Beyond Survival: Growing With Content Marketing in a Recession

15 min
CONTENTS

Content Marketing Before the Recession

Add These Two Elements to the Mix

Content Marketing During a Recession

Final Thoughts

HUMAN CRAFTED
human-crafted-eye
This piece of content is the work of a human mind.

Four years ago, in June of 2019, I published a Medium post on HackerNoon.

In that post, I outlined an uncomfortable reality:

The tech industry was (once again) growing too fast, and many of the things we were experiencing, well, didn’t seem very normal.

Remember:

This was a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic took the world by storm and completely changed our definition of what’s normal.

The slowdown due to Covid was followed by an even more euphoric period for many tech companies with valuations up to 25x revenue multiples, absurdly high funding rounds, and a hiring frenzy like very few in the history of tech.

Of course, this new “dot-com bubble” (as per my Medium post) wasn’t (nor isn’t) the only reason why we reached the point we’re at today.

And what is that point?

It’s called a recession.

You don’t have to be afraid to say it.

After all, the only way to start overcoming something is to accept it.

This post isn’t a financial analysis or an effort to make you feel good about yourself and the future.

At Minuttia, we’re transparent and honest even when it hurts (or even when it’s not in our best interest to do so).

This post is a way to help you accept the reality we’re in, straighten up your shoulders, and act confidently with the help of a plan that is both practical and actionable.

Let’s get into it.

Content Marketing Before the Recession

As I mentioned in the introduction, Covid-19 was followed by a period that was characterized by extremes.

What kind of extremes, you ask?

  • Billions of dollars poured into SaaS companies
  • Valuations that seemed inflated and—very often—artificial
  • Hiring madness and an upward trend in terms of compensation

This led to or enforced a mindset (on behalf of SaaS and tech companies) of:

Editor’s Note
The above is a generalization and doesn’t apply to all SaaS companies out there, but rather tries to paint a picture of what that time period was characterized by. We’re certain this wasn’t the reality of many SaaS companies but, unfortunately, it was for many.

The thing is that none of the above characteristics or realities are harmful or bad in themselves.

I mean, who doesn’t want financial euphoria or people finding jobs and being compensated well for them?

It’s the combination of these things and—especially, a prolonged and somehow inflated combination—that leads to all sorts of problems.

During that time, companies that (usually) set the tone for the rest of the tech industry added thousands of employees to their ranks.

According to CNN:

By September of 2022, Amazon (AMZN) had more than doubled its corporate staff compared to the same month in 2019, hiring more than half a million additional workers and vastly expanding its warehouse footprint. Meta nearly doubled its headcount between March 2020 and September of last year. Microsoft (MSFT) and Google (GOOGL GOOGLE) also hired thousands of additional workers, as did other tech firms like Salesforce (CRM), Snap (SNAP) and Twitter…

The rest of the pack (read: tech industry) was just following the lead of the big guys, and the general notion was that if you weren’t growing fast enough right then, well, there was something very wrong with how you did things.

The question is:

How’s that connected to content marketing for SaaS companies?

We’ll get there.

One of the side effects of the above “abnormality” was that growth-oriented services for the SaaS industry (a broad definition) grew fast during that period.

The screenshot below shows the growth in terms of the headcount of a prominent content marketing agency for SaaS companies, according to LinkedIn.

Editor’s Note
The total number of employees has been hidden to maintain the privacy of the abovementioned company. It’s obvious that the company grew very fast from mid-2021, and until the end of that year, and then gradually started letting people go.

Even though things were good for us back then, we didn’t grow as fast as the rest of the industry did.

That led me to question whether we were doing the right thing and whether we were on the right track, and frequently be concerned about our future.
Don’t get me wrong.

Minuttia was growing, especially considering what we’ve (collectively) been through since we launched the company back in January 2020.

But, the growth was nowhere near what the rest of the (booming) industry was experiencing.

In any case, the characteristics and realities for the SaaS and tech companies outlined above led to certain then-new characteristics and realities of the post-Covid era for growth-oriented services, specifically for SaaS companies.

