The Economics of Content Marketing: ‘Stock and Flow’
Five years ago, Robin Sloan wrote a blog post for Snarkmarket exploring the economic terms “Stock” and “Flow” within a modern marketing context. For those who didn’t suffer through an economics degree, imagine stock as your bank account balance and flow as your weekly wage. The concepts are clearly related, but distinctly different – a value vs. a rate of change. Within a marketing context, the “stock” is your durable content – think: whitepapers and infographics. “Flow” is more context-dependent and temporal – think: tweets or Snapchat stories – but can serve as the backbone of your stock (where would your bank account be without your weekly wages?). Today, finding the right mix and complementary channels for your content (“stock”) and distribution (“flow”) is the difference between an effective content strategy and a lot of wasted dollars.
Taking stock of your “stock”
Your stock content is where you and your firm can establish thought leadership, add value to the marketplace, and map the benefits of your solution to your target customers’ needs. To deliver against this promise, your stock should be well-targeted at both your target customer needs and tailored to their habits. How does the head of sales at Widget Incorporated search for information as compared to the CMO of eWidgetz LLC? How should your form factors and messaging change further down the funnel for these buyer types?
It’s not a new concept, but the key to successful and enduring “stock” is to deliver relevant, substantive content to the customers who need to see it, both how and when they need to see it. Moreover, once you’ve invested the time and energy into building that stock, recognize that it can be re-seasoned in various ways and form factors that might better match your different customer segments. We know that inbound marketing works, and that it often works efficiently (the average lead costs roughly 60% less to generate than through outbound marketing), but that efficiency hinges on knowing how best to distribute that content.
Don’t just go with the “flow”
Your company’s flow provides consistent reminders to your customers and targets about who you are and why you matter. Think of it is one part branding machine and one part distribution engine. As with any distribution tool, a failure to focus on where and how you are distributing your content will lead you quickly down a path to nowhere.
While there are low barriers to entry associated with social media networks, many companies fail to give direction to the voice or goals of these channels, despite heavy investment (According to Forrester, forecast to grow from $7.5B to $17.3B in the US between 2014 and 2019). No amount of money your company puts into marketing will fix a broken or non-existent strategy. You wouldn’t expect to send the same print ad to Network Architect Magazine and General Interest Monthly, but the concept of uniform marketing broadcasting is how many companies run their social media presence. Your flow exists in large part to encapsulate, repurpose, and consistently share the core values and offerings of your company. If your content marketing strategy does not explicitly factor in the distribution channels of your stock, the success of your entire program is at risk.
The value of a comprehensive strategy
Both “stock” and “flow” are valuable tools for the modern marketer, but failing to unify a strategy for both is unlikely to be impactful in the long-run. In the last few years, investment has grown in both content marketing and social media investment, but all too often it appears that the strategy of the two are not linked. One question not asked often enough: Do I need more marketing for my content, or more content for my marketing? Ideally, the answer to this question should be “no,” but this only happens when the two tactics are being implemented in lockstep.
While organizations will continue investing in both social media and content marketing over the foreseeable future, your organization is unlikely to accelerate marketing spend without demonstrable ROI. The best infographic in the world has no value unless it is seen by the right people, and the most engaging tweet or blog will set you back if the linked content is poor.
Indeed, central to a truly effective content strategy is a dynamic mix of your stock and flow, and a well-targeted strategy to reach your desired customers where and how they consume information. While you may provide the best solution to a business problem, the failure to grasp both your target customer’s issue and the preferred format, tone, platform, etc., will be a deathblow to growing your book of business.