Ocean waves are beautiful. Entertaining. Sometimes destructive.
And they’re consistent. They change, but they never stop.
In marketing, we try to create big, loud waves that as many people as possible will notice. But we also want those waves to have the right kind of impact on the people we’re trying to reach. And, of course, we must be able to afford to reach those people and show the value of the impact we’ve made.
To make the business case for doing that with content marketing (or to continue to do that with an existing program), it helps to reframe and update some classic marketing and advertising concepts for the search-driven online world we work in. The two addressed today are reach and frequency (with a brief introduction to the four Ps).
If you’ve never heard these terms (or wondered how they apply to content marketing), you’re not alone. People enter content marketing from many directions –classic marketing, sure, but also journalism, business development, product development, and plenty of other fields. And even those with a classic marketing background struggle to apply the traditional ideas they studied to the new marketing environment.
Marketing Makers, a new video and blog series from the Content Marketing Institute, is for people like you and everyone else who’s hard at work making marketing work. Each month, I’ll explore a foundational marketing concept and explain how to apply it to content marketing. You’ll find out everything you’ve always wondered about marketing (but were afraid to ask).
Watch the first episode, including an interview with Red Hat Software’s Laura Hamlin, below. You can use this post as a primer to the key concepts.
Marketing’s four Ps
Marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy’s 1960 book Basic Marketing: A Managerial Approach introduced the classic marketing concept of the four Ps – product, place, price, and promotion.
Product describes the offering itself, including features, benefits, packaging, and all the things associated with what’s being sold.
Place describes where you’ll offer the product, including distribution strategies, such as wholesale, retail, e-commerce, and so on.
Price, as the name suggests, includes pricing strategies that include where and how discounts are offered, methods based on volume discounts, and so on.
Promotion involves messaging strategy, advertising, public relations, and sales enablement.
What are reach and frequency in traditional marketing?
The core elements of promotion are where to deliver the messages and how often to say them – in other words, reach and frequency.
Reach involves identifying and planning which media channels to use to promote messages to the largest audience that has the most potential to be influenced.
Frequency involves decisions about how often to repeat messages to create the desired impact.
Marketers strive to balance reach and frequency to manage costs while providing the most value. That traditionally involved reaching as many people in the target market with a message as infrequently as you could get away with.
That’s because while reach represents potential value to a brand, frequency represents real costs. Paying to run an ad multiple times costs more than running it once. Paying more people to make more cold calls costs more. Buying additional time on a network costs more.
This is the rationale behind Super Bowl commercials. Running an ad during the Super Bowl lets brands reach one of the biggest audiences on the planet. If a brand creates something truly memorable, it justifies the enormous expense of the ad slot and may not have to buy many more (if any) ad slots to create the desired impact.
Apple’s 1984 advertisement, which introduced the Macintosh computer, is the quintessential example. Directed by Ridley Scott, the ad ran twice. It debuted in December 1983 in an obscure market simply so it could qualify for a Clio Award (which it subsequently won). The second airing happened during the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl.
That’s reach and frequency strategy perfected. Create a piece of content so special, you only need to run it once (well, twice) to change the course of personal computing history.
Reach and frequency formed the foundation of media planning and fueled the astronomical growth of advertising agencies from the 1950s through the 1990s.
Search disrupts traditional reach and frequency
In the mid-1990s, something happened that changed the reach-and-frequency strategy (and the entirety of promotional strategies) forever.
You might think I mean the internet or, more specifically, the world wide web. But that’s not exactly it.
The internet and the web certainly became the fastest-growing new medium for accessing content. But the introduction of one function really birthed its meteoric rise and created a fundamental change in the marketing mix: search.
Until this point, marketers depended almost exclusively on a one-way street to reach audiences. Broadcast or cable TV, print, or websites were the only way to reach large audiences. Marketers identified which of these limited options had the highest percentage of their desired audience and aligned the ad content to create the highest chance of influencing them. On TV and radio, that involved purchasing based on what time the ad ran. In some print vehicles, it involved placing ad content near or within feature articles. On the web, that meant taking over the most trafficked part – the home page.
Search changed all that.
Search made one-to-one reach and frequency not only possible but the optimal way of audience interaction. With search, marketing makers didn’t have to guess which audiences were watching what programs or consuming what content at what time on the broadcast media. They didn’t have to worry about how many times they needed to air a message on a channel. They could simply optimize their content to be easily found whenever buyers searched for it. Marketers, in theory, could circumvent the frequency cost altogether.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple.
