Write White Papers, Make $1m. Simple. — A Content Marketing Success Story.

by Mar 17, 2017Case Study, Content Marketing Theory, Education

Case Study: How a traditional company made a splash with Content Marketing by listening to their customers and meticulously optimising for performance.

Automatic Data Processing (ADP) is a large American HR software company, familiar to most Americans who receive a paycheck.adp-logo At a market cap of $50bn, they are living proof that you can be successful even with a really boring company name.

Until 2012, the company had not run a proper digital marketing campaign and decided to do something about it. The rollout of Workforce Now, a new product for mid-sized businesses, was a good occasion. The company researched what types of workforce management challenges their target audience (mid-sized businesses) was facing.

At the time, the ACA (Obamacare) was being rolled out, and companies needed to

  • get educated on their rights and obligations
  • manage the ACA-related complexity and
  • be aware and take advantage of opportunities under the ACA.

So ADP started creating a steady flow of content (blog posts and white papers) on these topics.

They also created an promotion plan for the content:

  • Using paid display ads to drive traffic to their landing pages
  • There, collecting email addresses in exchange for white paper downloads
  • Retargeting and bringing back those page visitors who did not download the white paper the first time around.

Throughout the process, the company tracked and optimised Cost Per Lead metrics.

Already the first wave of content surpassed their expectations. ADP continuously optimised their campaigns. They pushed the content that resonated with their audience, and removed unpopular articles from the promotion cycle. They also focused their spend on those channels that were yielding the highest conversion (= white paper download) rates. “We could look at which messages and which (ad) sizes were working”, said one ADP executive.

In the first three months alone, Content Marketing drove $1m in new sales opportunities.

Today, the company offers a massive library of content on HR topics for US businesses of any size – best practice documents, legislative updates, how-to guides etc. In 2014, $3.4m of revenue was attributed to content marketing, at a 906% ROI.

Lessons Learned

1. Establish your baseline, change the input factors, and measure performance from there on

Let’s briefly think about losing weight. What’s the most logical way to go about it?

  1. Weigh yourself
  2. Take note on what and how much you normally eat and how much you exercise
  3. Then, change the parameters you can directly influence (eat less and exercise more) and track your weight
  4. Results will follow

Well, this is what ADP did with their Content Marketing: They established how many website visitors they had, how many social media followers, what their cost per acquisition was. They set this as a baseline on which to improve. As they took different actions (purchased traffic, created landing pages, optimised calls to action), the results followed.

2. Have a clear goal with a measurable metric

The company aimed at growing demand for Workforce Now, their product for mid-sized businesses. Every action taken in this context can be measured on this yardstick: Is this piece of content contributing to the growth of sales on this product? If yes, let’s write similar ones and promote them. If not, let’s stop it. Over time, many new goals were added, but every campaign had its clear, measurable goal.

3. Paid traffic is the spark

Content Marketers often wish they could only use free traffic, using their email lists and social media followers. However, to drive meaningful business, you’ll need paid traffic.

Some executives might be put off by this idea. The content is valuable, so readers should come by themselves – after all, the content is free! And you already paid for its production. Paying again for promoting it sounds like there’s no end to the spending spree!

The problem is: there is so much content in almost all areas, with very few unoccupied niches left. As a result, you have to treat content marketing just like any other lead acquisition channel. You would pay for a lead, right? So why not pay for a reader which one day will become a lead?

ADP’s experience (906% ROI in their second full year) shows that the model works. I don’t have ADP’s data but conceptually it will look something like this:

Again, we don’t know the actual numbers. But we can safely assume that leads acquired through Content Marketing were less costly for ADP, or at least not much higher than other leads.

By the way: the above graphic does not take into account a very powerful aspect of Content Marketing: Its capacity to bring results long after it has been created, especially if it’s evergreen. As the months and years go by, that pale pink block will keep decreasing. If the content is still relevant, it’s like a house you can rent out over and over again. (In this case, ADP does have the disadvantage that if Trump gets his act together and repeals Obamacare, ADP’s content will become obsolete). (See what I did there?)

To conclude: It won’t really work without paid content promotion. Content that spreads for free is the exception, not the rule, especially in the beginning of your content marketing efforts. If the occasional content piece you write DOES become viral and boosts your sales, that’s the cherry on top. But make plans for a solid cake foundation first.

4. Be rigorous in your conversion funnel

Content is just like any other component in a data-driven conversion funnel. You discard poorly performing ad creatives and run AB tests on Call-to-Action buttons, right? In the same way, blog posts and white papers are items whose performance you measure. Therefore, on a regular basis, ADP looks at which content performs well with its audience. Then they push the winners and discard the losers.

5. Things can move very quickly

Admittedly, Content Marketing is usually not the go-to method when you need results fast. But ADP’s $1m worth of business within three months of starting the project is an impressive number. It is when a meaty subject (Obamacare), a willingness to spend on traffic, and a clearly defined goal (selling Workforce Now) intersect that results can be fast and substantial.

In sum, the ADP case shows how hard work, solid content and continuous optimisation bring results, without the need for virality and marketing gimmicks.


Cover photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash

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