When you are shopping vendors, knowing their competition is helpful — Maybe not in the large company procurement sort of way, but in understanding the ecosystem and the nuances between offerings. This is especially true when investigating an agency, where the advantages can be highly nuanced but particularly important. Something as simple as the tooling an agency uses to get the job done could mean the difference between good and bad.
In this post, I will talk about who our competition is, and it might surprise you.
Our formula for determining our competition is based on the number of times we are in a competitive situation. It’s fairly rare for us to get on the phone with someone and not encounter a balancing act between what we do and some other approach (and maybe that approach is to do nothing).
This means that competition is usually not another vendor. We run up against things such as a company’s ability to execute, and a misunderstanding of what practitioner content marketing is. Below is our competition in order of the frequency of head-to-head compete scenarios.
50% – In-house: Our biggest competition are vendors that believe they should do content marketing in-house. What companies often don’t realize with in-house content is that the publish rate is much lower, the author’s primary job is not content, and the person herding cats is overpaid for that job. So in-house-created content is not more cost-effective. It also reflects the vendor’s voice, not the market’s, and that reduces credibility.
25% – Blog mills and freelancers: Other companies will source their content from individual blog mills or freelancers. Blog mill content comes from sites like UpWork, Fivrr, etc, and is overwhelmingly low-price, low-quality. The freelancers are usually independent professional writers. Blog content mills and freelancers are rarely practitioners or hire practitioners, so they do not offer the depth that a practitioner content marketing agency does. When they are practitioners, they burn out quickly, or do it for fun, then realize it’s not for them.
Working with blog mills and freelancers also does not eliminate all effort related to creating content. The vendor still has to deal with recruiting, peer reviews, editorial, and project management. This option also limits the number of possible contributors. What happens if your favorite freelancer decides they don’t want to write anymore, or goes MIA? This is common. (The average time a freelancer sticks around is three months — then you’re empty-handed.)
15% – Perception: The fiercest competition for us is the vendor that has not already bought into the value of content marketing. It’s rare for a marketer to avoid content marketing. In this category, they may just be trying to satisfy a post quota for their blog, or know of peers who are champions of content. In this case, not only is perception of what content marketing is a big challenge to closing a deal — If a deal is made, it can be hard to spot, and it can be a massive barrier to getting good content out the door.
As practitioner content marketing becomes a more valuable marketing practice, we run up against this less and less. But we will walk away from deals if the perception is obviously off. Questions and statements like, “Why would you ever publish something from someone outside the company?” or “How do we make sure we talk about our product?” and “Outside practitioners could not possibly understand us” are indicators of perception issues. (Think about the last statement of the three — If you believe this, then who are you selling to? If your market and product are so hard to understand, is your TAM only your employees?)
5% – Direct Competition: Companies like HitSubscribe for practitioner content and BeMyApp for developer portals are direct competition. To a lesser degree, companies like Skyword and Newscred are competition as well.
There are many smaller agencies that behave like freelancers instead of agencies. And there are several “tailored” content marketing agencies, but they suffer from the same challenges as full-service. They are enterprise content marketing vertical, not by content topic matter. When we are up against direct competition, we are competing on process, price, and experience.
5% – Media Companies: It might seem that they would be our competitors, but we have yet to consider media companies as competition. In fact, our offering is better when we partner with media companies, as we have with MediaOps. Media companies rely on content to get eyeballs. But they are the forum, not the content-creation process. Where media companies are adding content offerings, they are more directly competitive.
Running a content business is very different from running a media business. And when promotional processes bleed into content creation, the quality of content suffers.
True practitioner content creation should be independent from where that content is published. Without that, content can be directly or indirectly influenced by the forum. This can limit the breadth of topics that can be covered, or force content to be published in low-impact places. If a media company’s primary revenue is from a media site, then it’s impossible to maintain this independence. Research agencies are similar — Sometimes a company will work with a research agency to get their name on the content, and not for what it actually says.
5% – Full-service marketing agencies: Fixate exists because practitioner content marketing is such a highly specialized activity. We can’t go into the weeds and try to be a design agency, or work in web development, public relations, etc. Content quality would suffer. Full-service agencies can at times help to manage practitioner content marketing for large companies, but they lack the specialization required in trying to be everything to all people.
It’s also worth mentioning do-nothings (people who work with us or another content agency, but do nothing with the content we provide) because product marketing people are unable to build a healthy content runway and execute on it for them. It leads to value reduction for all parties. If you are not publishing on your blog at least twice a week, with at least one asset a quarter, then shut down your blog, and stop running campaigns with content as a destination. It is as simple as that.
A Final Thought
It’s a great place to be when your biggest battles are in-house and perception. When direct competitors are working to change perception, we collectively build a bigger, stronger market.