Cheap content marketing: You get what you pay for

Don't let a small development budget ruin your content.
Don’t let a modest development budget ruin your content.

Just before the holidays, a friend forwarded me an e-mail offer from a company that specializes in lead generation, online marketing, and content creation. For a limited time, customers who ordered one white paper would receive a second one for half price. As validation for the quality, the e-mail noted that the company had been generating leads for customers for almost ten years.

So should you ever take advantage of this kind of offer?

The answer: never, never.

Good content is not a commodity like floor mats or light bulbs; there’s a reason you can’t buy it at Costco (though I love Costco). Developing a high-quality white paper—one that accurately represents the insight of your subject matter experts—takes time and skill, and let’s be frank: those attributes cost money. Any offer that purports to deliver the same level of quality for half the cost is likely to cut corners or farm editorial development out to freelancers who lack the business and industry knowledge needed to deliver truly engaging and relevant thought leadership.

Many digital content marketing companies view campaigns as purely a math problem: a certain volume of clicks are needed to deliver the targeted number of leads. In this approach, the quantity of the content is more important than the quality. As long as you have a steady stream of fresh content to blast out into the world, you’ll hit your targets.

This strategy pays very little credence to what happens once a potential customer downloads the white paper—a huge flaw. Remember that when clients click on content, they are looking for answers to specific questions; as such, each content marketing piece is a crucial chance to demonstrate your expertise on their topics of interest. A thin, reedy white paper devoid of insight can actually undermine your company’s reputation and business development efforts.

How can companies ensure their content supports business strategy and reaches the intended audience?

As I’ve written before, the thought leadership cycle includes three components: strategy, content, and promotion. If you fall down on any of them, you risk squandering your investments and undermining your business development efforts. There are a few things to keep in mind:

You get what you pay for.

A white paper should be a representation of your company’s expertise, and it can make a lasting impression on a wide range of potential customers at all stages of the purchase funnel. It does take time and resources to develop keen insight, enlightening analysis, and a compelling narrative, especially in a detailed and thoroughly researched white paper. But your reputation is tied to every piece of content you release—so don’t skimp on content development.

Vet your vendors.

Before engaging any company to produce a white paper, ask for work samples and get an idea of the editorial development process. In addition, make sure that you will be working with an experienced editor with a working knowledge of your company and industry.

Manage all three components.

Before you spend a dime, make sure you have a well-defined idea of not just what you want to say but also how the white paper will support your business strategy. As part of that process, develop a plan to promote and distribute the paper upon completion. Too many companies falter at the final step—that is, they identify a compelling topic but don’t give adequate thought to how to get it in the hands of prospective customers.


Digital content marketing, when done right, can deliver huge benefits and extend the reach of your ideas exponentially. But in the rush to reach potential customers, don’t neglect the importance of high-quality content.

Scott Leff

Scott is the founder of LEFF. He’s spent his career helping executives and subject matter experts tell their story in a compelling way. In the process, he’s had the opportunity to work with C-suite executives, politicians, academics, and Olympians, not to mention dozens of talented writers, editors, and designers in the business world. Scott developed the concept of “lean content creation” as a cost-effective way to support comprehensive, integrated communication strategies.

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