How To Explain The Value Of Content To An Ad-Obsessed Client


“I just don’t have any room in the budget for content” said the client, who spent $90,000 on Facebook ads last quarter.


We all know the tried-and-true tactics for getting people’s attention online just don’t work like they used to. Ads rarely get enough response to justify their growing costs. Your website, which you invested all that time and effort in, isn’t generating the leads you were hoping for (plus, it’s a pain in the ass to update). Even your trusted network isn’t delivering the opportunities you need to keep you afloat. To sell your product, people need to come to know and trust your brand on a personal level. Unfortunately, traditional advertising doesn’t accomplish this very well. But good content does.


Most people would agree that awesome content can be an effective marketing tool. Yet in practice, it’s still met with resistance and confusion. This can be hugely disappointing for agencies who want to deploy exciting and engaging strategies, only to receive direction or resources from a client that are entirely misaligned with the needs of a content effort.

So, how to explain the value of content during the inevitable content vs. paid discussion? Here are the common arguments against implementing a robust content effort — and how to reframe them.


“More trouble than it’s worth.”

Content is a sophisticated, rounded approach to digital marketing that makes a lot of sense when you’re in the middle of it. To an outsider, however, it can look like more trouble than it’s worth — especially when compared to the comforting immediacy of paid advertising.

 Ads give you an immediate return in numbers, which feels warm and fuzzy and looks lovely in your reports. But they’re limited in one major way: Growth will always require more spend. The moment you stop spending, your returns go away. What happens if you turn it all off? All of your activity stops.

In this sense, we can think of paid advertising almost as an addiction rather than a strategic tactic. You must keep playing the game, and keep spending more dollars, without a guarantee of better results over time.


Content, on the other hand, is one of the few forms of marketing that has compounding returns. The more your bank of content grows, the higher you’ll rank on search, the more you have to share in emails and on your social channels, and ultimately, the more efficient your content efforts become over time. Of course, more resources and more money means more bandwidth to improve performance. But if the marketing budget is slashed a year later, your existing content doesn’t just disappear. It will still drive traffic and engagement.


“It’ll cost HOW much!?”

Content comes in all shapes and sizes — from blog posts and infographics to podcasts and videos. Often, big, flashy formats like video are a client’s first request. However, explaining that producing high-quality videos will typically take more than an intern with an iPhone isn’t always easy.

In other words, a winning content strategy requires resources. Keeping up with content production can be a struggle, and budget constraints will prohibit you from effectively executing the strategy you worked so hard to create.  While there are ways to make the funnel more efficient, there’s only so much you can do without the proper resources.


Often, it’s a lack of understanding of how content is planned, written, edited, produced and executed that results in reduced resources. This leads to poor outcomes, which ironically validate a client’s distrust of content in the first place. The solution? Be clear about the possible successes and returns of what a realistic content strategy has to offer, and be prepared for some sticker shock. Address concerns head-on before asking for the resources you need to make the content magic happen.


“Where’s the ROI?”

Performance tracking and ROI is a big concern for all marketers, and a difficult hurdle to help clients see past when weighing content vs. ad spend budgets.  There’s something very satisfying about seeing your ad spend in neat rows, directly associated with goal conversions. What it doesn’t show, of course, is what’s happening between the lines: the nurturing role that your content played along the way to get you there.



It’s time to stop asking how many “impressions” your ad got and focus on delivering experiences that people appreciate and trust. Believe it or not, content has ROI and, even moreover, it's measurable. A content strategy aimed at growing engagement leads to a drastic reduction in CPA and drives an increase in organic search results. 

Setting long-term content goals and metrics, and managing expectations at the outset, may not be easy, but it will save you and your client an enormous amount of hassle over the long-term.


A marathon — not a sprint.

We see more budget and more resources being devoted to paid advertising tactics every day, despite growing costs and slower reach. On the other hand, planning and executing a winning content strategy is a long-term investment. That’s not to say ad spend doesn’t have its place. For early-stage businesses in growth mode, it’s one of the quickest ways to build awareness, generate leads and score easy conversions. But as advertising lures brands into spending more and more — for fewer and fewer returns each time — an excellent content strategy is an alternative route that promises aggregate value over time.

Stefani Forster