By Robert Rose published October 27, 2016

The 2017 Content Marketing Framework: 5 Building Blocks for Profitable, Scalable Operations


At Content Marketing World this year, I met the CMO of a mid-sized B2B company. During our discussion about the event (and how great it was), he said, “Robert, you know the thing that I’m missing is how we’re ever going to draw a line from content marketing to top-line revenue. If I can’t do that,” he said, “then I’m not sure we actually should do content marketing.”

My response was that it’s absolutely possible to draw a line to revenue. However, if your only goal is to increase top-line revenue more efficiently with content marketing (i.e., a cheaper investment) than through traditional advertising, you’re missing out on the greater benefits content marketing can offer.

We broke content by being good at it

These days, when I get to have deep conversations about our industry with folks like my CMO friend, I typically find that they have created a near-Faustian “bargain business case” for content. The deal typically goes like this:

Give us permission and budget to create content, and we’ll produce awesome stuff that will be more successful than advertising at driving top-of-the-funnel results.

Interestingly, these promises typically work. Sort of. In fact, even CMI’s new 2017 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research points to things looking up for content marketing: 62% of marketers surveyed say that they are more successful now than they were last year.

62% of marketers say that they are more successful now than they were last year via @cmicontent. #research Click To Tweet

But gains made in the early days of these programs can be deceptive because, in many cases, they mark the first time the company has delivered valuable content to its easiest-to-reach audiences. But soon those audiences will become harder to reach and more demanding (and discerning) when it comes to content they consider valuable. As the content marketing operation matures, it becomes more challenging to find new ways to amp up the impact while keeping up with the increasing demand for higher-quality content. Unfortunately, most such programs eventually reach their breaking point – if they haven’t already.

To compensate for flagging results, many companies seem to feel obliged to publish content more rapidly, at higher volumes, and on more and more digital channels all at once. Unfortunately, organizations that set their sights on pumping out “more-more-faster-faster” rarely put systems and strategies in place to enable all those pieces of content to function as strategic business assets.

We’ve been too successful in simply making the case for content. Now we need to make the case for slowing ourselves down so we can get better at it.

We need to make the case for slowing ourselves down so we can get better at content via @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet

Let’s take a look at how to do that.

Step 1: Adjust your view of content’s value potential

Two common misconceptions typically are to blame when companies struggle with content marketing:

  • The value of content is defined in terms of the assets themselves: Here, the business views content marketing solely as the practice of producing a different kind of sales/marketing collateral, which it can use to fuel its direct-marketing campaigns. Thus, the business assumes that “doing content marketing correctly” means hiring some content creators who deliver materials to brand managers, demand generation teams, or sales teams, who then use it as a new way to get “attention” from prospective consumers.This speaks to the heart of the Faustian bargain and the ever-increasing pressure to meet the demand for content. And while most do, indeed, become moderately successful at pumping out good content, they fail to invest in building anything of lasting value. They simply put in more effort without enabling the returns from those efforts to scale in tandem. Eventually when the well runs dry, they get stuck in an even deeper hole that they’ve dug for themselves, with no plan for how to climb out. At that point, when the business rightly asks, “Why should we invest in more depth? Can’t everyone just start doing more of this kind of content?” or “Can’t we simply outsource this need?” the only solution is to just keep on digging.
  • Content is solely viewed as a more efficient means to a sale: Here, the business believes that the value of content marketing lies in how much more efficient (or effective, in some cases) it is in turning a prospect into a lead or sales opportunity. This is the straight line to revenue that the above-mentioned CMO was so desperately in search of. But here’s the thing: Content may, in fact, be more efficient or effective at closing or attracting new leads. But then again, it might not. The scary truth is that content marketing done well can turn out to be more expensive than advertising or less efficient than a cold call; it can even slow progress through the stages of the brand-consumer relationship. Put simply: Content marketing is often no faster, cheaper, or more effective at moving customers down the funnel than other marketing techniques. However, its greater power lies in its ability to produce a better customer, a more loyal customer, or a customer more willing to share his or her story with others – which compounds the value he or she provides to the business. But when we simply stop the business case at how much more can we squeeze out of the marketing process, we overlook this important potential.

Step 2: Invest in building a more strategic asset

Over six years of deep explorations into our industry’s evolving landscape, CMI has found that the greatest potential for content marketing success lies in viewing content as a strategic business activity that just happens to be performed by marketers, rather than as a marketing and advertising tactic that gets applied for the express purpose of reproducing incremental wins or amplifying upper-funnel marketing results.

