Content marketing doesn’t stop after content creation, promotion, or even measurement. Effective content marketing is cyclical. The outputs from the later stages of the process are fed back into the planning for ongoing and future activities.
An effective content process can be broken down into the following five stage model. This model holds true for content marketing at any scale, from the largest, most sophisticated content operations down to the smallest post-per-month blogs. The fact is, content marketing is content marketing, regardless of scope or budget. Successful content marketing is adaptive, building on successes and learning from mistakes. Unsuccessful content marketing is formulaic and unidirectional. Mastering the content marketing cycle provides a pathway to the former. We’ll take a look at each of the five stages and their keys for success below.
Planning is the first step in any content marketing process. For larger endeavors, it will almost certainly take the form of a written content strategy. Smaller content marketing efforts may be able to get away with a less formalized strategy. Either way, the most important points to define during the planning process are the goals of the content marketing and the target group(s). A firm set of goals will keep your content focused and eventually become the basis for success criteria. The target group will determine the messaging, format, and channels for your content marketing. Selecting the right target group is critical for achieving your goals. Things like budget and content velocity should also be defined during the planning stage.
Keys for Success:
- Choosing realistic goals (and budget)
- Defining the correct target group
- Ensuring understanding across the team/organization
After planning, the actual content must be created. The biggest question in this stage is related to content sourcing. Will content be sourced internally or externally? Each comes with a set of strengths and weaknesses. Generally, internal sourcing tends to be more affordable and product-relevant, but requires a longer development cycle. External sourcing, on the other hand, tends to be more timely, but also more expensive and less product-focused. The appropriate combination of internal and external sourcing depends largely on budget, desired content velocity, and timeframe. If a proper balance can’t be struck, it may be time to reexamine your goals in relation to your constraints.
Keys for Success:
- Finding a sustainable balance between internal and external sourcing
- Monitoring to ensure that content is in line with strategy
In the publishing phase, the newly created content is made available to consumers. The vast majority of content is published to a company website, though social media and mobile apps are other possible locations. The goal in publishing is to make content as easy to find and consume as possible. Thus, the best place to publish content is where it will be most appealing and accessible to your target group. In most cases, this happens to be on a website.
Depending on content marketing goals, content may be gated. It’s important to leave at least a portion of content open for consumption. Only substantial content should be gated (whitepapers, eBooks, on-demand webinars, etc.) – the content has to justify the user providing information.
Keys for Success:
- Making content findable
- Publishing visually appealing/easy to consume content
- Appropriate use of gated content
As we’ve said before, even the best content will fail if it never gets found. The promotion phase is about putting content in the hands of your target group. Effective promotion requires serving your content at the right time and place. Promotion may be passive, like a social media post telling a broad audience where to find the content, or active, like an email campaign reaching out to specific contacts.
Promotion draws largely on the planning phase. If you’ve selected the appropriate group and you understand their behaviors, in theory, putting content where they’ll see it should be relatively easy. Unfortunately, it’s rarely so simple. Generally, promotion turns into a sort of educated trial and error. Based on your understanding of your target group, you put content in a series of places that should appeal, then adjust later based on what works and what doesn’t.
Keys to Success:
- Deep understanding of target group(s)
- A variety of developed marketing channels
- Effective combination of active and passive promotion
Measurement is the final stage before the cycle repeats. In the measurement phase, there is a set of key questions that must be answered: What happened? Did we meet our goals/success criteria? Why or why not? How can we adjust for next time?
Measurement should be closely related to goals. Each goal should have a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge success. Based on these metrics, it can be determined if and where content marketing was successful. Comparing the performance of different content, channels, and promotion can reveal successes and opportunities for improvement. The overall goal of the measurement stage is to draw actionable insights that can be applied to later planning.
Keys to Success:
- Selecting relevant KPIs
- Evaluating each goal independently
- Benchmarking content/channels/promotions
- Deriving actionable insight from results
Let us know what you think:
- Which stage of the content marketing cycle is most important?
- Which stage is most challenging?
- How do you incorporate previous data into your content planning?