Thinking beyond the quarter: 5 ways content marketers can aim for long-term success
By Alistair Norman

Thinking beyond the quarter: 5 ways content marketers can aim for long-term success

Successful content marketers put their audience’s informational needs before their own desire to drive sales. This blog uses CMI data to show why that’s a sound strategy.

You’ve just got home and you’re hungry. So you take a steak out of the freezer, and throw it into a hot pan.

The result, of course, won’t be what you hoped for.

Of course, most of us know you can’t transform an icy lump into a sizzling dinner without letting it thaw. But let’s be honest: we’ve all done something similar at some point in our lives. Cut a corner here and there. Played it fast and loose with fingers crossed. Pushed a little too hard to get an early result.

Like the the blackened lump of bloodied rump in your grill pan, it rarely ends well.

Sadly, today’s business climate fosters a lot of short-term thinking. With every eye on the current quarter’s results, there’s immense pressure to go for the quick win or the easy boost. Which means there’s less energy going into building sustained relationships with customers.

Which is a shame, since they’re the most profitable ones by far.

Fortunately, new research from the Content Marketing Institute puts some hard numbers on how longer-term thinking leads to greater success overall. Do you know 90% of the most successful content marketers put their audience’s informational needs ahead of their need to close that sale before month end… and in doing so, create the comfort and credibility that makes that sale more likely anyway? (Against just 56% of content marketers whose strategies weren’t quite up to scratch.)

In this blog we’ll explore a few similar statistics… and see how longer-term thinking can be nurtured. Let’s look at what matters, with these five steps to working for your customer instead of your calendar.

STEP 1: Ask yourself ONE simple question…

There’s one basic question to ask yourself when you’re aiming for sustained long-term success — and it’s really simple. That question is: whatever you’re doing, is it in the interest of the customer?

If you’re desperate to record that sale before month end, or your CEO needs you on the quarterly earnings call next week, you’re not acting in the interest of the customer. He doesn’t care when your month ends, or how many analysts follow your parent company’s stock price. He cares about finding the solution that solves his business pain, and partnering with a supplier he trusts. And it’s amazing that only a minority of content marketers answer that question by talking to actual customers.

74% used sales team feedback. 73% used website analytics. But only 42% engaged in deep discussions with customers.

The good news: answer “yes” to this question, and you’re almost certainly getting it right already.

When your prospect reads your blog, you don’t yet know who he is: popping up a discount voucher if he buys NOW is a turn-off for him and a waste of effort for you. If he enjoyed it, he might respond to a popup asking for his email. Going for the close won’t work then, either. But an invitation to download a PDF eGuide, or join a webinar, might intrigue him further.

STEP 2:… and ask it again at every milestone

Of course, you’ll recognize these waypoints as the customer journey. What’s surprisingly rare in content marketing is the understanding that what’s in the interest of the customer changes at every milestone.

In the CMI report, 81% of good content marketers prioritized delivering the right content to the right customer at the right time.

That’s why it’s important to keep asking that simple question, whenever your relationship with the customer moves along a notch. From cold suspect reading your blog, to the hot prospect joining your webinar, to the confirmed customer taking delivery of his first order. (And the myriad of mindsets in between.)

STEP 3: Document them in your content strategy

Even when you know what your customer’s thinking at each staging post on the customer journey, remember that others around you won’t. Or will have different ideas about it, even within your own marketing team. So Step 3 is to write them downas a proper content marketing strategy that defines what your customer needs at every stage, so your team knows what to communicate, when. 

81% of top marketers believe a documented marketing strategy makes it easier to determine what kinds of content to develop. 

A useful way to build that strategy, by the way, is by using personas. Fleshed-out pictures of your ideal customer, with a name and a face that creates a vivid picture of your buyer in the minds of your marketing team. A persona makes it much easier to create content, because everyone can relate to that person as an individual.

STEP 4: Look back to look forward, with data

Of course none of this relies on guesswork. So Step 4 is to look around your organisation for effective data — gathered in actual customer interactions. The right technology is key.

56% of expert content marketers stated that technology gave them better insight into how content was performing.

What distinguishes top content marketers from average ones is that they use a variety of technologies to build a picture of their customer. Website and campaign analytics, qualitative written feedback and storytelling, CRM reports — all come together to produce real business insight. And at least 77% of in-the-know content marketers use it to inform whatever they create.

STEP 5: Pay as much attention to retention as acquisition

When you act in the long-term interests of the customer, you’re fostering greater retention — which is a much cheaper way to grow a customer base than simply the number of prospects. Gaining a new customer is hard; losing a customer once gained is often down to simple carelessness. Focussing on retention is a sign of a mature content marketing strategy.

One-third (33%) of expert content marketers rated their strategies as “mature”, against just 11% of those less sure of their expertise.

So with the basic question still in mind, don’t stop creating content once you’ve closed the sale. Providing your client with relevant and useful information and resources on an ongoing basis, helping his/her business to succeed and thrive, is a lot easier than creating content for a customer you don’t know yet. 

Adding to the bottom line

A sustained customer relationship, that adds to your bottom line year after year, is the real quick win. Because the win repeats, again and again, with every weekly phone call and monthly order.

73% of top content marketers use it to strengthen relationships with existing customers.

Customer lifetime value — or CLV — is a vastly underrated metric. But in content marketing, it’s one that really matters. Every positive customer interaction adds to their comfort, your credibility, and the strength of your mutually profitable relationship.


  • Looking for short-term wins impedes long-term customer value
  • One simple question gives you all you need to nurture the customer relationship
  • The customer’s mindset changes at every milestone on the customer journey
  • Top content marketers use technology to learn all they can about customer reactions… and use their findings to design their content strategies
  • Using content marketing for retention can be even more useful than for acquisition

Find out how other top-ranking CMOs are setting their customers up for long-term content marketing success. Read The Future of Content Marketing: 10 interviews with leading CMOs on the trends they’re using to disrupt in 2019.

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