Five problems with outsourcing content marketing [and how to avoid them]
by Lucy Seymour on 11 December 2019
Companies often decide to outsource content marketing when they don’t have the budget to employ an in-house writer or marketeer. Outsourcing content marketing to an agency is a sensible way to access the expertise of a team of content experts (with experience writing, designing and producing fully optimized content for HubSpot), for a fraction of the cost of a salary.
At ESM Inbound, many of our clients have tried and struggled to add content-creation to the job description of existing staff, with mixed results. Unless you have a team member who is skilled at writing, interviewing and editing (and can get it done quickly), trying to pick up the slack internally is a huge ask. Equally, approaching outsourcing without fully thinking it through and doing the legwork to make sure you pick the right partner can create a headache in other ways. Here, we explore some of the most common problems with outsourcing content marketing — and how to avoid them.
To put it bluntly, one of the first lessons of content-marketing is this: it’s important to remember that potential customers aren’t necessarily that into you! They become interested when what you have to say answers a question or solves a problem that they already have. When you come at content marketing from an insider-perspective, it’s easy to forget this. You know your products or your service inside out. You know what you can do for your customer. Operating from this standpoint, there is often a huge temptation to focus on bottom of the funnel content – lengthy case studies that showcase all the amazing stuff you’ve done. This is a mistake, and only serves to exaggerate the gap between potential customers who may not even know they need, or would benefit from your products or services, and those who are ready to buy. It can be off-putting for customers to look at this sort of content and think ‘so what?’. This reaction is the polar opposite of what you’re aiming for.
Shifting your focus to capture the interest of the ‘just browsing’ customer, who is weighing up a range of solutions to their problem, will ensure your content works much harder for you at converting leads. Content marketing needs to be strategic, and underpinned by a rigorous process if you want to get the most out of it.
The word ‘outsourcing’ makes it sound as if once you engage an agency to produce content, it’s off your plate, and will come back fully-formed. Some agencies may promise you this, but that’s a red flag rather than a sign of professionalism. On day one, an outside agency knows nothing about your business – so any agency will need input from you and your team during the strategy and planning phases to inform relevant content.
At ESM Inbound, we understand the constraints on your time and don’t take up more of it than we need to, so our processes ensure we get the most out of our meetings. We start by talking to you to ensure we fully understand what you need from your content, and to set up interviews with your staff or your customers. Then, before full-form content is created, we run an outline plan by you including the title, meta description, standfirst, subheadings, CTA and a short list of bullets to give you a sense of what we will put in the body copy. We also share any quotes we want to include from any interviews with you or your customers, as well as any links we intend to use. Once this is agreed we write up the content, proofread it and share it with you for approval. We can then help you promote the content to ensure it performs. At each of these stages: strategy, creation, and promotion, there is some input from you and your team.
Find an agency that will act as your content partner rather than a remote ‘content factory’. By drawing on the experts you have internally, in short interviews, the effort involved on the part of your team is relatively small. The pay-off is great quality content that is authentic and relevant.
If you’re new to content creation, it can be hard to recognise what’s good and what’s not. Here are a few signs that the agency you’re working with knows their onions: they have a smooth content-creation process that eliminates the need for multiple revisions at the end. A piece of content shouldn’t contain any serious surprises – it should be what you asked for. It should also pass what we call the TRUTH test at ESM Inbound. This is key to our QA process:
T is for tension. So, is there something grabby in the title that creates a sense that the reader needs to read this piece of content?
R is for reputable sources. So, does the content quote and link to other reputable sources?
U is unique. Is it original? Plagiarism and repurposing of [sometimes slightly re-hashed] competitor content is rife online. Good content is original, unless you are running a guest blog that you have previously read elsewhere, say, with full permission of the original author.
T is for take-away. Does the content give the readers something useful they can benefit from regardless of whether they buy your product or service?
H is for human connection – does the content ‘speak in human’? Humour, anecdote and an empathetic communication that says to the reader ‘we understand what it’s like in your shoes’ will resonate far more than something dry and ‘professional’.
Look for agencies that have solid processes in place. If you’re considering outsourcing your content to an agency, ask them what their content creation process looks like, and find out how they quality assure their work.
Any agency that promises you concrete reactions, views, or social media followers as part of a content campaign, is not to be trusted! And particularly if they haven’t fully got to the bottom of trying to understand your product or service, understanding who your customers are and why they need you, any ‘success’ in that sense is somewhat meaningless. What you need is qualified leads, which is unquestionably a product of quality over quantity.
An agency who makes promises using big numbers and spiels off a load of fancy metrics is to be treated with caution. With any marketing, it is notoriously difficult to measure efficacy. Admittedly, a platform such as HubSpot makes it a whole lot easier, as you can track an individual buyer’s journey on your site and through your content, which gives you a sense of their priorities and preoccupations (a major sales asset). But despite this, it is virtually impossible to promise specifics when it comes to performance.
Be cautious of anyone who makes big promises about performance metrics or who claims they will generate X number of leads in X number of days. Ensure that your chosen agency has a strategy or tool for tracking the performance of the content they create, and then responding to the data.
No content is an island! You can’t commission a load of content, upload it to your site and expect it to perform. If an agency is trying to convince you to spend your full marketing budget on content, be sceptical. Content needs to be properly marketed, otherwise it is worthless. That’s where the term ‘content marketing’ comes in. At ESM Inbound, we create all our content to be fully optimised from a marketing point of view.
Because we work in HubSpot, we have a live insight, at any given moment, into how your content is performing. This means that we can adjust and fine-tune your content strategy informed by real-world insight, month by month.
Whether you are outsourcing your content or not, make sure you have a plan (and a budget) for promoting it once it is published. It doesn’t matter how good your content is - if nobody can find it, then it’s no good, so getting your content seen needs to be just as big a part of your strategy as creating it.