Content Marketing
Why Content Marketing Beats Advertising (Almost) Every Time

Why Content Marketing Beats Advertising (Almost) Every Time

March 16, 2021
5 min read

Every business wants more customers and leads, but many aren’t sure about the best way to get them.

While many marketing tactics can generate quantifiable business results, some do it better than others. In the big picture, you want to ensure a high ROI (return on investment), no matter what you do.

When it comes to driving value, content marketing beats advertising (almost) every time.

These two areas aren’t always at odds. They can coexist and support each other, but there’s no better ROI for your efforts than what you’ll experience with content marketing.

Let’s dive into why so you have a better idea of what to expect when you focus on content.

Quick Takeaways

  • Content marketing has a consistently higher ROI than advertising.
  • Content marketing never stops working; ads only work when they’re running.
  • There are many benefits that only content marketing can provide.

The Basics: Defining the Contenders

Before we start with the discussion, let’s define the two disciplines. Content marketing is a strategic process wherein brands consistently publish content that their audiences want to consume. It’s relevant, accurate, and compelling, and it educates readers.

Advertising is much different and comes in many forms. It’s an interruptive medium and is an outbound approach to brand promotion. Advertising evolved significantly since its inception, and it’s all around us—online, TV, radio, billboards, magazines, and so much more.

Another important difference is to look at it this way:

Content marketing is storytelling where your customer is the hero. Advertising is purely promotional, with your brand voice leading the way.

Who do you like better: the person saying “I am awesome.” Or the one saying “YOU are awesome!”

The Data Shows Content Marketing Beats Advertising

One of the most critical things that you’ll realize when you look at ROI is that content, as long it’s published, continues to deliver ROI. From pay per click to a TV spot, every ad only offers returns when it’s on; once it’s over, it’s over.

Now, on to the numbers.

People actively block ads or are ad blind.

In 2020, 26.4% of U.S. internet users blocked ads.

Image: Statista

An eye-tracking study revealed most users dismiss ads online. Since ads are usually in the same places (i.e., banners on the top, bottom, or sides), they simply block them out.

If customers never even see ads or ignore them, they can’t impact behavior.

Buyers are very savvy learners.

In fact, 70% said they wanted to explore a brand via content, not ads. This data point demonstrates that people crave knowledge, not promotions.

Content marketing wins ROI.

Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates three times more leads. If you’re going to invest, then it makes fiscal sense to do it here.

Image: DemandMetric

Organic search results perform better than ads.

Google Ads are a mainstay for many brands. They can certainly provide leads, but the quality is always questionable. If you’re in a highly competitive field, average bids for keywords can escalate fast. If you compare these to first-page organic rankings for the keyword, it’s the organic search results that garner clicks much more of the time!

A recent survey supports this, as 70% of marketers believe SEO is much better than PPC at generating sales.

Content marketing ROI wins this round. Positive ROAS (return on ad spend) is minimal for companies. It can easily become a money pit. Further, in most cases, it’s very hard to attribute outbound advertising, like TV and radio. Every aspect of content marketing is measurable, so you’ll always know how it’s performing.

Inbound vs. Outbound Approaches

Because content marketing and advertising are so different, they don’t approach lead generation in the same way. Ads are outbound, meaning the ad “finds” the consumer. You can put these ads where you think your buyers are online or on other mediums.

Content marketing is inbound, which involves buyers finding it. Since most buying decisions start with a Google search, the user is seeking information, and they find your content because it’s high quality and SEO optimized.

That begins their journey with you, and it’s the way B2B buyers make decisions now. They consume 13 pieces of content before they buy, the majority of which is what the brand produces. You’ll notice in the list below, they aren’t looking at ads!

Image: FocusVision

The Benefits that Only Content Marketing Can Deliver

To make the case even stronger of why content marketing beats advertising, check out these benefits.

Content Marketing Helps You Rank Well on Google

We’ve discussed how buyers use Google and that they prefer organic ranking content over its ads. You can only rank well in search by consistently creating quality content. Your content needs to be the best answer to the question to win at ranking. You’ll never get there with advertising.

Content Marketing Allows You to Control the Conversation

You own the messaging, distribution, and context of the content you create. That’s not always true in advertising. That’s because you don’t own the channels or media for ads. You do own your website, and that really matters.

Content marketing provides you with a way to develop specific pieces for each stage of the buyer’s journey as well as for buyer personas. You’re charting this course for a prospect so they can find and get to know your brand. Ads are hard to personalize, as you have no idea who is going to see them.

Image: Moz

Content Marketing Doesn’t Disrupt

As noted, ads are disruptive, annoying, and generally turn people off. Content marketing is just out there, patiently awaiting a customer’s arrival. It’s not that you aren’t distributing your content through lots of channels, but it doesn’t pop up and interrupt users. They choose to engage, and that makes all the difference when it comes to developing real connections.

Content Marketing Illustrates Your Expertise

Another crucial benefit of content marketing is it allows you to show your brand’s thought leadership on topics. Your brand is full of people who are experts in the field. Your content can reflect this in many ways. You show it through the expertise of your leaders, case studies, and examples.

Ads are promotional, so you can say you’re the best of the best. However, it doesn’t hold much weight, as there’s no social proof. If you want recognition as pioneers and authorities in your space, content marketing is the way to go.

Content Marketing Gives Your Product or Service More Visibility

It’s hard to think that content marketing can do this better than ads. Ads are product-focused, after all. Yet, they put solutions on a pedestal in a way that rarely feels genuine. Content marketing crafts stories about how your product or service actually helps the end-user. It’s not about the features; it’s about the effect of the solution.

Only this kind of visibility is possible with content marketing. Plus, you can use your actual customers in content, for example, when using testimonial videos or conversations on a podcast.

The Caveat (Why I Said “Almost”)

If you sell direct-to-consumer, or if your product is more of an impulse purchase, or if your product doesn’t require much education from the buyer, than you might be better off buying Facebook ads.

Content Marketing: The Champion

Content marketing has the best ROI, along with so many other advantages. Plus, much of content marketing is buyer-initiated. They seek out content, engage with you on social media, and open your emails. When buyers are coming to you, it changes the game completely. At the end of the bout, we have to award content marketing the TKO.

Ready to Win this Round? Partner with Us for a Content Marketing Solution

Content marketing beats advertising, hands-down, every time. However, you probably need some support to ensure you can consistently deliver. We can help you do that, so you can reap the benefits.

If you are ready to get more traffic to your site with quality content published consistently, check out our Content Builder Service.

Set up a quick consultation, and I’ll send you a free PDF version of my books. Get started today and generate more traffic and leads for your business.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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