By Mark Sherbin published March 31, 2013

Choosing the Right Content Marketing Technology: 14 Critical Questions


Many of us have cobbled tech solutions together to form the backbone of our marketing. Buying a single, comprehensive suite would make everything work together — but does such a content technology exist?

The answer to that question is complicated. You’ve doubted the power of marketing technology suites in the past because they were often also cobbled together, composed of acquisitions that didn’t seem to make sense as an integrated feature set. Why would you buy a suite if the one you’ve created independently could be just as effective?

Now, enterprise brands are racing to debut the first true marketing suite. We’ve discussed acquisitions by Adobe, IBM, Oracle, and Salesforce in-depth over the beginning of 2013. Some tech suites are market-ready; others are still in production. But it looks like everyone will have a viable solution in the coming months.

Starting to reevaluate your software platforms? Whether you’re considering purchasing a suite or working with specialized vendors, the video below, and the list of questions that follows, could help you make the right content technology decisions for your brand. A big thanks to Merrilyn Datta, Ken Trammel, Tom GeraceAmanda Nelson and Robert Rose for participating in the conversation and sharing their insights.

Content Marketing Institute Technology Roundtable Series – Part I from Content Marketing Institute on Vimeo.

1. Is it easy to use?

We’ve reached a development stage in business software that values intuitiveness over throngs of features. As such, your marketing software should enable you to cut IT out of the equation, to a certain degree.

Marketing teams must have direct control over their properties — no matter what their levels of tech expertise are. Content technology should be easy to use, including features like:

  • Drag-and-drop layout
  • Simple text editing
  • Configurable role designations for team members
  • Quick-reference asset management (pictures, videos, etc.)

Find out if the software you are considering requires training — and if the vendor offers it for free. Make sure support resources like documentation, forums, phone and email, and account managers are part of the package, as well.

2. Does it identify silos while allowing them to work together?

Enterprise content marketers must be able to work efficiently across the marketing department. The key is a content technology platform that understands and segments marketing disciplines and strategies while empowering teams to share data and content.

Marketing technology should make clear distinctions between areas like:

  • Social media
  • Automation
  • Editorial
  • Content management
  • Email
  • Lead-gen
  • Customer relationship management

Silos are useful in that they name and categorize a piece of the marketing puzzle. (That’s why we find content marketing to be such a useful phrase.) But they should always work together.

3. Is data at the heart of the software?

You’ll hear it again and again and again: From here on out, marketing is a science. Data drives the scientific process, proving whether your audience is ignoring or latching on to your message.

If your software can’t measure results, find another platform.

In general, marketing software should measure things like:

  • The effectiveness of content, campaigns, and strategies
  • Bottlenecks in your marketing
  • Areas that excite your audience
  • Who customers are (on some level)
  • Where customers are in the sales funnel
  • What factors are most likely to convert leads

This year, data is more important than ever. Make sure you’re well equipped to handle the explosion of data to come over the next decade.

4. Does it integrate easily with other software?

Vendors tend to box out the competition. But integration is more important than ever. It empowers you to work with more specialized vendors when the situation calls for it.

Suites do their best to be one-size-fits-all solutions. But your business sometimes calls for something different. Sometimes, you need to work with a specialized vendor.

As new techniques hit the market, having the ability to adapt quickly by working with specialized vendors that supply them is a huge benefit for your marketing plan. (Native advertising, for example, probably isn’t a capability you’ll find in most suites.) Chances are the brand behind your suite isn’t going to develop that functionality just because a small group of customers ask for it.

But an open stance on integration empowers marketers to stay agile and innovate on the fly. The suite that opens itself to smaller vendors (and app developers, in some cases) expands its appeal.

5. Is editorial workflow management a priority for the vendor?

As content marketers, editorial workflow management is near and dear to our hearts. Yet many of us still use publishing platforms that aren’t as user-friendly as newer solutions on the market are.

Specialized editorial workflow management platforms, like Kapost (a CMI partner), have made managing editorial staff a much simpler process. But not every vendor will spend time perfecting its editorial platform.

Editorial workflow management should include capabilities like:

  • Editorial calendar
  • Project management tools
  • Author identification and byline tagging
  • Simple formatting
  • Edit tracking
  • Version control
  • Post tagging

A powerful editorial workflow management system is the content marketer’s best friend. Cover your bases, especially if you’re evaluating a marketing suite.

6. Is there room for offline marketing?

What’s going on with your brand beyond the walls of your browser? Tying offline marketing to what you’re doing digitally is tough, but not impossible. With increasingly accurate data analysis, you can’t afford to miss out on the customer that converts after picking up a white paper at a trade show.

As a marketer, it can be easy to get caught up in the digital aspect of your job. Find a software platform that helps your organization focus on the entire picture.

7. Is it listening for your brand?

What are people saying about you?

Tracking your brand requires more than Google Alerts (although that’s a start). Social media monitoring is another huge aspect of digital brand management. Tracking your brand’s signal helps the marketing department find conversations and offer timely responses.

It’s also important for finding where your content ends up across the web. Without it, it’s a lot tougher to track where leads and customers originate.

In a suite, brand monitoring comes into play across just about every aspect of your outreach. It represents a way to seek out marketing opportunities that are just begging for your brand’s two cents.

8. Can you use it to manage advertising?

Don’t leave advertising out of the equation. Ad strategy falls under the umbrella of brand control. Therefore, it should work closely with your other content marketing initiatives.

Even if advertising isn’t your job, it’s a function of the marketing department. A truly comprehensive content marketing suite comes equipped with simple features for managing ad placements.

9. Does it make device optimization a no-brainer?

You’re not a designer, nor is it likely that you have time to spend on optimizing web pages for a multitude of devices. How can the software you choose make the process easier?

Tablets are now more trafficked than mobile devices, with higher average order rates to boot. And both of these devices are stealing serious mindshare from laptops and desktops, the devices marketers used to put first.

As a result, your marketing software shouldn’t discriminate against presentation styles. It should include simple resources for setting screen displays or designing responsively.

10. How difficult is collaboration?

Communication across the enterprise can be tricky. Does your marketing software make it easier?

Collaboration among different teams is what makes a truly integrated suite useful. It combines data analysis, content control and delivery, and asset management with project management.

The right content marketing technology should make collaboration simple in ways like:

  • Tracking actions taken by other team members
  • Chatting on the page in real time
  • Assigning tasks and campaigns
  • Sharing pieces of content (like data)
  • Simple sharing of assets
  • The ability to designate roles

Without easy ways to collaborate, a marketing platform falls flat.

11. What kind of reputation does the company/software have?

Simply put, you want a software partner you can trust.

Today’s plethora of online reviews is usually enough to help you do your legwork before you invest in a technology partner. Checking with colleagues and peers also helps.

Actively seeking answers that don’t already exist online can help, too. Ask about vendor and software reputations through services like Quora and LinkedIn Groups. It doesn’t hurt to search websites like Ripoff Report and the Better Business Bureau, too, for possible listings on the company you’re researching.

12. How have other companies used the software?

What kind of potential does the platform hold? Does the platform have a lot of users? Have any major brands put their trust in the software?

Here, you want to dig up case studies. Start with any you find on the vendor’s website. Search for success stories you can find in the media, too. Figure out exactly what kind of success organizations like yours have had with the platform.

13. What costs are involved?

Tally up everything, including less tangible costs, to get a full picture of your investment. Costs may include:

  • Setup and licensing fees
  • Training
  • Content migration from an old platform
  • Custom development
  • Broken contracts with previous vendors

Figuring out what you’ve invested is a crucial step in calculating your ROI.

14. Who will it make happy, and who will it piss off?

Will introducing new software make you more friends than it will enemies?

It’s always important to consider the politics of introducing a new content technology to an entire department. If content is your focus, for example, you may end up favoring a platform with a strong editorial workflow manager. As a result, a dedicated email marketing specialist may find her portion of the software to be lacking.

Always consider the compromises a new software platform may force internally. After all, there’s no such thing as a perfect piece of software.

Weigh In

What other questions are missing from this list? Share them with us in the comments.

For more tips to help you make smart purchasing decisions, read CMI’s eGuide: How to Choose Content Marketing Technology

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

Other posts by Mark Sherbin

  • http://twitter.com/HongKongVisas HK Visa Handbook

    Excellent work Mark. However, does such a tech even exist? We have been following a variety of platforms over the last 12 months and they all, for one reason or another, fall down in one or more of each of the critical elements you essay. Frankly we have found them all disappointing. Our sense is that the longer you wait the better off you are. There is a serious maturing process going on. The early adopters have a lot at stake and smaller content marketeers are much better off delaying such a decision. The WordPress platform is more than sufficient for now and most of the elements you discuss can be accommodated either for free or for small money investments.

    • Marc Gartenberg

      please include me on the response. i too am curious. thank you.

      • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

        Thanks for the question, guys. I’ve had the chance to get pretty hands-on with the Adobe Marketing Cloud. It seems to meet a lot of the criteria I set forth above.

        I’m keeping my eye on IBM, too. They’re doing a lot of cool things with their own marketing (including spending a lot of time on content creation). They’ve made some solid acquisitions of smaller vendors. I’m planning to reach out and get a more detailed look at what they’re working with in the near future.

        • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

          I’ll chime in here a bit as well given my background… The key here is that there’s no such thing as a magic bullet. An effective technology implementation (especially in the enterprise as we’re talking here) is a well planned combination of three elements:

          1. Well thought through and prioritized requirements (the thing that marketing rarely does)
          2. Capable enterprise technology (yes it does exist, but no singular technology excels at everything – so see #1 above).
          3. An implementation team that truly knows the product and the requirements.

          Candidly, most content technologies fall down because they aren’t implemented well. And, the first commenter in this thread has an excellent point. One of the biggest mistakes I see enterprises make is they justify a big, expensive technology solution, well – because we’re a big expensive enterprise. It’s a little like saying – because I CAN afford a Ferrari – that’s the car for me.

          Taking great care with understanding the marketing process you’re trying to facilitate is key (and Mark’s questions in this post are a GREAT conversation starter to this). You may ultimately decide that WordPress and Hootsuite are perfectly acceptable solutions. But doing the work up front will inform that decision. Hope that’s somewhat helpful.

          • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

            Thanks for weighing in, Robert! This is excellent advice.

  • Brittany

    Great critical questions for enterprise companies to be asking about marketing technologies mark! I think you covered the basis really well.

    The only piece that I see missing in the equation is managing marketing budgeting and real ROI for all of the marketing programs, and for enterprise level marketing, this is Critical. I think finding a marketing automation platform and a marketing budgeting software that integrate easily would be the right combination of marketing technologies.

  • Alan Wilson

    Hi, great article. If you had to choose the best option(s) right away for a small start-up in one case (with needed scale-ability), and for a new initiative for a Fortune 500 company, which one(s) would you recommend based upon best option(s) and best option(s) on a cost basis.

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

      Hi Alan — thanks for the question. This is a tough one to answer without digging deep into what kinds of resources you’re working with. I have a couple of ideas for getting started (and by no means is this an exhaustive list, so I encourage you to do some more research).

      As Robert mentioned in the comment above, you can manage social media with Hootsuite inexpensively. With a smaller content creation team, WordPress is perfectly acceptable as a blogging platform. You can use Topsy and other free/inexpensive social media monitoring tools to keep an eye on your brand. Curata is a solid curation platform. This is what I mean by cobbling together a marketing suite.

      If you’re looking for something more advanced, you can customize content based on your audience segments, for example, with HubSpot. Marketo is another vendor doing its best to cover all bases. But, as I said, I encourage you to do trials with a handful of products before you choose one. These are just some places to start.

      (Full disclosure: some of the vendors mentioned here are CMI partners.)

  • http://about.me/KariRippetoe Kari Rippetoe

    Last year, we were evaluating CM platforms for our search marketing agency that combined content creation and optimization with project management and automation. We had some very specific requirements, including the ability to schedule recurring tasks to happen on specific days every week, month, etc. (like in Outlook). Flexibility was also a top priority for us, so we wanted a platform with an API – so if there was a specific feature that didn’t exist, we could easily develop it ourselves. Unfortunately, nothing that we evaluated (and we looked at about 4 or 5 platforms) met our top priority requirements. We were surprised at how some platforms had features that were almost, but not quite, what we needed and wondered why they hadn’t thought about that little extra. What @HK Visa Handbook says below is true about the maturity of the platforms.

    Pricing is another area where many of these platforms fell down. Our firm is not a huge enterprise, and it was as if these companies were deliberately trying to price SMBs out of the market, they were so expensive (especially since we’re an agency and wanted to scale the tool for our clients).

    • http://twitter.com/MarkSherbin Mark Sherbin

      Thanks for sharing your story, Kari! You definitely aren’t alone. At an agency, I can see how these roadblocks hit you harder than they might hit other organizations.

      Piecing different systems together seems to be the best bet for smaller organizations because yes, a marketing platform that spans all of this functionality may be price-prohibitive.

      Instead of adding new systems as you go, though, I think it helps to take a step back from what you have and find out what works well together and what doesn’t. That’s where these questions come in handy for organizations working with cobbled-together technology. Even if you can’t find a suite that works for you, you can take a look at the big picture to find the right pieces to the puzzle.

      Still, keep your eyes on how suites are evolving for small business. As the market progresses, the tech should get cheaper to produce and less expensive for smaller organizations.

  • http://twitter.com/smersdorf Sherrie Mersdorf

    I agree with Robert here. We’ve been using Compendium for almost 5 years. In the beginning, they were small, and content marketing & blogging was still really new so of course we went through some growing pains (as most early adopters do).

    To point #13 above: We realized VERY quickly that the cost of the software is NOTHING compared to the cost of content creation and management (whether it’s staff time or paying a third party). But the tools to make that easier have come a LONG way in 5 years. And they continue to improve quicker than I could imagine. A couple years ago, we didn’t have moderation, it was one editor and that was it. Now you have a workflow that is a MAJOR time saver. I’m so happy it’s there. We have 4 blogs (different audiences) and over 50 authors across them, so we have a need for moderation work flows (I have 8 editors that manage all the content that goes up).

    As far as magic bullet, Robert hit it on the head. It all comes down to your requirements. What do you NEED right now, and what would you like it to do down the line (is they tool going to evolve fast enough to get there – If you go with a tool like Compendium, I’m VERY confident it will because it has for us. And believe me, I’ve asked for some things that seemed totally out there at the time and they always deliver)? For a program our size, I need workflows and moderation. I also need to be able to report on ROI. This goes beyond the easy stuff (# of visitors, pageviews, time on site). it’s a given that a solution needs to tie into my analytic solution (Omniture), but I also need it to tie my CRM (Salesforce.com) and marketing automation solution (Eloqua).

    I definitely think there are great tools out there for generating and publishing content. It really comes down to your process, requirements and implementation. Implementation of any technology is always going to be the hardest part.