Content Marketing strategy: Are you good, fast, or cheap?

mark schaefer grow
By {grow} Community Member Andy Crestodina

There’s a saying in the manufacturing world: “There’s good, fast and cheap. You can choose two.”  No business can offer all three.

It’s true throughout the service industry and in all forms of production. It’s why you can’t order a sirloin steak for $5 at a drive-through window. It’s simply a law of business, like the law of gravity.

I thought of this after reading one of Mark Schaefer’s posts last month, How the physics of social media is killing your marketing strategy. It was a straight-forward post with a powerful message: We’re entering an era where the content is being produced faster than ever, but our attention spans are not. Comparing this to colliding forces in physics, Mark points out that it’s going to get a lot harder to “maintain mindshare.”

He suggested three possible responses:

  1. Create increasingly spectacular content (be more amazing).
  2. Create content at a lower cost (reduce the time invested in generating content).
  3. Place your content in front of existing audiences (PR, News-jacking, guest blogging).

Sound familiar? These align with the three possible approaches in business. When we think about Mark’s recommendations, we see that they align with strategies which, in turn, align with specific tactics. Let’s take a look …

You can be GOOD

Produce the best content you can, even if it means staying tightly focused on a few topics. Survive by becoming the trusted authority on a narrow topic.

  • Conduct and publish original research.
  • Write the ebook/guide that answers prospects’ questions.
  • Produce infographics, videos and epic posts.

High quality content with specific focus is just what Google loves, so this strategy works well with search optimization.

You can be FAST

Produce content quickly and efficiently, by delegating and curating. Survive by producing lots of content and making lots of connections.

  • Email interviews to thought leaders, turn their responses into posts.
  • Source topics and content from sources inside your company.
  • Solicit guest posts from influencers through guest blogger outreach.

Since you’ll be involving more people and keeping frequency high, this strategy works well with social media.

You can be CHEAP

Publications have pre-packaged audiences that you can leverage by paying close attention to the changing interests of the press and popular blogs. Survive by being at the right place at the right time.

  • Find the sites where your audience spends time, and submit guest posts.
  • Nurture relationships with editors and journalists. Establish yourself as a source.
  • Watch HARO and Reporter Connection. Respond quickly to relevant topics.

If you’re able to jump in when the timing and topic are right, this strategy works well with PR.

Adapt and survive

Yes, there is a crush of content coming. But you can avoid getting sucked into the black hole if you have a plan. Consider your goals and your strengths, and then choose your survival strategy.

Which survival strategy are you using? (Please don’t tell us it’s a combination of all three!)

andy crestodina

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He is also the author of an upcoming book called “Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.” You can find Andy on and Twitter.

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  • Adam

    I like the breakdown Andy, and it has definitely given some food for thought. I need to focus more on “fast” and the techniques you mention there. I have been considering adding guest bloggers more formally, and I think this is just another push in that direction.

    I will say that I’m not sure the analogy works in one regard. When dealing with content is there any way to not have a combination that does not include “good”. I guess some can manage short term success with poor content, but does that sustain?

  • Adam

    oops. forgive the double negative. I meant… “When dealing with content is there any way to have a combination that does not include “good”?

  • Gettysburg Gerry

    Interesting piece. Question, why do I have to choose? How about if my goals are to supply consistently Good content, engage and respond to interaction quickly, timely, and charge an affordable price for my services. I think that can be done easily enough.

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  • What you cite as “Cheap” isn’t – because it takes *time* (and/or hired smarts). Unless, of course, you don’t value your time.

  • I would normally agree. Those are all the things we should all be doing. But if you take a look at Mark’s original post, he makes a strong case for questioning the status quo…

    “If you are comfortable with your content marketing strategy, don’t be. The game is about to become vastly more difficult and if you just keep on doing what you’re doing, you are slowly going to get wiped out.”

    Certainly something to think about!

  • An earlier version of this post had “cheap” in quotes. 🙂 But let’s call it less expensive. And it certainly is less expensive to leverage existing audiences rather than building up an audience of your own.

    It would take me a lot of time and expense to build up an audience of 10,000. But with a much lower expense, I can leverage an existing audience of another blog, magazine or newspaper. So the idea is that it’s “cheaper.”

    I would recommend this approach exactly because you DO value your time! Hope this post was helpful.

  • Andy Crestodina

    This is a great question. And yes, there is a lot out there that is fast and cheap, but not good. Here is a HUGE example: SEO guest posts.

    In a post-panda, post-penguin world, SEO companies have a lot of trouble building high quality links for clients. The tactic-du-jour is guest blogging. Here’s how it works:

    Build a network of freelance writers (fast) to write articles with links to client sites, then submit the posts to host blogs (cheap) …and then repeat 1000x.

    This is a primary cause for the upcoming crush of content Mark first described. It’s quickly becoming the most common SEO tactic and it has nothing to do with quality (good). The SEOs really don’t care if anyone even reads the article.

    Strange, right? But very very common! The cure: Google will eventually pay more attention to “social signals” like shares, comments and author credibility.

  • Andy Crestodina

    This is a great question. And yes, there is a lot out there that is fast and cheap, but not good. Here is a HUGE example: SEO guest posts.
    In a post-panda, post-penguin world, SEO companies have a lot of trouble building high quality links for clients. The tactic-du-jour is guest blogging. Here’s how it works:

    Build a network of freelance writers (fast) to write articles with links to client sites, then submit the posts to host blogs (cheap) …and then repeat 1000x.

    This is a primary cause for the upcoming crush of content Mark first described. It’s quickly becoming the most common SEO tactic and it has nothing to do with quality (good). The SEOs really don’t care if anyone even reads the article.

    Strange, right? But very very common! The cure: Google will eventually pay more attention to “social signals” like shares, comments and author credibility.

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  • This is a helpful post. I favor guest blogging, as you can get exposed to a whole new audiance.
    Not sure why you think that we need to ‘select’ or ‘go with’ one strategy. (or did I miss something here?) I guess we can have a combination of all???

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  • Good points. I believe we need content execution strategies not only to optimize all three factors, but to address new requirements of this online, content marketing era: relevance, multiple formats and the ability to deal with the required volume of content. This blog post explains this more: http://www.avitage.com/index.php/move-beyond-concept-to-create-content-like-a-publisher/

  • Andy, I’m trying to get my head around your “Fast” and “Cheap” labels. As I read through it, I felt they were flip-flopped. Here is where my head was at, would love to hear your perspective.

    Newsjacking: this requires you to be fast. If you are late to the game, you miss the opportunity. Although it is “cheap” in that you are leveraging an existing audience, it could be inexpensively produced or very high production value content. (think Old Spice Guy responding in real time. That wasn’t cheap).

    Content curation and light creation methods: Ideally, these are “cheaper” methods, they might or might not be “fast”. If you’ve tried to put together an article with perspectives from four different people, you know that it can take a significant amount of calendar time and sometimes project management (nagging) time.

    I assume you haven’t labeled this way “cheap” because you are assuming that the lighter approach means you will create a lot more content, but isn’t volume an independent choice for all three approaches? Look at the Oreo Daily Twist program, for instance. This is primarily newsjacking, done at high volume. Similarly, large analyst firms attempt to produce a significant volume of high quality content. (ok, let’s not debate average analyst content quality, I do think their intention is quality).

    Regardless of the two attributes we pick, we also have to pick “how much” we do. When we are working in a fixed-budget environment, it means picking an expensive path means less quantity. When quantity at some level creates perception of quality (think Hubspot), the fundamental pick two rubric still exists, but the selection isn’t as intuitive as it may seem.

    Andy, Mark, I’ll stop before my response becomes a full post. Definitely thought provoking and a healthy reminder. From the comments, it seems many people are actually picking a middle road, not being particularly cheap or fast. That sparks the question: if your cost and speed are “average”, will you be able to differentiate long term?

  • Adam, I think you will see the example of cheap and fast content when you look at content for search and the content mill model. It isn’t good, but companies continue to adopt it as a way to game Google (and Google continues to try to beat them at the game).

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  • Meg Cox

    An important strategy to me is figuring out what people need to know that isn’t already well covered online or by competitors, and delivering the information. Good for search optimization, plus the feel-good of helping people.

  • I completely agree. SEOs are doing tons of guest posts simply for the links. They don’t care if the content ever gets comments, shares or if it is even read my anyone.

    I don’t expect this model to work for long. Look for “search signals” to begin affecting rankings. Take a look at Google’s “Agent Rank” patent for more info:
    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=%22Agent+Rank%22&OS=%22Agent+Rank%22&RS=%22Agent+Rank%22

  • Andy Crestodina

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Eric. Actually, as I wrote this, I wasn’t sure about which to make “fast” and which to make “cheap.” Regardless of the labels, I think the tactics inside are both ways to address the problem that @MarkwSchaefer is predicting. But here are a few thoughts…

    Yes, “fast” is the key for newsjacking. It’s critical to that tactic. But newsjacking and guest blogging are also the “cheapest” way to get in front of a big audience.

    And content curation could be considered “fast” in the total time invested, but the calendar time can be much longer. I’m waiting for people to get back to me so I can finish several interview/round-up/collaborative posts. What’s taking them so long? It may be under an hour of my time, but it’s spread out over a month!

    In the end, we need to say out of the middle of that venn diagram. If we try to publish great stuff, quickly at a low cost, we’ll fail.

    Every piece of content we publish we create / promote is either EASY, FAST or AWESOME!

    Hope this helped, Eric. Feel free to write another response post!

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