When to Build and When to Buy (Content)

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Justin Gray, LeadMD
Justin Gray, LeadMD

You can't take two steps in the world of marketing without hearing everyone's favorite word—content—being tossed around. And rightfully so. Marketers have truly become publishers. 

Content has become an invaluable backbone in the marketing skeleton that can't be ignored. To produce the quantity needed to meet new marketing demands, many companies are purchasing content so they can push it out quickly and not rely on internal resources to get that part of the job done. While this certainly can be a worthwhile boost to a content marketing strategy, it isn't always the smartest one. Here's a foolproof guide to knowing when it's best to buy content, and when you're better off dedicating the time to creating it yourself.

Know your content threshold

Decide how much content you need, and be realistic about it. Marketers have a way of becoming absorbed in pursuing quantity, and sometimes need a reality check to reinforce that buyers aren't made from mass amounts of content. It's one thing to own a truckload of content; it's another (smarter) thing to build it yourself around buyers' needs and actually do something meaningful with it. If you don't have the resources to manage videos, blogs, webinars, newsletters, and whitepapers all at once—and do it right—then don't do it. I give you permission to not go overboard.

The thing is, most companies aren't prepared to juggle vast amounts of content, but it is something any company can build up to. So what's the key to doing this? Start small and manageable. If you have some internal folks who can spare some time for content creation, recruit them to pitch in. And don't limit this to the marketing department; consider the whole company fair game for this opportunity. Begin by realistically pulling together a list of the kinds of content you need (maybe pick three; e.g., a blog, emails, and webinars), then create a realistic schedule of execution, and, finally, map each type of content to your internal resources. Once you've done this, you'll know precisely what's left over. Knowing this gives you the perfect springboard from which a more robust content pipeline can be developed, and delegated from.

Outsourced, custom contentnot an oxymoron

Let's just get the dirty little secret out on the table. Most companies have a good deal of their marketing content developed by outsourced agencies. It's just the way it's always been, is currently, and will continue to be as more and more content is required to fulfill the new channels arising all the time.

So now let's talk about the benefits of custom-built content and why it should be taken into consideration with your content marketing plan. Custom content is authentic, driven by your brand messaging, and made just for your buyer. And, you don't have to pull a ton of internal resources away from other initiatives to get it done. Sounds peachy, right?

Well, even though it's ideal, there are some cons. For one, custom-built content can take a long time to develop and refine, which can delay campaigns and cost extra dough. It also demands the time of an individual (or two) within your company, which means some of your precious man hours will be spent somewhere other than the area for which you hired that person. Sometimes this can still work, but oftentimes ends up throwing a wrench in productivity.

So when should you take the custom route? If your content needs are relatively small (think one or two new pieces being pushed out per week), and you can afford to spring for the custom material internally, then It'll be worth the money and worth the small diversion in time for one of your in-house employees to manage it.

Another prime time to go with custom-built content is if you're establishing or reestablishing your brand with a new market and you need to drive it home hard. And, if your budget is nice and healthy, this is surely an advisable way to spend it. Many agencies have become adept at handling customized content from outside the walls of your company too. It can be done, but you have to do your research to find those experts that can make it sound genuine and keep your brand in mind at all times. Doable, but not easy.

Bring in the experts: Non-customizable bulk content

Now you have a solid grasp of your content needs, and know if you should be generating custom content or not. So when do you bring in third-party content for maximum marketing oomph? If you've gotten into a content groove and are ready to become a serious content machine, now's the time. When your brand is well established and your core messaging is resonating with your market, get busy scoping out the leaders in your field. If you have the capability in-house to manage it properly, then buying research-based content assembled by a reputable research firm or third-party expert can be a priceless next step in rounding out your content mix. This could include articles, whitepapers, webinars, or even videos, so long as this content is credible and adds a new dimension to what you already have.

This channel can often be expensive, but if you're considering reaching the next level, it can go a long way in establishing you as a thought leader and making your presence known in your field. Don't look at is so much as paying for content –you're paying for credibility and a lot of research around your selected topics.  Third party expert content is a necessary component of reaching trust-based buyers, and will break down those barriers with your personas who need it. When you're getting to this stage, you already have an unshakeable foundation of loyal followers. This validation from outside sources is what can incite additional prospects to fill in important layers to that buyer base.

There are endless content strategies that include a varied mix of building and buying content, and there really isn't one fully right approach that works all the time. The crux of the matter is that you know your buyers, and you know what will strike a chord with them. Retain as much genuine content generation as you can comfortably handle and don't make the fatal mistake of outsourcing your authenticity. And then when the time is right for some third-party validation, be ready to jump. If you build it–and buy some of it–they will come.

Justin Gray is CEO of LeadMD.

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