As we’ve said for years, content marketing isn’t a replacement for other forms of marketing – it just makes those forms work better. How? Content marketing adds value to the business by building a critical strategic asset: a subscribed audience.

#Contentmarketing adds value to business by building a strategic asset: a subscribed audience via @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet

Put plainly – content marketing is a different kind of investment for marketing, as it offers the potential to provide multiple lines of business value simultaneously. Strategic content creation helps build an engaged audience of people who exhibit specific, desirable behaviors – like greater willingness to share personal data, greater interest in upselling opportunities, and greater brand loyalty and evangelism. When your content compels your audience to adopt these behaviors, not only does it become easier for your business to achieve its long-term marketing goals, it can also open up new business opportunities – and even new revenue streams.

It’s not so much that top-of-the-funnel activities should alter the purpose of content, but rather that content should be strategically designed to add a valuable dimension to all your marketing initiatives by contributing a new form and functionality.

Step 3: Follow our framework to put all the pieces in place

It’s been three years since we unveiled the Content Marketing Framework. At the time, its purpose was to serve as a high-level view of the principles that govern the world of brand storytelling.

Since then, CMI has worked with more than 100 brands, helping them put these core principles into practice. Those partnerships taught us a lot about which parts of the framework worked, which didn’t, and where we still needed to provide greater clarity and transparency.

To better reflect the insights I discussed above – as well as the many shifts that have occurred across the digital ecosystem – we’ve streamlined our original discussion and have added a distinct new process model to each node.

Allow us to introduce the redesigned Content Marketing Framework for 2017. Think of it as a syllabus of sorts, covering the five core elements necessary for running successful, scalable, and highly strategic content marketing operations within an organization:

  • Purpose and goals: Why you are creating content and what value it will provide
  • Audience:  For whom you are creating content and how they will benefit
  • Story: What specific, unique, and valuable ideas you will build your content assets around
  • Process: How you will structure and manage your operations to activate your plans
  • Measurement: How you will gauge performance and continually optimize your efforts
#ContentMarketing Framework is a syllabus for running strategic #contentmarketing operations via @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet

Taken as one cohesive unit, this framework unifies the methodology we teach at CMI University. It is our hope that each of the five nodes serves as a trigger point that helps you understand how to grow stronger, more agile, and more innovative in your approach to creating content that builds value for your customers, as well as for your business.

Instead of continuing to pursue your path of potentially diminishing returns, why not take a step back, rebuild the case for content marketing in your enterprise, and then move forward with a much stronger potential to reach your business goals through content?

Are you ready? Then let’s get started by checking out the 2017 Content Marketing Framework.

Want more on content strategy for marketers? Sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter, which features exclusive insights from CMI Chief Content Adviser Robert Rose. If you’re like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to his thoughts every Saturday.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Robert Rose

Robert Rose is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory - the consulting and education group of The Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with more than 500 companies including global brands such as Capital One, Dell, Ernst & Young, Hewlett Packard, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert is the author of three books. His latest, Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has been said to “rewrite the rules of marketing”. His last book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, was called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” Robert is also an early-stage investor and advisor to a number of technology startups, serving on the advisory boards for a number of companies, such as DivvyHQ and Tint. Follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

Other posts by Robert Rose

  • Sue-Ann Bubacz

    Hi Robert:

    I think content is an asset…an audience-building asset! If your content is terrible, you’ll never build an audience or keep customers engaged. An audience is nice but, ultimately, it’s customers you really want as a result of your content and content marketing efforts.
    Did I mention, I enjoy your work? Thanks for more to think on, as always:) Sue-Ann

  • Roger C. Parker

    This is great, Robert. I especially appreciated your sentence: “However, its [i.e., content’s] greater power lies in its ability to produce a better customer, a more loyal customer, or a customer more willing to share his or her story with others – which compounds the value he or she provides to the business.” Poetry!

    • Robert Rose

      Roger… thank you so much my friend. Really appreciate that.

  • Robert Rose

    Angela – GREAT point…. And something I always advocate – that Content Strategy and Content Marketing Strategy are intimately connected – but VERY different things indeed.

  • Len Diamond

    …the message being “Don’t expect a financial return on it.” How did your CMO friend react to your “greater benefits than revenue” answer?

    • Robert Rose

      See that’s the thing Len, there are other financial returns other than just revenue. So, the message definitely *is not* “don’t expect a financial return”. It is, rather, that there are other (or better said – more) financial benefits than simply focusing only on topline revenue (to be clear I’m not suggesting ignoring revenue).

      There are also things to measure about the cost of that revenue – such as cost of direct ad spend, ASP (average sales price per customer), loyalty, higher NPS, and indirect cost benefits (e.g. not having to spend as much on things like primary research etc..). So, yeah, it seemed to resonate pretty well.