Undoubtedly, it was a good time for SaaS companies, and even better for growth-oriented services for the same companies.

Unfortunately, the party is over. (At least until the next growth cycle comes along.)

I believe that the above period “harmed” service providers in a fundamental way:

We got comfortable.

And no one was ready for what was coming next.

Add These Two Elements to the Mix

Allow me to make a small aside before moving forward with the next—and most important—section.

The two elements (or new realities, as per the terminology of this post), that had (during that period) and have an even bigger impact on content marketing right now are:

  1. AI content
  2. Google’s SGE

I’ll start with the first.

We knew AI content was coming, but I guess no one expected it’d knock on the doors of our comfortable (fast-growing) lives so fast.

According to a survey by AuthorityHacker:

85.1% of AI users use the technology for article writing and content creation.

The same survey found that:

81.6% of digital marketers think content writers’ jobs are at risk because of AI.

Apparently, people are interested in AI content and looking for it online.

Source: Google Trends

Editor’s Note
The good news is that from the above screenshot, it seems that demand for the search term ‘ai content’ peaked in May 2023.

Many websites and brands have already adopted AI content and have started using it as part of their content creation efforts with mixed results.

Source: Twitter

Author’s Note
At Minuttia, we shared our stance on AI content on our podcast, The SaaS SEO Show, a few weeks ago. The above screenshot doesn’t paint a picture, but rather shows that something that’s too good to be true, well, is exactly that.

Regardless of what you think about AI, it’s in many people’s minds and has distorted the perception of content quality, especially for those clients who don’t prioritize quality and are comfortable taking risks which can have a negative impact on their visibility, traffic, conversions, and ultimately the brand.

The problem is that, during that period of time, several service providers—even the ones at the higher end of the (quality and reputation) spectrum—adopted AI content and even publicly announced that they were using it for content creation.

Author’s Note
Personally, I believe that this was a way to express their concern and fear of missing out in case this new technology landed and became the new standard when it comes to content creation.

We see some of them dialing back a bit now that they see that AI content may not be the thing everyone thought but, I believe, reputation-wise, the damage has already been done.

Above anything else, though, AI content works as a distraction, and that’s why I’m mentioning it.

It catches people’s attention and, of course, makes them question the value of great content and the overinflated pricing many service providers had—and still have—for their content creation services.

The second distraction and element we should take into consideration is Google’s introduction of the SGE (Search Generative Experience).

SGE works as a distraction, especially for content that’s created for a search audience (e.g., SEO content), which is the bread and butter of most of the agencies that provide content creation services (this is a broad definition).

It also makes people question the future importance of content for a search audience and SEO in general.

This post isn’t about Google’s SGE or AI content, though.

We only mention these two characteristics and realities because they will help us better understand and navigate the current situation.
Why is this important?

Because SaaS companies don’t just have the recession to battle but also AI content (or, at least, the perception of it) and the fear that SGE will negatively impact any effort geared towards SEO, so why bother doing it in the first place?

Let’s zoom out for a while and see how you can navigate the situation we’re in.

Content Marketing During a Recession

We went through the characteristics of the period before the one we’re in right now.

The distinction between the two periods is important because, essentially, we’re talking about different stages of the economic cycle.

The new cycle we’re in is called the Recession, and it brings some new realities for SaaS and tech companies, and most companies affected by it regardless of the industry or vertical.

Essentially, financial euphoria is replaced by financial uncertainty.

We were certain about things, and we felt good about the prospects of the future.
Well, not anymore.

We were all about putting more gas in the tank to move faster.

Now, we need sustainable, more responsible, and profitable growth.

While budgets were previously increased, they’ve now decreased, and there’s a general tendency towards cost-cutting.

At a time when revenue growth is prioritized over profit growth, there’s not as much ROI scrutiny.

We do things because we have to do them and, quite frankly, because we can do them.

ROI isn’t an issue because we’re most interested in hitting the revenue or user metrics our investors expect to see at the end of the month, in the report we’ll send them.