Making product and service content available to internet searchers was (and remains) important. But that’s only one part of promotion.
Though search makes a one-to-one relationship with buyers possible, it only captures people who already know their need or want.
Reach and frequency in content marketing
Think about the 1984 Apple ad again. Search wouldn’t have disrupted the impact of the ad because few people searched for personal computer solutions then. The Apple ad made consumers aware of – and convinced them to be interested in – the personal computing revolution. Apple needed to inspire a general audience to become potential buyers.
This is where content marketing enters the picture.
Content marketing has been around for a long time. I often give the 100-plus-year-old examples of John Deere’s magazine The Furrow, Jell-O recipe booklets, and the Michelin Guide as content marketing designed to inspire audiences to become interested in a particular brand. It’s always been a core piece of the marketing mix.
As the technology of media production and distribution became more democratized over the past two decades, more brands discovered they could create the kind of content they used to have to sponsor to reach consumers in the early parts of the customer journey.
Search didn’t just disrupt the buyer’s journey, it disrupted the content consumer’s journey as well.
How to apply reach and frequency in modern marketing
Now you understand the concepts of reach and frequency. But what do reach and frequency strategies look like in a modern marketing approach built around content?
I talked about how internet search disrupted the traditional ways of reaching consumers looking for a product or service they want. Your content should be an extraordinary resource for those people. When they ask questions or search for solutions, you want them to find answers in your content.
Search also expanded the idea of on-demand education, entertainment, inspiration, and value. People are searching for interesting things, subscribing to compelling content, and being entertained, educated, and inspired by all manner of content – regardless of whether they’re in the market to buy something.
Now, marketers can create the media. Brands can compete directly for the attention, subscription, and loyalty of audiences so that when the people realize they have a need or want – the brand’s offerings are the first (and perhaps only) solution they consider.
Modern reach and frequency are not only a one-to-one relationship with buyers but an opportunity to build a relationship with audiences who may become buyers.
But wait, you say, I’ve always heard that marketers are in the business of creating customers. Why do I (and why should my boss) care about anyone who’s not a buyer?
Let’s work that out.
Audiences are groups of people willing to invest their time, attention, and actions in the content you create.
Audience members who give you contact information and permission to reach them on their terms (let’s call them “subscribers”) are people you can reach (and know you’ve reached) any time you choose.
When you have subscribers, you can measure whether you’re reaching the right audience and the impact you’re creating.
Just as for a media company, the value of being able to reach an audience asset with whatever frequency you desire is a snapshot in time. Today, your audience may be small but engaged and willing to take many actions that move them toward your goals. Tomorrow, the audience may be bigger but unwilling to become a buyer.
The modern marketing goal is to care for audiences as if they were customers. While other departments in your company look at increasing customer value by continued purchases over time, a content marketer should try to increase subscriber value as their loyalty, activity, depth of relationship, and willingness to act improve over time.
One of the true benefits is that building an audience database might accelerate their desire to become customers. In other words, you can teach, inspire, or entertain your audiences to need your product or service.
Tech company ServiceNow’s content marketing program offers a great example. Since launching Workflow Quarterly in 2019, the company has determined the publication’s subscribers are 73% more likely to take the action of completing a form on the website than other visitors. This gives ServiceNow a more efficient lead generator and provides higher quality customer data.
Here’s a secret – when you have direct access to your audiences by adding content marketing to the mix, the frequency cost to reach audiences goes down because you no longer have to pay to reach them.
However, the value of that reach is harder to achieve because good and consistent content is difficult to create. Content marketing costs more than advertising. But content marketing can provide multiple lines of integrated value across the business.
Remember that the investment isn’t in the content, it’s in the result of the content – the subscribed audience. Content’s value is the extent to which it moves, builds, or keeps an audience engaged.
What do you think?
Whatever part reaching new audiences plays in terms of your marketing mix, know that consistency matters. Starting with a light touch – a pilot project – is fine. Focus on reaching your audience consistently and delivering value.
I’ll be rolling out new episodes of the Marketing Makers series each month. I’d love to hear what you thought of this pilot episode. Did you learn something new or understand something better? What other traditional marketing concepts would you like to see translated for modern marketing? Let me know in the comments.
What other traditional #marketing concepts would you like to see translated for modern marketing in a future #MarketingMakers episode, asks @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #MarketingMakers Click To Tweet
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute