The Process and Plays Required to Scale Content Marketing

September 04, 2019

A successful content management process must include planning, creation, publishing, distribution and analysis.

The original version of this article, authored by Scott Albro, was published by TOPO, now Gartner. 

The vendor-as-publisher concept is a powerful one, but acting like a publisher is a lot harder said than done. 

A study by the Content Marketing Institute highlights the problem. When asked to identify their top content marketing challenge, marketers cited three primary issues:

  • Producing high-quality content — 41% of respondents
  • Producing enough content — 20% of respondents
  • Producing content on a limited budget — 18% of respondents

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Challenges

This highlights 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 processes 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 life cycle. It governs the key activities, organization, metrics and technology that support that life cycle.

Benefits

Within the world of content marketing, a standard process can deliver two primary benefits: 

  • It can help marketers produce higher-quality content by specifying best practices that lead to good content. 
  • It 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 we often recommend to our clients consists of five key steps:

1. Plan

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.

Understanding how the buyer journey drives content is also critical. Marketers should 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 10 buyers which 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 is fun and engaging. Make it useful and easy to consume (balancing fun with useful varies by market).
  • Start at the top of the funnel with big, engaging topics. Then move down the funnel with more specific topics.

2. Create

Content creation focuses on the development 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, including internal employees or external groups such as customers, third-party thought leaders and freelancers. 

During content creation, it’s important to use 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-party experts and freelancers will all create content.
  • Establish a simple workflow. This should include raw material from subject matter experts, which is routed to an editor and then forwarded to a designer.
  • Invest in creating a core asset. It should be substantive enough to support your content marketing program in many different ways.

3. Publish

Publishing content is the process that transforms 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, including steps for editing and approving content for final publication. It can be minimized with technology and tight process control. 

Marketers should prepare to leverage its content by taking a single piece and publishing it as multiple 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 types of assets such as blog posts, syndicated articles, presentations and videos.
  • Identify the common asset types you will support. Standardize around these as a marketing organization.
  • Develop a publishing cadence. This will allow you to publish a steady stream of content on a regular, predictable basis.

4. Distribute

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, the development of standard content distribution playbooks can free up time for more strategic activities. When distributing content:

  • Invest in a core set of no more than three distribution tactics. This will allow you to hit your numbers for any specific campaign.
  • Surround those core tactics with other distribution tactics. These can help deliver upside against the number.
  • Allow for some unscientific distribution. Sometimes it’s acceptable to set content free into the wild and watch what happens.

5. Analyze

There are a variety of traditional metrics that convey 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 life cycle, there are two additional points that can make content analysis more productive and allow marketers to publish more effective content: 

  • Correlate the metrics to specific pieces of content. 
  • Create a closed loop that feeds metrics collected during content analysis back into the planning component of this content marketing framework. 

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 your 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.

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