As you can see, we believe in content marketing. Over the last ten years or so, I used content as the basis of our highly capital-efficient demand generation machine for our enterprise martech SaaS, ion interactive. This is how we made our content marketing happen from the strategic ideas behind it, and the realities of execution.
To frame the market a bit (and draft on yesterday’s article), we marketed to marketers in the martech space of roughly 6,000 competing solutions. Nearly every segment within that space is nascent—it’s simply a matter of degrees. That means that education and credibility are key to cutting through the clutter, explaining and validating value and generating demand.
Starting with Primary Research
The first time we sponsored primary research was the most challenging. The hypothesis was that the market would bear out pains that we would be uniquely positioned to treat. The hard part was aligning with the right research partner to ask the right questions of the right people to get the right answers. If we failed, we would be out around $30,000 because the study would be useless. At that time, $30,000 was a lot of money and we didn’t want to blow it. That said, we had a culture of experimentation, were data driven and tested everything. If it was good, we would test it, and we would know if it worked.
The data was good, but the report was weak. We were excited that our hypothesis was proven, but now had a new challenge to turn that win into demand via our content marketing. This article is about leveraging a single primary asset into derived content across all stages of the buyer’s journey. Some call it content scaling, but that implies something much easier than the reality. Some call it repurposing, but that feels to me like under-selling the value of the derived assets.
Content Across the Lifecycle
Whether you prefer the buyer’s journey or the funnel analogy, we’re going to address the creation of useful content across many channels and lifecycle stages. Content Marketing Institute ran an article on ion’s content marketing scaling practices that followed one asset into 27 derived assets. Bottom line is that we used internal resources to scale facts from one $30,000-$50,000 third-party, original research report into pre- to post-funnel assets—and everywhere in between.
I’m more at home with the funnel than the journey, but my funnel starts earlier and ends later than some. My pre-funnel stage addresses virality or social sharing and happens before a user is known. And my post-funnel stage addresses post-win, customer content designed for retention, renewal and expansion. In the interest of capital efficiency, scaling one investment beyond demand-gen improves ROI that much more.
Scaling strategy depends on what you’ve got to work with. In the case of primary research, you have facts and their source (always hire a credible research provider like Demand Metric or Content Marketing Institute or even TechValidate). Assuming that your questions, sample and answers were well formulated, and that your study was well administered, you should have powerful facts. After doing a bunch of these, I found that the quality of facts was more important than the quantity. Keeping myself disciplined to focus on only a few of the best facts was often my biggest challenge. For a lot of the studies we did, there may only have been 3-5 really strong power facts, with a bunch more supporting facts.
Certain content marketing assets lend themselves to the power facts while others may include the supporting ones. Pre-funnel assets are designed for social sharing and potential virality. These may include static or interactive infographics full of sharable power and supporting facts. More is better here as your target is wide and varied and the value of your facts varies with the breadth of the group. The power facts are featured, but the supporting ones are prominent as well. It’s worth mentioning that the power facts should figure into owned property design as well—website, trade show booths, environmental graphics, swag, etc. Leverage them for frequency.
Lead generation content marketing assets sit at the next level down, at the top of the funnel. This is when unknown traffic becomes known via some type of registration. Assets are more specific at this stage, which improves their efficacy with segments that you intentionally develop around. Registration-worthy assets may include interactive assessments, physical events, webinars, ebooks, white papers or other relatively meaty content. These assets should be supported by, and prominently feature, the power facts. You’re hanging your hat on these facts now, looking for frequency and recognition that can be reinforced the deeper prospects go.
Inbound Demand Generation
Inbound generation content marketing assets sit mid-funnel—post registration. These are distributed via stimulation of the universe via social, email, retargeting, etc. The assets themselves may be similar to the lead-gen ones but perhaps deeper, more specific, more inbound focused—and often more interactive, yielding declared descriptive data. The role of these assets is to trigger hand raisers and they will restate, reframe and reinforce the power facts as instigators.
When you get deep in the funnel with content marketing, the power facts become reminders for deeper, more specific content. Perhaps you have a free-to-paid sign-up process; or tools that calculate ROI; or ones that set implementation expectations; or ones that socialize your team. In these cases, the power facts should be secondary, but present. They help remind folks in the purchase process—in contract negotiations, or ones dealing with internal politics—why they’re going through (hopefully not suffering through) the process. They’re designed to keep deep prospects engaged for the right reasons—all the way to the finish line. I think of it as perpetuating value.
Marketing is not done once someone is a customer. Most successful SaaS solutions have customer-specific nurture streams designed to up-sell, cross-sell or at least retain existing revenue. Those content marketing power facts should continue to make appearances post-funnel. I’ve even had success bringing them back in full force by re-introducing the primary research to help stimulate expansion via sharing—basically starting back at the top with a new crop of customer-specific prospects. They’re also good reminders of why they bought your solution which can help drive adoption.
Steering clear of redundancy and keeping content fresh in the face of multi-channel content marketing scaling requires thoughtful execution. Few of these instances are intended to be straight-up copy/paste repurposes. Reusing facts is very different than creating duplicate content and the work involved in reusing thoughtfully is nontrivial. But that hard work represents considerably less overall effort and resource burn than recreating original assets for all of these use cases. And, the frequency that’s gained from repetition of the power facts, combined with the reach that’s gained from the pre-funnel promotion of all of the facts, should result in a powerful, impressive, capital-efficient, demand-generating, content marketing machine. I rode many of these studies for at least a year, sometimes longer—so they have strong legs to deliver a lot of return.
For a bit more context and perspective, please watch my related video.