No one will look at the fact that we’re spending more than what we’re bringing back.

Cool, right?

Well, not anymore.

Companies need to see ROI, and people who buy services need to be able to prove the value of the services in purely monetary terms.

Companies were hiring like crazy.

This wasn’t a big deal for service providers because the “pie was simply too big,” as another agency owner once told me on LinkedIn.

Well, now companies need to freeze hiring and headcount growth.

After all, SaaS companies have to follow the lead of big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon,

Stripe, and Twitter, and replicate the way these companies cut costs.

Lastly, in the euphoric state we were in, it was easy to make long-term plans and even commit to long(er)-term contracts with service providers.

That has changed since the focus now is on short(er)-term planning.

The question, though, is:

Can we somehow map these new realities in an effort to navigate these turbulent times? Can we not only survive but come out stronger?

Not only that but can we do that through the lens of content marketing?

The answer to these questions is unequivocally yes.

Here’s a table to help you navigate these new realities:

Let’s examine them one by one and share relevant resources to help you better understand how you can tackle each of the new realities in the above table.

Financial uncertainty

When things are uncertain, you need something to hold onto.

This something can be forecasting and making projections for the future.

The point isn’t to make predictions like an “indefinite optimist,” as Peter Thiel would call it.

You should be realistic and try to fight against uncertainty by adding a small dose of certainty to your current and future situation.

You can do that by using Minuttia’s Forecasting Machine.

Make a Copy: Minuttia’s Forecasting Machine

On top of that, you need to revisit budget allocation for this year and try to focus more on initiatives that are safer bets rather than risky initiatives with hard-to-prove ROI.

At the same time, in case you’re overreliant on one channel (e.g., Paid Search), it’s better if you don’t keep all your eggs in the same basket.

In other words, allocate your budget to other channels as a way to avoid overreliance on one source of revenue.

Sustainable growth

From growth at all costs, to now being in a time of sustainable growth.

What does that mean for SaaS companies?

It means that you need to shift your focus from certain stages of the lifecycle (e.g., acquisition) to stages that were a bit neglected when the acquisition wasn’t a problem.

I’m talking about retention, of course.

To do that, you need to get closer to your customers, and create more content that covers their needs while aiming to help them get the most out of your product.

You can achieve that through extensive and consistent customer research.

Another thing that will help you here is revisiting your Content Strategy and shifting the focus to things beyond acquisition.

Last but not least, experimentation is good but this time calls for more proven tactics rather than unproven ones, as the tolerance in terms of failure is lower.

Relevant Resources:

  1. SaaS Keyword Research (Webinar)
  2. Content Strategy for B2B SaaS Companies (Webinar)
  3. Content Marketing Is Changing (Podcast Episode)
  4. The 3 Types of Research for Content Marketing (Webinar)
  5. SaaS Content Strategies: Quick Wins and Long-Term Plays (Webinar)

Limited budget

Limited budgets and budget constraints are characteristic of this time period.

Author's Note
This doesn’t apply to all cases, of course, since many of our clients are upping their content marketing budgets as they see the opportunity ahead.

Budget optimization means that you should focus more on activities that are Mandatory as opposed to Optional ones.

Also, you should focus on activities with easy-to-prove ROI and secure your budget for these activities first.

In the previous phase, many new service providers for the SaaS industry popped up here and there. Many service providers increased their prices to abnormal levels as demand was high.

This led to SaaS companies:

  1. Wasting budget on inexperienced service providers (regardless of whether the prices were low or high)
  2. Paying premiums for commoditized services or services with a high mismatch in terms of expected and actual value

I don’t want to pitch anything, but Minuttia was completely prepared for this period.

You’re working with an experienced and well-respected provider while paying fair prices compared to other service providers, freelancers, and in-house employees.

This is a genuine opportunity for SaaS companies who’re looking for services and are looking to optimize their content marketing budgets.

Relevant Resources:

  1. How to Budget for Content Marketing in 2023

Increased ROI scrutiny

This point in time is characterized by increased ROI scrutiny.

