The Case for Content Advertising

By: vibethink

April 4, 2016

At Vibethink, our clients trust us to figure out what they need to succeed in the digital age. Most recently we’ve been fielding a lot of questions about advertising. Should I invest in TV? Are print ads a waste of money? What about radio? How do I know if what I’m doing is working or not? Can you set up Google remarketing ads for me?

Our experience with web design and development has led us to conclude that people’s specific questions often sit on top of deeper-seated anxieties about the way their businesses interface with the digital world. In this case, there’s a problem with advertising: Conventional media outfits are still really aggressive about selling a product and a distribution model that’s steadily losing its power and relevance. While advertisers understand this, they can’t see a viable alternative, because their efforts at paid advertising through Facebook and Google aren’t getting the returns they want.


This blog will make the case that content advertising and content marketing are an effective digital alternative to advertising via conventional media channels.

Display Ads Aren’t Working

Let’s start with the obvious: Your customers are online all the time and investing in print, radio, or TV ads is doing nothing to reach them. Conventional media companies have responded to the digital media explosion by figuring out how to sell a cheaper advertising product (display ads on their homepages), but they continue to focus their resources on their existing products. In the best scenarios, their sales reps are focusing their pitches on the specific advantages of their native medium, and, in the worst case scenarios, they’re attempting a kind of bait and switch act. Hey, buy our legacy product and it will work the same online.

But it doesn’t. They know it and you know it. Click-through rates on display ads have gone from over 10% in 2000 to .1% in 2014. Click-throughs are not the be-all-and-end-all of display advertising. You can’t click-through a billboard and people are still spending millions there. But the statistics are telling a powerful story about the behaviors of digital consumers.

Digital Readers Are Overwhelmed

When we are online, we are bombarded by so many messages over so many channels that we’ve learned how to filter out nearly everything. We’re so overwhelmed that we’re blocking out even more than we want to. Most of us actually want to know about cool business owners who solve problems for us in elegant ways. But we don’t want to sort through all of the crap to find them. So we click on cat vids that makes us laugh, links our friends send us through e-mail groups, remarketing ads for shoes we’re eyeing, and whatever family news is filling up our Facebook news feed. Oh yeah, and cool stuff on Pinterest and your sister’s Instagram and, and, and…

Most of us actually want to know about cool business owners who solve problems for us in elegant ways. But we don’t want to sort through all of the crap to find them.

The point is we are still consuming vast quantities of content online, but it has to reach us by tapping into our impulses (to feel, to buy, to know) or come from a trusted source. Most of us spend our work days like carp, sifting through a river of images and stories as we navigate the tabs on our browser windows. So how does a business get the attention of potential customers?

Shingy Says, Brands Are People Too…

The Problem Facing Digital Advertisers

Good question. There’s no button to press. But let’s look at the problem again. Conventional media outlets make their money selling advertising to the audiences they build around editorial content. We can argue all day about the specific impact of the digital media revolution on legacy media, but having worked in print journalism for a decade, I feel pretty confident saying that its major effect has been to create “do more with less” approach to everything except selling advertising and distributing the product. Content is free, so distribution and advertising are more expensive.

In TV, radio, and print, media companies are charging you for access and distribution to their audiences. In most local markets, they’ve even developed a business model that essentially gives away the creative part of advertising. They’ll make your ad at no additional cost because your money is going to pay for their ad reps, their distribution model, and their fixed costs (a fraction of which go to their editorial content teams.) So you’re paying for a firehose that spits a cobbled together message at their audience, not yours, and you’re paying a premium for it.

Digital advertising leaders like Google and Facebook have spent the last decade working out how to build a distribution model that reaches consumers cheaper and more effectively with the type of control that allows you to target by demographics, location, and interest profiles. But they don’t solve your content problem. You still have to make an ad and, for most businesses, you don’t have an efficient way to do that well. Add to that problem the fact that the digital giants see your business as the sum total of your existing digital imprint. What if that’s not where you’ve ever focused your energy before? How do you educate the bots and reach new customers at the same time?

Content Is the Best Kind of Advertising

Your digital brand isn’t a logo or a tagline. It’s an ecosystem that centers on your website but reaches across channels and is defined, ultimately, by how your audience perceives you. Ratings, search rankings, social media interactions, platform quality, and advertising all play into how your digital brand is perceived by Google and by your customers.

This blog series will argue that the best way to reach digital consumers is to tell the story of your business in an authentic and entertaining way in a variety of formats over the appropriate channels, including your own publishing platform. That’s the only way your story is going to inhabit the content ecosystem in a way that makes it look and feel like it belongs there, which is what you’ll need to get through your audience’s considerable defense mechanisms.

We see too many advertisers sticking to the same game plan because they are terrified of change.

In order to do that, you have to know who you are and what your message is (sound strategy). You have to tell your stories well (engaging content). And you have to get them to the right people (effective distribution). Like all advertising, content advertising is a science and an art. You need to create a process, start getting your story out, and refine the process. We see too many advertisers sticking to the same game plan because they are terrified of change. We see others wildly undertaking social media programs that don’t have strategic objectives and aren’t sustainable, financially or emotionally, over the long haul.

Instead, why not embrace the challenges of digital marketing and spend your time and money on engaging a team of creative professionals to find the right solution for your business? Why not spend your money on refining your brand strategy, creating content assets with shelf-life, and developing an efficient, scalable distribution model for reaching your audiences?

Content marketing is all the marketing that's left. - Seth Godin