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A 4-Step Approach to Create Content That Hits the Mark


At CMI, we’re in the thick of planning, and there is one theme that surfaces repeatedly: We need to double down on what is working well – and stop doing what isn’t.

There is no simple way to figure out what is effective. However, the first step is to start thinking about effectiveness when you start creating the content. Read on to get some tips from the community at large as well as our panel of B2C research roundtable participants:

  • Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping and Town Inc.
  • Julie Fleischer, senior director, data + content, Kraft Foods Group
  • David Rodgers, senior digital marketing manager, ShurTech Brands
  • Buddy Scalera, senior director, content strategy, The Medicines Company
  • Allen Gannett, CEO, TrackMaven (moderator)

Recognize that customers and prospects want different things

Simply asking what content marketing is effective isn’t sufficient. You must ask it twice – what content is effective for prospects and what content is effective for customers?

A lot of marketers are so focused on making the sale that they forget about retaining their customers (which is a key difference between inbound marketing and content marketing). You simply can’t have the same plan and expect to satisfy both prospects and customers. Buddy explains:

Once they’re your customers, they need different content. I think what you need in an analytics plan is to understand the actual customer. There are fewer of them but they’re more valuable.

I liked the easy-to-understand example Buddy shared. As someone who owns a Honda vehicle, he’s looking for information that will help or improve his Honda experience. That perspective is a lot different than someone who is looking to purchase a car and considering a Honda.

Look for patterns

If you want to double down on what is working, you, of course, need to understand what is working. David shares one example of how ShurTech does it:

So, one of the things that we do regularly – it’s actually a part of our weekly meetings – is seeing what social content worked.

We see the most effective ones and the least effective ones. We look at them and we say, ‘What is the common denominator here? What are they not responding to? Is it because there’s too much of a heavy call to action or is there a certain lifestyle imagery or how-to imagery? Is it the way that we even positioned and styled the images or the copy, even the tone?’

So, when we start to see over and over again successful pieces of smaller social content, we can say, ‘OK, maybe this makes sense for some broader content marketing programs.’

ShurTech’s approach to social content review also can be applied to your website pages and blog posts. This recent tip from Neil Patel is excellent:

… decide which category each of your top posts belongs to. I’d look at your top 10-30 posts, depending on the number of posts you have all together.

You’ll notice that one or two categories get way more views on average than all the rest.

If you simply focus more attention on those categories, not only will you grow your email list but you’ll also grow your overall site traffic.

Explore the patterns in the way you promote the content too. Is certain content more widely shared on certain social networks than others? Even great content can’t be effective if the target audience doesn’t know about it.

Think beyond topics

Now, how do you craft these stories more effectively? This is a super-simple construct from one of my recent favorite books, Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel:

I’m doing a story about X. [This is the topic.]

And what’s interesting about it is Y. [This is the story.]

As Jessica explains:

The topic is just part of the story idea, it’s the first half of the XY story formula. ‘I’m doing a story about X.’ X can be a person, an event, or even an idea. But if you haven’t got a Y, a pretty engaging, surprising Y, you never leave topic-land and arrive at a story. Work out a good Y, and you’ll identify your hook and you’ll have your story.

Decide on your format

So now you have your story. The next question to ask is how will you communicate the story? Will it be a post? A video? An infographic? A combination of several formats? Here is a quick approach.

1. List all the formats you could create – blog post (with or without images), podcast, infographic, video, webinar, etc.

2. Rate each format based on how feasible it is to create based on resources available to you. For example, use a scale of 0-5, with 0 being “no brainer – we have all the resources and time” to 5 being “few and far between – we don’t have the expertise or budget to create on a regular basis.”

3. Identify the most likely way your audience will consume each format. Content is more effective when it is delivered in ways the audience wants to consume it. For example, if your audience spends 60 minutes a day commuting, they are more likely to consume a podcast than a video.

4. Add available analytics for each format, incorporating your track record on which ones work better than others.

Remember, you don’t have to limit your story to a single format. You can repurpose it into multiple formats as long as you do it thoughtfully and deliberately.


While this is a simplified process, it covers the basics of how to think through what you should create more of and how to iterate on what you have. What other suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comments.

View the other B2C and B2B research videos in these roundtable discussions:

Want to be more effective in your headline creation? Learn the best techniques to capture reader attention in CMI’s How to Cook Up a Killer Content Marketing Headline.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute