By Heather Levy published August 20, 2017

5 Key Milestones to Develop and Advance Your Content Marketing Program

CMI-5-Key-Milestones

A year after launching the brand journalism site Smarter With Gartner, two critical inflection points led us to realize we were ready to advance in the Maturity Model for Content Marketing:

  • The global team of content creators needed more robust tools to produce the steady stream of articles, infographics, video, and interactive content published daily to help IT, marketing, and supply chain leaders stay ahead of technology trends.
  • The global PR and content development team, which launched Smarter With Gartner, had an opportunity to feed our content marketing assets into the broader Gartner digital marketing programs.

When we realized we needed to take our content marketing program to the next level, I had a one-on-one call with Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, research director of Gartner for Marketers. She authored the Gartner report that introduced the Maturity Model for Content Marketing. We made “Leapfrog to Level 4” a slogan for our 2017 content marketing strategy. This was a bold goal because less than a year earlier we were moving from Level 2 to Level 3. What would it take to create a more mature content marketing function for our organization?

content-marketing-maturity-level

Image source: Content Marketing Maturity Model, Gartner for Marketers, (July 2016)

In a subsequent interview in preparation for my Content Marketing World session, Kirsten distills the key milestones necessary for organizations to develop and advance their content marketing programs. As with most journeys, you must watch out for obstacles that will prevent your progress.

1. Fill the strategy gap

If organizations do one thing to reach Level 2, they should create a strategy. While this sounds like an obvious first step, only 37% of B2B and 40% of B2C marketers say they have a documented content marketing strategy, according to CMI research. Notably, most marketers say the strategy is effective at helping them achieve their content marketing goals. Why don’t content marketers think to create a strategy out of the gate?

Only 37% of B2B & 40% of B2C marketers say they have a documented #contentmarketing strategy. @cmicontent Click To Tweet

Often, content marketing starts as an experimental initiative with ad hoc content production and rudimentary metrics. “They may have basic metrics on traffic, some level of engagement, and maybe first order of conversion,” Kirsten says. (That’s where we were when launching the pilot for Smarter with Gartner.)

“As you work to create a strategy,” she says, “do the work around personas, journeys, and understand your analytics.”

To create a #contentmarketing strategy, do work around personas, journeys, & analytics, says @kirstenpetra. Click To Tweet

To reach Level 2, tap into your organization’s personas to drive content development or create customer personas or journey maps from behavioral, ethnographic, and voice-of-the-customer research. Customer personas and journey maps, when combined with goals and objectives, form the basis of a sound strategy from which to develop content.

2. Designate a leader

Experimental content marketing programs may have developed within an existing group, as ours was in the Gartner PR department. Yet to move to Level 2, you need to designate a content marketing leader who owns and manages all content marketing initiatives, Kirsten says. This type of ownership is necessary to build consistency in content creation, tone, and style.

After serving as a consultant to Gartner during the pilot and launch of Smarter With Gartner, I joined the company to play this leadership role in partnership with Gartner’s Global Head of PR Tom McCall.

J.P. Medved, my CMWorld co-presenter, made a similar transition. He moved into the content director role between levels 1 and 2 at Capterra. “It is important to have dedicated employees for whom content was their primary job, not just something that got done after their other ‘real’ work was finished,” J.P. says.

It is important to have dedicated employees for whom content is their primary job, says @rizzlejpizzle. Click To Tweet

3. Use the right tools

The content marketing leader can improve the tools necessary to support a fully functioning content development team. When to use a dedicated content marketing platform depends on the size and complexity of the team, Kirsten says. “Most commonly it’s between levels 2 and 3 – before you get to the level of pain where you need it. A small company could survive until Level 4.

“I’ve observed that when brands have five full-time employees working on content marketing, that’s where the pain gets acute enough to warrant investments in process refinement and tooling.”

In Smarter With Gartner’s second year, the team shifted from spreadsheet editorial calendars and Word docs to a collaborative editorial calendar and workflow management tool, paired with collaborative, cloud-based content creation. At first, the team was hesitant about changing. But the shared tools added enough efficiency and ease to win over the team and improve productivity. This took us to Level 3 and a fully operational content marketing program.

Similarly, the team at Capterra used an ad hoc collection of spreadsheets, calendars, and project management tools to track content production and performance. When it reached 10 people, they really felt the pain of trying to make these systems work together. Content was falling through the cracks, causing frustration and slowing growth. That’s when the team began a robust search for the right content marketing tool.

“Though the process of finding and implementing a new, centralized content marketing software was long and involved, there was significant buy-in from the team because everyone was acutely familiar with the pain caused by our existing process and separate tools,” J.P. says.

4. Pay attention to promotion

What do content marketing teams ignore the most?

“Promotion,” Kirsten says. “Content marketers still think, ‘If you write it, they will come.’” Yes, she acknowledges, wonderful content over time eventually may get SEO results. Yet the most successful content marketing programs rely on a combination of owned, earned, and paid strategies and media to support a bigger reach.

We launched Smarter With Gartner in part because the social media team had sizable followings across channels through which we could promote our content. Over time, we added SEO, selected paid and social promotions, and backlinks on media channels to grow the audience.

As you invest in the right mix of promotion, consider your balance of quantity vs. quality content. “There’s no set answer on frequency,” Kirsten says. “Defining a quantity goal out of the gate is the wrong approach.”

Defining a #content quantity goal out of the gate is the wrong approach, says @kirstenpetra. Click To Tweet

The best approach to promotion is to test, evaluate, and refine your mix over time to understand the right quality-quantity mix based on your competitive set. If your competitors publish a high volume of content, you’ll need to increase content production – ensuring that it’s of as good or better quality – to compete in a noisy content marketplace. If not, ensure that you’re creating quality content that will earn you search engine authority and credibility, and eventually visibility, over time.

The best approach to content promotion is to test, evaluate, & refine your mix over time @heathrpemberton. Click To Tweet

These steady paid, earned, and owned content contributions to brand revenue and identity are a key attribute of Level 4 content marketing maturity.

5. Define the right metrics

Also at Level 4, content marketers employ customer insights and closed-loop analytics from integrated systems (CRM, point-of-sale, and other tools) to drive content. By Level 5, data-driven innovation is central to the content ecosystem.

We’ve seen this shift firsthand in the evolution of Smarter With Gartner. At first, we measured success based on metrics such as page views, click-throughs, time on site, newsletter subscribers, etc. As we integrated the content marketing program with the corporate marketing function and content was delivered as part of a marketing automation platform, we tracked acquisition to conversion. This closed-loop system allows us to see how our top content acquires visitors from their top searches and this audience generates the most conversions. The result? We create more content of this type.

Kirsten points out that each organization must determine its specific type of conversion event and develop a relevant strategy. “For a denim brand’s e-commerce site, historical data may show that visitors who see a model in the brand’s jeans are at least six times more likely to become a customer,” she says. “Determine how many pieces of content to serve to meet that hurdle. For another retailer, clicking on the ‘find a store’ button may be the conversion goal. Use that to define what becomes the strategy.”

Conclusion

Recently, the Smarter With Gartner leadership team met to assess our mid-year progress. Were we still on track to reach Level 4 in the Content Marketing Maturity Model? For the most part, yes. This is due not only to the efforts of a dedicated content marketing team that works against a clear strategy and uses the right tools, but to our integration with a broader marketing organization learning how to use content to engage an audience for specific goals.

What level are you trying to reach next in your content marketing maturity – and how are you doing it?

Join Heather Pemberton Levy and J.P. Medved in their Content Marketing 101 session, as well as attend hundreds of other sessions to grow your content marketing program, at Content Marketing World Sept. 5-8. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Heather Levy

Heather Pemberton Levy is author of Brand, Meet Story, How to Create Engaging Content to Win Business and Influence Your Audience (Routledge, Sept, 2016) and writes about content marketing best practices at Storycomesfirst.com. She has developed over twenty trade books and hundreds of articles for major business media. She is currently vice president, Content Publishing at Gartner, the global IT research and advisory firm, where she leads editorial creation and publishing for the company’s branded content platform, Smarter With Gartner, trade books and internal communications. Follow Heather on Twitter at @heathrpemberton.

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