Do you know where your customers come from online? If you checked your website analytics, I am willing to bet that you get more visitors from organic search than you do through paid channels. Or at least, that is how it should be, assuming you take your online presence seriously. Last year, we analyzed 310 million visits across six industries. Paid brought in only six percent of those referrals; the other 94 percent came through earned and owned media channels.

The vast majority of your customers hang out in spaces you can earn or own. That means you have the opportunity to earn or own what your competitors have to pay for. But to do that you need to develop a content strategy for customer acquisition that empathizes earned and owned media while reducing an addiction to paid media (What else would you call it when you cannot stop spending more, but keep getting less?). Here are three things you can do:

Look beyond your keywords

The essence of digital marketing is the ability to optimize. But too often marketers become stuck in a trap of optimized navel-gazing, focusing exclusively on their internal metrics and missing the larger picture. One quick way to see the whole picture is to do an export of your competitors’ keywords and break them into three categories:

  1. Keywords you have that your competitors don’t
  2. Keywords all of you are bidding on
  3. Keywords that your competitors have that you don’t

Once you have broken out your keyword categories, chart them in a Venn diagram, and then compare that picture to how you allocate your time and money. If you are disproportionately focused on optimizing only the keywords that you are bidding on, you are not doing enough to win new customers. Instead, what you need to do is make sure that you are winning where everyone is competing because that category obviously represents something critical to your business. But you also need pivot and compete where your competitors have keywords and you do not, because that area represents a conversation that you have been shut out of.

Create content that speaks to the early part of the buyer’s journey

By the time customers are ready to buy, all of their preferences and choices have most likely been solidified. That means that if your content focuses on the end of the buyer’s journey—as most ads do—it is a lot less likely to resonate. Instead, your content should be focused on the early stages of buyer’s journey. This is when customers are gathering information, and if you can speak to their questions—as opposed to your objectives—you can build a stronger bond with potential customers and earn greater brand affinity so that customers go looking for you when it’s time to buy. This is why a sizeable majority of marketers have expressed interest in aligning content marketing with the buyer’s journey.

Suppose you sell olive oil. You can shout about how much better and more affordable your olive oil is. Or you can create content that speaks to the needs of customers who might be in the market for olive oil, even if they do not know it yet. Here is what content aimed at the early phase of the buyer’s journey could look like:

  • Articles about the health benefits of olive oil relative to other oils
  • Recipes that use olive oil
  • Cooking videos that demonstrate how to use olive oil

Marry content to data

Let us stay with the olive oil example for a moment. Suppose we get the Mayo Clinic to write about the health benefits of olive oil and Wolfgang Puck to create recipes. And maybe Wolfgang sticks around to do some videos too. You would agree that we have great content, right? Well, I am not so sure because we do not have any data that tells us if it is working. What we need to do is analyze our content, and to do that we always need to be:

  • Setting clear performance goals
  • Measuring our progress
  • Holding ourselves accountable

Measuring your content might sound basic, but a lot of marketers do not know how to do it. I suspect that is why many marketers remain addicted to paid, which offers familiar metrics and measurement tools. But the truth is that you can measure earned and owned media to find out which content is resonating, which content you should be prioritizing, and which content ideas you should shelve. 


Individually, each of the three tips will help you acquire more customers. But if you deploy each with the mindset that you want to earn what your competitors are currently buying, you will realize a true competitive advantage.