Practically, as a content marketer at a SaaS company, this means that you have to be able to put a dollar sign behind most of your moves and be able to prove that what you’re doing is working.

By “working,” companies don’t mean…

“This piece ranks in position x, ranks for y keywords, and brings us z impressions per month”

… but rather…

“This piece ranks in position x, ranks for y keywords, and brings us z leads per month, out of which w become paying customers on average

So, our focus has to shift, and we need to measure success differently.

To deal with increased ROI scrutiny, you can start focusing on conversion optimization rather than just getting traffic and eyeballs on your content.

Editor's Note
At Minuttia, we’re working on a webinar for that exact topic. Subscribe to our email list, and we’ll notify you when we schedule the webinar.

You should also focus more on commercial intent in terms of the content you produce.

At Minuttia, we separate intent into Commercial – Tier A and Tier B. You can learn more about this here.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t create content for people in all stages of the lifecycle journey.

After all, to be able to associate yourself with certain topics (at least in terms of organic search), you have to build topical authority.

You also need to set up your website and product analytics and, in case you’re not already doing it, start tracking events on your website and product.

At the same time, you have to start focusing more on acquiring customers with higher LTV.

For email marketing software, that type of customer would be someone who’s looking for a term like “email list cleaning” as this person already has a list to clean, meaning that they already have an audience and thus are subscribed to a higher pricing plan.

In several cases, the ROI of content marketing can’t be proven due to the length of the sales cycle.

For this reason, you need to focus your efforts on shortening the sales cycle.

You can do that by getting closer to your salespeople and listening to the objections they have during the sales process.

Then, you can create content for these objections and distribute them to your salespeople.

Last but not least, you should care more about attribution, which, even though a complex topic, can be very beneficial in proving the ROI of your efforts.

Relevant Resources:

  1. How to Build Topical Authority (Webinar)
  2. Attribution and Dark Social (The SaaS SEO Show)
  3. Attribution and Content Impact to Revenue (The SaaS SEO Show)

Hiring freeze

Your company may not want to increase headcount right now—especially if you’re dependent on VC money to keep the lights on—but it won’t stop the craving for more growth.

How can you beat that craving?

By outsourcing stuff.

We’re not saying this because we’re an agency.

You know that when there’s a hiring freeze (even temporarily), service providers can be a great solution to keep things moving.

Plus, the emotional and time investment is—in most cases—significantly lower than hiring in-house.

Of course, even when outsourcing, you have to be careful of many of the things we’ve discussed so far during this post.

Another thing that’s hiding in plain sight and could help you, especially with all these low-level and mundane tasks that take much of your time, is running an internship program.

If you think about it, doing so serves a double purpose:

  1. You delegate low-level tasks so you can focus on strategy and high-level execution
  2. You give a person a chance to learn and evolve

By outsourcing and by using internship programs, you can beat the hiring freeze you currently have.

Short-term planning

Short-term planning calls for a shift in how your SaaS company wants to do business right now.

From 12-month minimum engagements with no way out, we’re now at a point where you need to ask for:

  • Flexible contracts
  • Month-to-month contracts
  • Project-based contracts

Engagements like the above will be good for you and will help your CFO sleep better at night.

You can use that in your conversations with new service providers or when extending conversations with your existing ones.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t think long-term and see the big picture.

In fact, that’s exactly what you should do, with a Content Strategy always guiding your moves.

It’s just that in the situation we’re in, you have to look for solutions that will help you do the things you want to do, without being tied into long-term engagements.

Final Thoughts

Don’t assume that because I’m writing this post, I’m not in the same boat as you are.

Minuttia is a growing company, and we have the same concerns and problems as everyone else in our industry.

We’re in the fortunate position to have demand at a time when growth-oriented service providers for the SaaS industry are having mass layoffs.

The reason is that we were proactive about our growth, even when things were going well.

Especially, when things were going well.

I hope this post will help you grow with content marketing during a recession and go beyond survival.

If you need help with anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.

Thanks for reading.

HUMAN CRAFTED
This piece of content is the work of a human mind.

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