Talk to any marketer today about her demand generation strategy and she’ll regale you with stories of the magical properties of content.

It’s consuming increasing amounts of money, according to a recent study by Starfleet Media. Specifically, marketers now spend 20 to 50 percent of their budgets on content creation — and 25 percent plan to spend even more in 2015. Already, about 7 percent of the survey’s respondents spend more than 75 percent of their marketing budgets on content.

Content is designed to engage buyers. It informs, inspires and illuminates while building brand credibility and preference. Done correctly, it can influence buyers to act in ways that favor the brand.

The aspiration is correct, but the reality doesn’t measure up: content has become a panacea. It’s the new elixir of customer engagement, applied in peanut butter fashion across every possible channel, in every imaginable form.

Unintended Consequences 

What better way is there to generate leads than to offer content? Build it and they will come.

Four out of five marketers gate a majority of their content because, the rationale goes, if buyers wants it, they must be leads. Salacious titles, optimized keywords and landing pages, however, often misrepresent the content that sits behind the gate. The focus is not on providing valuable content that enables customers but on capturing buyer details, which are then used to build profiles that become grist for the marketing mill.

The reality is that the rising tide of content has many unintended, negative consequences.

Being barraged with irrelevant content, misleading titles and promotion actually damages the brand. Content that doesn’t meet buyers' expectations or help them achieve desired outcomes lessens brand credibility. Done enough times, buyers will ignore any content the brand offers.

A strategy based primarily on vendor generated content negatively impacts conversion because buyers consider that information biased and untrustworthy.

Less is More

In fact, vendors that become content machines — generating large quantities of assets for only a few steps in the purchase journey — run the risk of building the wrong type of preference. In contrast, Marketo is a hallmark content creator, seen by most potential marketing automation buyers as a place to go for industry education.

What if you could generate just as many but higher quality leads with 50 percent less content?

A growing number of brands are turning their backs on content glut because it is an unsustainable model. At some point, spending more than 50 percent of marketing budgets on content with lackluster sales conversion will backfire -- in the market as well as with sales, the CEO and on marketing’s own credibility.

Successful content marketers align their content to their target markets’ purchase decision journey. Taking an “outside-in” approach translates into building only that content which meets the specific needs and expectations of specific, high-value target buyer-personas.

In other words, only build what buyers will seek out and value. The content should be authored by sources that buyers consider trusted and credible for each stage of the purchase journey. Then offer the asset only where the buyer goes to seek that content.

Measurable Results

Optimizing content investment not only drives higher, measurable return-on-investment (ROI) but regains everyone’s sanity (as well as marketing’s credibility). The ROI of this approach is in the neighborhood of 20 percent increase in revenue, 40 percent increase in pipeline attributable to marketing and more than 200 percent increase in campaign productivity.

These break-away brands are achieving results with a five step process:

  1. Develop detailed customer journey maps through the lens of the buyer
  2. Identify for each journey step every piece of content, regardless of source (vendor, competitor, customer, peer, etc.), the buyer sought through which channel(s)
  3. Document how the buyer used or intended to use the content
  4. Define an optimized content strategy after conducting a gap analysis
  5. Develop gating rationale by linking specific assets to journey tollgates

Aside from creating only content that buyers seek, another key to success is abandoning the one-size fits all approach that has been the mainstay of marketers for decades. Assets developed for specific journey steps and personas result in increased conversion because of higher relevance and resonance; buyers more readily related to the tone and language used.

Whether you outsource or insource content creation, start by understanding how your customers look for and select valuable content. The pay-off goes beyond higher quality leads and revenue -- buyers will view the brand as a trusted source which, in turn, translates into preference and evangelism.

Title image by Alex Abain  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.