Content Marketing Process: The Process and Plays Required to Scale Content Marketing
Everyone’s a publisher now. It’s one of the most common refrains you’ll hear in the world of content marketing. And it’s true. A couple of years ago, one of the bosses of content marketing, Joe Chernov, told me, “We all have the means to be a publisher now. There’s been a massive disintermediation between somebody who wants to publish and an audience to reach. You don’t have to go to a printing press anymore. You can publish on a blog. You can publish on Twitter. Technology has enabled brands to do this wherein the past it was relegated to only the biggest companies.”
The vendor-as-publisher concept is a powerful one, but acting like a publisher is a lot harder than saying you’re a publisher. One of the more common questions our clients ask us is: “how do we scale our content marketing program”? It’s another way of asking “how do we act like a publisher”? A recent study by the Content Marketing Institute highlights the problem. When asked to identify their top content marketing challenge, marketers cited three primary issues:
1. Producing high quality content – 41% of respondents
2. Producing enough content – 20% of respondents
3. Producing content on a limited budget – 18% of respondents
This data highlights what you might call content marketing’s perfect storm: how can marketers create high quality content at scale with a limited budget?
One way to overcome these challenges is to define and use a standard content marketing process. Traditional media companies have used process to produce higher quality content and to scale their day-to-day operations for decades. In the media industry, a good process provides a company with standards, definitions, and best practices for the entire content lifecycle. The process governs the key activities, organization, metrics, and technology that support that lifecycle.
The BuzzFeed content machine at work.
Applied to the world of content marketing, a standard process can deliver two primary benefits. First, the process can help marketers produce higher quality content by specifying best practices that lead to good content. Second, the process can make the content marketing operation more scalable by specifying repeatable points of leverage and efficiencies. In a nutshell, a content marketing process can help marketers solve the three challenges highlighted by the Content Marketing Institute study.
The Content Marketing Process
A content marketing process that we often recommend to our clients consists of five key steps:
1. Plan – Develop a plan to guide your content marketing program.
2. Create – Turn key messages and themes into raw material.
3. Publish – Publish that raw material into various content assets.
4. Distribute – Use various promotional tactics to distribute content.
5. Analyze – Track the results of your content marketing program and optimize.
Content planning is the act of developing a plan that will guide a brand’s content marketing efforts. Planning should specify the details of creating, publishing, distributing, and measuring a content marketing program. Strategic components of content planning include understanding how the brand and target market will intersect in the form of content, as well as the development of specific themes and topics. Mapping content to the buyer journey or, more importantly, understanding how the buyer journey drives content is also critical. Marketers should also articulate measurable objectives for their content marketing efforts in the planning phase. A content plan should contain tactical elements such as specifications of titles, content forms, contributors, and publication dates. An authoritative calendar is often a useful tool for capturing these tactical elements.
When developing the content marketing plan:
- Use lean research to understand the buyer. Ask ten buyers what three pieces of content they most want from you. Try to understand why they want it and how they would use it.
- Remember that remarkable content has 3 parts: it’s fun and engaging; it’s useful; and it’s easy to consume (balancing fun with useful varies by market).
- Start at the top of the funnel with big, engaging topics and then move down the funnel with more specific topics.
The create part of the framework involves taking ideas, themes, and topics and transforming them into content. Content creation focuses on the creation of raw material as opposed to final, published assets. Identifying specific topics that content should be built around is critical. Most of the effort in the content creation phase should be allocated to sourcing content from contributors. Contributors can include internal employees or external groups such as customers, third party thought leaders, and freelancers. During content creation, it’s important to utilize technology that allows for the efficient creation and collection of content. Self-publishing tools and commonly used content aggregation tools are useful here, as is an efficient process for recruiting and managing contributors. Whatever the tool or process, the marketer’s objective should be to make the act of creating content much more efficient.
Effective content creation best practices include:
- Get other people to create content for you – employees, customers, third part experts, and freelancers will all create content.
- Establish a simple workflow that sources raw material from subject matter experts, routes it to an editor, and then routes it to a designer.
- Invest in creating a core asset that is substantive enough to support your content marketing program in many different ways.
Publishing content is the process that transforms the aforementioned raw content into a published asset or set of assets. Specifying a list of final content assets that will be supported as part of the content marketing program is critical to this framework element. Common asset types include articles, blog posts, whitepapers, online events, videos, printed documents, and podcasts. Mapping published assets to the content plan’s objectives can dramatically improve results given that audiences cite form of publication as one of the most important variables they use to judge content. There is typically a significant amount of workflow associated with content publication. This workflow involves editing and approving content for final publication. It can be minimized with technology and tight process control. Marketers should also look for leverage by taking a single piece of content and publishing it into multiple, published assets.
There are several points of leverage to consider when publishing content:
- Create once, publish many – use a core piece of content to publish many different types of assets such as blog posts, syndicated articles, presentations, and videos to name just a few.
- Identify the common asset types that you will support as a marketing organization and standardize around these.
- Develop a publishing cadence that allows you to publish a steady stream of content on a regular, predictable basis.
Marketo putting “create once, publish many” into action.
Once content is published, it can then be distributed. As a general rule, marketers should apply multiple distribution tactics to a single, published content asset. There are a variety of both earned (free) and paid tactics available including search engine optimization, paid search, social sharing, word of mouth, advertising, and email marketing. To improve distribution results, marketers should develop distribution packages that can be linked to specific assets. For example, events might be best distributed via an email-centric marketing plan. Finally, content distribution, when approached on an ad hoc basis, can consume a lot of time. The development of standard distribution playbooks can free up time for more strategic activities.
When distributing content:
- Invest in a core set of no more than 3 distribution tactics that will allow you to hit your numbers for this specific campaign.
- Surround those 3 core tactics with other distribution tactics that can deliver upside against the number.
- Allow for some unscientific distribution – some times it’s ok to set content free into the wild and watch what happens.
Nike distributing branded content on Twitter.
Content analysis involves measuring a content marketing program. There are a variety of traditional metrics that tell content marketers how content is performing in terms of traffic acquisition, engagement, and at various conversion points from lead to customer. Example metrics include brand uplift, search engine referrals, social activity, and lead conversion rates. While these metrics span a typical marketing lifecycle, there are two additional points that can make content analysis more productive. First, correlate the aforementioned metrics to specific pieces of content. Second, create a closed loop that feeds metrics collected during content analysis back into the aforementioned planning component of this content marketing framework. This will in turn allow marketers to publish more effective content.
When analyzing your content marketing program:
- Identify and track tactical metrics such as the amount of content being produced and various traffic-oriented metrics.
- Develop metrics that tie content marketing to more strategic business objectives such as brand equity, revenue achievement, and customer engagement.
- Optimize the program by paying particularly close attention to topics, asset types, and distribution channels that resonate in you target markets.
This process can be used as a starting point and customized to meet your specific marketing objectives. Just remember that no matter what process you adopt, you are trying to simultaneously improve the quality of your content and produce more of it.
Do you have experience using a well-defined content marketing process? What are your recommendations for creating higher quality content at scale? Let us know in the comments below.
About the author: Scott Albro is the CEO and founder of TOPO. TOPO is a research, advisory, and consulting firm that believes in a really simple, but powerful idea – that all revenue can be distilled down to a series of conversions. By connecting everything we do back to this core idea, we help sales and marketing organizations exceed their revenue targets. You can connect with Scott on Twitter.