How content marketing changed my life

It was 2012, my husband and I had just moved from our home country of Australia to New York City where I’d secured a job in banking. In trying to furnish our apartment on the cheap, I couldn’t find any affordable lighting that wasn’t from IKEA. So as an avid DIY-er, I decided to just make my own.

Once I had all the parts and materials, the process was really easy and my first project was very satisfying. But finding all the parts and materials online turned out to be more challenging than it should have been. Why wasn’t there some kind of kit that had everything in it and took the guesswork out of making a custom lamp? I realized that other people online were asking the same questions, and since I’d always been interested in starting a business, I decided this problem was a good enough one to solve and my e-commerce business I Like That Lamp was born.

The crafts & DIY category is one which is heavily saturated with content. But there is an enormous and growing hunger for even more content. Everyone from Martha Stewart herself to aspiring Instagrammers is out there creating tutorials, how-to’s, project round-ups, and throwing “link parties”. To get exposure for my DIY Lamp Kits, I had to throw myself into the mix and start creating content which would attract potential customers and explain how my product could solve their problem. I bought a fancy digital camera, figured out what my best angle was, and took to making how-to videos and blog tutorials on the weekends.

My first video tutorial on YouTube

The effort paid off over time and brought in traffic, sales, and even in some high-profile press like Apartment Therapy and Better Homes & Gardens magazine. The content got better and more polished, and better at bringing in customers. You can see here and here my very first video & blog post, and hopefully see some kind of evolution!

I used my experience building and growing I Like That Lamp to quit my job, pivot into consulting for consumer brands, and eventually expand my consulting into a digital marketing agency, Bobsled Marketing. Bobsled now has 15 employees and serves large consumer brands who sell on Amazon.

I was reflecting on this journey, and how content marketing has propelled it, as my friend and fellow entrepreneur Kyle Gray launched a new book on the topic. It’s a fantastic introduction to content marketing, providing an excellent blueprint for setting up an effective content marketing system that drives results.

So what is Content marketing? As defined by the Content Marketing: “A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action”. And content marketing has changed my life. Here’s how:

Content Marketing was the primary engine for customer acquisition in both of my companies.

I relied on organic inbound traffic to drive sales for I Like That Lamp, and Bobsled Marketing is fueled 100% by visitors to our blog who sign up for a consultation. There are many great things about organic inbound traffic, but here are my favorite two:

  1. It is “evergreen”. Once you have a destination for visitors (e.g. a high-performing blog post), it can continue bringing in new leads or customers perpetually. This is in contrast to paid traffic which you have to keep spending money to maintain a flow of leads or customers.
  2. Effective content can help your potential customers decide if your product or service is really a good fit for them. In the case of a service business like Bobsled, this means that most leads come in “pre-qualified”. They already understand what we do, and who we are. This means more efficient conversations with our Sales Manager.

Content Marketing has helped me understand my customers better.

Every blog post, video, or social media update was a chance to learn more about what resonates and what doesn’t with my target audience. Some topics really hit the sweet spot, others don’t get any traction or interest.

Seeing the statistics of your most popular content really gives you a view into the hot buttons of your audience and where to focus your attention. This doesn’t just apply to what content you should develop in the future, but how your products and services could be modified, and what new products or services to offer in the future. For example, some of our most popular blog topics at Bobsled are about how to launch your brand on Amazon’s international marketplaces. This gave me the foundation for my book, “The Amazon Expansion Plan”, which has in turn brought Bobsled into focus for many retail executives who are interested in this topic.

Content Marketing has helped me with recruiting.

I never understood the concept that finding the “right people” is the most important thing you can do for your company, until recently. Several of Bobsled’s team members and current candidates learnt about the company through content, or used it to help figure out if it’s a company that they want to work for. This includes the company blog of course, but also my posts here on Medium and LinkedIn, and presentations at conferences.

This highlights a downside of content marketing: it takes major effort, and as such generally takes a very long time to pay off. I hesitate to put a figure on it, but probably 80–90% of the content I’ve created doesn’t have any discernible result. This could be a pretty depressing realization.

So I think the critical thing is that you should enjoy creating content. Some of the activities, like writing here on Medium or doing speaking engagements, had no real agenda besides me sharing some lessons or ideas. But for other content which is expensive to produce (both in terms of time as well as money), I really do want to see an ROI. But either way, if you’re not enjoying it, it will show.

Creating content isn’t always easy or fun. I still have to schedule it, and force myself to get those first couple of paragraphs written. It’s often boring and time consuming to edit articles and videos. But looking back on the past 5 years, it’s clear to me that content marketing has played an enormous role in establishing the credibility and attention required to quit my job, grow 2 successful businesses, take a long maternity leave, and work with great people every day.