      • Len Diamond

        I broke my own rule when I sent that comment. Instead of setting it out on the windowsill to cool, I fired it off as I wrote it. What I should have said was, “Don’t expect it in our lifetime.”

        My sense is that marketers — the people who have to sell products to stay in business — are having trouble measuring ROI or tracing revenue or sales to content marketing, so the CM industry diverts the conversation to other, “big picture” goals. These can all be achieved eventually, but how long can an average business wait?

        You suggest you agree revenue matters, but — and please understand, I’m not trying to misrepresent you — I think I hear you conceding that content marketing isn’t the vehicle for it. What then? I’ve had discussions (alright, arguments) with other CM people and I find pretty universally they have no use for traditional advertising. If you also take that position, what then would you say is a practical way to generate sales here and now for people who need to do that?

        • Robert Rose

          Ha Len… I have my own 24 hour rule for just that kind of stuff… Love the idea of a windowsill (but now i’m thinking of pie and i digress)… Anyway – your sense is absolutely correct… Most marketers are truly struggling with showing ROI to the revenue side of the equation of content marketing. Mostly this is because most of them treat Content Marketing material as an alternative (or “Supercharged” as the case may be) form of direct marketing or advertising. Thus, they have just as difficult of a time measuring any, one, asset to direct revenue.

          I’m actually not conceding that content marketing isn’t a vehicle for revenue generating activities (see Indium’s Case Study, or Xerox’s Chief Optimist Case studies as examples). My position is that it’s not ONLY (or JUST) a revenue accelerator. It can also be cost reduction. And that brings me to the other point – and I don’t blame you for having arguments with people who have no use for advertising. I LOVE advertising. I love PR, I love Direct Marketing. I’m a guy who actually watches the ads on TV (drives my wife nuts). My point that I’m trying to make is that there’s a case (beyond simple lead generation, or revenue generation activities) to be made for CM to be applied as an accelerator to these activities; to make advertising more effective, PR more efficient, eCommerce more personalized yada yada yada….

          Content marketing is but one arrow in my arsenal as an integrated marketer. When the call for a business goal that can be solved with a marketing approach is made – I want simply to be able to pull the right one, and shoot it straight.

          Hope that’s helpful… Thanks for a fun discussion…

          • Len Diamond

            A pleasure talking with you, Robert. Having had contact mostly with the “Advertising is intrusive shouting at the customer” wing of the CM party I had come to think no one there was rational.

            When I pointed out to one guru talking about an “ad-free society” that he had an ad for his book at the end of his email, he imploded. I was an hour cleaning the invective off my computer screen. Another blew my dissenting comment off with the one-line conversation-ender, “I’m not sure I understand your point, Len” although it was pretty hard to miss. So I still wonder if you may not be an anomaly, but I take it as a hopeful sign.

            Would it be possible for you to provide links to the revenue-generating campaigns you named? I’d like to see how similar or different they are to/from traditional advertising.

          • Robert Rose

            Len… pleasure was mine… Yeah, I’m definitely of the mind that advertising still works… Even better… Advertising CONTENT works even better… But that’s a whole other thing… I always like to think of myself as an anomaly – HA! – Anyway… thanks for the great discourse… Revenue generating content marketing initiatives include Johnson and Johnson’s (operates as a separate division of J&J) – RedBull’s Redbull Media House (sells content, advertising and operates at a profit), Pepsi has just announced that their new content studio will operate at a profit ( and Arrow Electronic’s recent acquisition of Hearst’s and UBM’s Technology magazines and Web sites… Those are just a few…. There may even be a new book in the works (hint hint) by yours truly about these very things… Thanks again for the great comments…

  • Brian Driscoll

    Great information Robert!

    Lately, a client of mine has been having trouble keeping HIS clients on a content plan (and we have decided to overhaul how it works to improve results). I think what you said about goal setting is important. Of course we want more leads, but creating milestones before this goal is a smart way to show the value of the content and to give a clear view for a prospective or recurring client.

    On my way to develop a Rich Audience Database! Keep pumping out the great work!

    • Robert Rose

      Thank you so much Brian… Love this comment… Yes, keep us posted on the success!!

      • Brian Driscoll

        Will do Robert!

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  • Szilágyi Szabolcs

    Hey, realy good content you made heare. 🙂 My question is: how we integrate the content marketing plan in our full digital marketing plan? Is this a part of it, or its a paralel plan we use?

  • Md. Nazrul Islam

    Thank you so much Robert for this great resource