Content agency lessons from three years in Vietnam / by Ian Paynton

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It’s coming up to three years since we took the plunge as a full circle content marketing agency based in Vietnam, and here's what we've learned as an agency at the heart Vietnam’s nascent content marketing scene.

Please share with us your thoughts and experiences, too!

1. Content requires vision and budget - clients with both are rare

It’s easy to get excited when a new lead shows interest in what you’re selling. Go for coffee, talk a good game. Khong sao.

But it’s also easy to get into empty conversations, and it can be a bad use of time. We’ve learned the importance of quickly working out who truly gets the value of content marketing and who doesn't. Who’s got the vision and budget and who hasn’t?

Client Tip: Let's talk visions and budgets quickly. We shouldn't spend six months avoiding the issue only to realise you expect to spend $500 for the moon on a stick

2. Clients want to test content marketing for three months

But it needs patience!

During a Facebook Like Q&A, we asked the founder of Content Marketing Institute Joe Pulizzi “what would you say to a client who wants to test content marketing for three months?”

We loved his answer. He advised us to 'tell them to do advertising' and that as a content agency, we should 'spend time working with the real believers of content', not the ones who want short term wins.

Client Tip: You might be lucky with short term content wins but it’s not predictable. Three months isn’t long enough for guaranteed results. Give it longer and make changes as you go

3. There’s an over reliance on Facebook

Everyone wants a Facebook strategy, but few are really concerned with other social platforms (more Instagram!) or content hubs, which create spaces for audiences to go back to, and discover in search engines.

Facebook is definitely part of the bigger picture for a content marketing strategy, but it’s a bit of an abyss to throw content and money into, so it shouldn't be the only thing on a marketer’s mind.

Client Tip: Think about Facebook as an important distribution channel, but not as the only place to play. Invest in your own channel - a content hub - and create a full publishing ecosystem for maximum content marketing results

4. Everyone wants content but a full agency seems expensive

We’ve noticed many more businesses offering content since we started three years ago. But it’s usually cheap and cheerful Facebook posting rather than long term content marketing strategy and execution.

It's fair to say that intellectual property, solid strategy and publishing insights are not highly valued here in Vietnam and some decision makers want to boil down quotes to “price per deliverable”. When our proposal is higher than your average Facebook content agency or lone wolf freelancer, potential clients might opt for cheaper options that look good to an accountant but barely add real value to a brand wanting to make a long term difference.

We’re happy to be a full circle (strategy, production, distribution, repeat) content marketing agency and OK with being considered premium in the market.

Client Tip: Don't be tempted to duck out after receiving our quote. Let us help you understand how and why we're costing ourselves this way, and share our value with your team

5. Budget is the biggest secret ever

Often clients haven't allocated content marketing budgets because it’s a new discipline. I get that.

But some simply don't want to give their hand away first. So they ask us make a proposal. Of course we think big. Too big! And then have to cram a year long $100,000 content idea into $5,000.

This means:

A) the idea and strategy is no longer the same and won't have the same impact

B) time gets wasted, both in thinking too big and then shrinking those ideas into a smaller budget that no longer works for us or you

Client Tip: Give us your budget ballparks early! Rough numbers will do. Here are some reasons to reveal your content marketing budget up front

6. Contract Not Contract

Hanoi is known for it: what’s in the contract doesn't always stick. Things will change. Payments won’t get made as agreed, extra things will be asked for. Deal with it?

Client Tip: Still working on a tip for this. Will keep you posted

7. Content marketing needs complete buy-in from everyone

If there are some doubters client side, they need converting. And fast!

Silo thinking is rife, and as content marketing is a fresh, often costly discipline, not everyone understands it, agrees with it, or wants to do it. Worse-case scenario means that non-believers actively try to hinder your efforts as it threatens corporate territorial politics.

But everyone client side can be a content creator. They should all be contributing, collaborating, sharing and championing once a content agency has been hired. Without this, it's less likely content marketing will be the success it should be.

Client Tip: Let's attack silo thinking with workshops. We should be persistent in making everyone feel included with a sense of ownership. Spot the doubters and show how content can make their department winners

8. Clients want to do it themselves

This comes back to point 4. Content seems expensive when we quote for it, and clients often end up choosing to do it themselves.

Client Tip: Important one, this: think about all the time you could save to focus on running the rest of the business if you have an agency pulling together your content marketing

9. Clients don't always know what they want

Sometimes we've been put in what sounds like an enviable position: creating both the brief and the solution, often due to lack of clarity on the client-side.

Which sounds great. But it isn’t ideal, because we’re not working from a solid predefined direction from within the business. And with little-to-no brand strategy glueing everything together, things can easily change based on stakeholder opinion.

Time and money gets wasted on briefs that vanish overnight.

Client Tip: Fill out and sign our briefing doc - get agreement from as many top-level decision makers as possible before sending it back to us and letting us loose with content strategy and big ideas