Today, many companies see a divide in how they'll spend their marketing budget this year: digital on the right, traditional on the left. For traditional line items, they'll buy ad space, create press releases, setup tradeshow booths, design promotional materials, and buy contact lists. On the digital side, they'll budget for a website, build a mobile app, start a blog, and maybe purchase automation software. The combination of digital and traditional often depends on the business; some are 80%-20% while others are 50%-50%.
However, in almost every industry, these budgets are changing. More and more, digital is dominating annual marketing plans because online, strategic marketers can track results immediately, and they're not left guessing as to the ROI of specific tactics. In general, digital marketing approaches also let companies own more of their media (the difference between renting ad space and owning a website), which makes the financial spend more of an investment, rather than a cash expenditure. Some companies are even accounting for how digital assets, such as a website or app, depreciate over time.
So, when considering a shift to digital, how exactly do you make the switch from important traditional spends to new digital opportunities? In this post, we'll look at a very specific, common example: purchasing ad space in a business publication vs. publishing your own blog. In inbound marketing—a specifically digital approach—blog publishing is particularly important because it attracts leads through organic search results, referral links, and social sharing. Yet, few companies are comfortable giving up on traditional ads that they've long relied on. Let's take a closer look at how to consider the ROI of each of these tactics.
Print Ads vs. Blog Posts: Which Attract More Leads?
A company that buys print ads in a business publication does so because they want to reach the publication's audience. In other words, they're renting an audience. For the month's issue where the ad appears, it may capture the audience's attention; it may not, but at least the company is in front of the audience they want to be, while they pay for ads.
A blog works differently. When you start a blog, you have no audience, but through search, social media, and other promotional tools, your blog content will gradually attract attention and dedicated readers. By writing relevant content, you can shape the kind of readership you wish to attract.
While renting ad space provides access to a specific audience, it's not permanent; you only maintain access as long as you pay. On the other hand, a blog enables you to build a customized audience (hopefully, full of prospects), and that audience will stay with you, as long as your content is strong.
Which attracts more leads? Well, it's really a matter of time. If you're just starting a blog, it will take time to build up a following and active readership. Yet, because of Google, you can start to get new visitors almost immediately (especially, if you write on niche, interesting topics). Purchasing ad space in a publication, on the other hand, provides immediate gratification. Depending on the quality of the ad, you can attract a portion of the publication's audience very quickly.
One of the main differences between blogging and ad purchases is scalability. When you buy ads, your audience is limited to however large the medium's readership is. With a blog, over time, the limits of your readership are mostly dependent on you—how aggressively your promote the content, how effectively you build up subscribers, etc.
Calculating Ad Spend vs. Blog Spend
Overall, the difference between buying ads and building a blog is the difference between immediate gratification and long-term planning. If you need relevant leads now (and only now), then absolutely, get aggressive by purchasing ads in a solid industry publication. However, if you're looking for scalable, predictable lead generation, you need to focus on tactics like blog publishing that attract leads in the long-term and won't cost you every time you need them.
Consider that a one-time quarter-page ad in a decently-sized business publication may cost upwards of $500-1000, plus the time and effort required to put it together. A blog post costs you no cash, only the time and effort required to put it together. Yet, long-term, the results with a blog are that you own your audience, rather than renting it, and because you own your blog media, that same blog post will continue working for you via search, rather than stopping once the issue circulates.
If your marketing team has a $300,000 budget for the year, consider shifting priorities based on your long-term lead generation goals, rather than just your short-term goals. If you get just enough leads this year, but manage to start a blog that will generate leads for the next 5 years; then next year and the years after, you'll have more budget to spend investing in other tactics, because your blog posts will continue working for you.