach determines how most people view and use content marketing.
If you want to see tangible ROI, measurable results, and direct response, then you are a direct response marketer.
But you’re a general advertiser … if you feel that marketing is just an expense … or if your goal is to build relationships, generate unmeasurable awareness, etc. … then it isn’t direct response marketing.
How to Calculate the ROI of a Content Marketing Funnel
Calculating content marketing ROI, for direct response marketers, is the same as for any direct response approach.
You add up the time, money, and resources, then measure those costs against the results of your marketing.
Goal: Build an email list with a lead magnet, opt-in page, and a PPC campaign.
Add up the costs for the campaign, opt-in page creation, and lead magnet creation, then calculate the cost-per-acquisition.
Goal: Generate traffic for a targeted keyword set via a blog campaign.
To calculate SEO ROI, add up blog writing costs, traffic generation, and then measure cost per visitor, for those that match your criteria.
Goal: Drive traffic via those same blog articles to an opt-in page.
Set up appropriate linking, tracking, then use your website analytics to determine traffic flow. Use that to calculate the effectiveness of this campaign and cost-per-acquisition.
Caveat: The Attribution Problem Is Ever-Present
It’s not always possible to establish attribution with 100% accuracy.
No matter what, there will always be an unmeasurable dark area.
For instance, your website analytics will always have a blind spot when it comes to traffic sources, search terms used, and even the amount of traffic.
Or consider the website elements that push a person towards the conversion tipping point — design, copy, photos, testimonials, CTA. No amount of split-testing will offer you 100% accurate insight into what makes your customers tick.
This is just the nature of the marketing beast.
Rather than giving up on metrics or direct response, just recognize that there will always be a percent of the marketing formula that remains dark.
The solution is simply to focus on the metrics you can see.
Conclusion: ROI-Driven Content Marketing Is Direct Response Marketing
Marketing is overflowing with jargon … and this is made worse by the number of “marketing gurus” who pretend like content marketing is a brand new phenomenon.
The name is new. The marketing method isn’t.
Pitting content marketing vs. direct response marketing is like comparing apple puree to apple juice. They’re both made with apples, it’s what you do with them that makes the difference.
My view — content marketing has been used by direct response marketers for more than a century.
But because our publication medium has evolved, it seems new.
Whether you send your “content” to people via printed newsletters, print books, blog articles, or ebooks, it’s still marketing.
And if it’s aim is to get customers, sales, and ROI…
It’s direct response.