Note about COVID-19This article talks about the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in a global lockdown in 2020. Please bear in mind that attitudes have changed dramatically throughout the lockdown period, and the content below may not reflect current views or practices.
Back in May, we asked Alex Packham, Founder and CEO of ContentCal, for his opinion on how the social media advertising landscape has changed during the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, we discussed how creating an audience through content-driven growth creates stability in business marketing.
With a lower cost of entry, is now the right time to invest in an online advertising campaign? Or should you be focussing your efforts on more sustainable forms of digital marketing?
ContentCal is a marketing and social media management platform. Alex founded ContentCal in 2016, and has since raised over £2.5 million in venture capital for the business. Prior to ContentCal, Alex ran a social media marketing agency, ASTP, which had a revenue of over £1 million, and worked for Sky’s Now TV and Odeon running social media for these major brands. He’s also a Board Director for Prop Store and Kindred.
Alex also recently launched his own podcast titled “Audio Blog” which can be found on his website astp.co
Listen to the full interviewThis interview was recorded for our podcast “Are We Rolling?” – you can listen to the full interview below.
The transcript for this video has been edited lightly for clarity in written form.
Because you’ve mentioned advertising a couple of times, I have some questions about that.
First of all, I don’t pay for advertising on social and when I have done it I’ve never really had great results. It’s probably because I haven’t done the targeting quite right.
But also, particularly on Facebook, in order to get it absolutely spot-on you need to use things like Facebook Pixel. That has privacy implications. But also in business, I’m not sure how many people are looking at my website from a computer that they’re logged into Facebook on. (Because it’s a work computer.)
It’s probably more than I would anticipate. Everyone’s on Facebook all the time – or using a Facebook product all the time. But I’ve never really had huge success.
Particularly with this dip in pricing and the affordability of advertising, do you think this is going to further add to the trend that I’ve personally seen where you need to start “paying to play” more?
Do you think that could get worse or – because there’s less advertising – do you think we might see a rise for organic content?
So our two schools of thought, basically…
I think the number is approximately four billion dollars worth of revenue lost by Facebook and/or Google (I can’t remember which one) in terms of the amount of money in the next three or four years that will go into those platforms. Because of coronavirus. So their revenue in terms of advertising is going to go down at a macro level. There’s no two ways about it.
So for them to incentivise more small businesses to come online, they’ve made it cheaper to be able to get impressions and more effective. Bang for buck, you’re actually going to get a better result because they know they’ve got to incentivise more people in volumes, as opposed to a couple of really big players. Entire categories who advertise on Facebook for hundreds of millions have gone to nothing. They don’t just come back, you know. They take years to recover.
So I think what will happen is, and you already see actually… Businesses that maybe have never played with Facebook Ads, or never been able to make it financially work…There’s a really good chance of going on there now and being able to sell. Particularly drop-shipping style stuff.
So if you’re selling like random bits and bobs that you have a bit of a niche in, there’s a really good chance to make margins and that. And a couple of my friends are doing that quite successfully now. Before they wouldn’t have been able to.
So if you’re trying to target twenty to thirty year old men for hoodies, they wouldn’t been able to do that when the likes have Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, whoever, are
spending tens of millions – hundreds of millions to target that audience. Whereas now, if you’ve started a hoodie shop and you want to target that audience, it’s substantially cheaper to do it. I think we’ll see more independents and small businesses try it.
I think for your business and your example, it doesn’t work for service businesses. So don’t, you know – I wouldn’t be surprised about that. I’ve done [advertising] so many times. It’s really not that effective.
[Advertising] doesn’t work for service businesses… I’ve done that so many times. It’s really not that effective.
But on the flip side we have this internal mantra at ContentCal which we’re going to roll campaigns out about very soon. It’s content-driven growth.
You can do ads, you can run ads, and you can have very successful, sustainable advertising campaigns. (Depending on your business.) But you’re not in control. The people in control of what you spend and how much it’s going to cost you are the suppliers. Facebook, Google, whoever.
The approach of content-driven growth is taking amazing stories, taking good creative, writing good blog posts, and creating brilliant pieces of content. Then you distribute them onto your channels. Social, search, on a blog, YouTube, whatever it may be.
Then you need to have a consistent effort at that, and learn the algorithms – about how they play out. (Facebook is the anomaly because they’ve really killed [organic content] in the last five years, but the other ones.) You need to really pay attention.
Consistency, good quality content, and learning the ropes of some of these algorithms to build your own audience. That’s the end goal of all of those things. Then your audience will then eventually buy from you.
Theoretically, if you’ve got a loyal audience that you’ve created because they like your content, that’s in your control. And you have, as a business, the ability to put more time and effort into that. It takes longer but it’s a much more sustainable asset than “pay to play” on Facebook. You can spend £10,000, you might get £20,000 back. But you might spend £20,000 and not get £40,000 back because they put the prices up. So we’re going to build this real big narrative.
If you’ve got a loyal audience that you’ve created because they like your content, that’s in your control.
This is very much what we do as a business, so I’m slightly biased. But content-driven growth, and creating a sustainable way of building awareness – and building of the brand – that is number one in my opinion.
And actually, in our own business here at ContentCal, we’ve done the advertising stuff. We’ve spent money and lost money, I can assure you. But in the last year we’ve spent a lot of time and effort on SEO and content. We’ve been creating good stories, and recently that has started to pay serious dividends. Some of the blog posts and articles we’ve done that were on page 20 of Google are now on page 2, hopefully getting to page 1.
When you get to the top of Google or when you get a really great piece of content that resonates with millions of people, there’s sustainable and consistent and massive amounts of growth in that. So that’s the way we see it, really.
What I think I can definitely tell you is that the advertising industry has switched off. I mean, with everyone who is spending a lot of money, marketing is the first thing to go. You can turn it off at a click of a button these days.
But with content-driven growth, even just keeping a presence in some instances… As I said, from my business, we haven’t seen a drop. If anything we’ve seen an increase.
So I think there’s those two sides to it basically. More affordable advertising, which is great. Let’s get that and let’s make it work. But, work out how to build an audience that will pay you dividends for the rest of your business’s life, not the quick drug of advertising.
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