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The Three-Legged Stool Strategy of Content Marketing

I started in the publishing industry over a decade ago. At that time, we used an antiquated publishing strategy called the “three-legged stool.” The concept was that, in order to be the industry’s leading media content provider, we needed to be the expert provider of information using online, print and in-person – the three legs of the stool.

Funny thing is, this strategy is still the core to content marketing effectiveness today. If our goal is to be everywhere our customers are, we need to consider all these media channels as part of the larger plan. This is also how we execute our strategy here at the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). Let me share how we do this.


The Blog
Our belief is that the center of the online content marketing strategy can and should be the blog. Yes, a blog is just a tool, but it is a very powerful tool for sharing and spreading our content, and making sure we are found in search engines.  Since May, we have published a blog post on every business day, which has led to a consistent 25% growth in monthly website traffic since day one.

In order to meet this kind of content demand, our content director (Michele Linn) helps coordinate over 50 different content marketing expert contributors. Those experts help make CMI go.

Content Curation
Content curation is the concept that we become the “expert filter” for our customers and deliver the best of what the industry has to offer, similar to a museum curator who presents only the best works of art. We do this through a number of tactics, including:

Downloadable Case Studies/eBooks/White Papers
We are big believers that you have to mix up content to stay relevant. With this kind of strategy, bigger content packages are a must, such as:

  • Case Studies – CMI develops ongoing case studies, such as these on Eloqua and Incept, as visual eBook presentations. These case studies are available as part of our free PRO premium membership.
  • Gated eBooks and White Papers – 99% of our content is always free and ungated, but we do have a goal of collecting information about our readers to continue the dialogue.  To capture this objective, we develop content packages that require some sign-up information like this white paper on attracting and retaining customers with content. That said, we also develop eBooks where the goal is social sharing, like this Content Marketing Playbook eBook.

For all the talk about email being less effective, email still works when it’s relevant and useful, and it can be a great way of providing a “non-sales” touch to your readers and customers on a consistent basis. Since we’ve launched the company (four years ago), we’ve maintained communication with our readership with a weekly enewsletter.  If you can’t do weekly, start off as monthly with a permission-based communication tool.

Online Research
Your goal is to be the leading content provider for your niche.  Since that is the case, you need to help shape the industry with consistently relevant research.  At CMI, we try to develop research that makes sense, including this Content Marketing Benchmarks study (annual), as well as partner studies like this social media usage study.

Bloggers and media companies love compelling, original research. CMI and Junta42 have been cited thousands of times in webinars, in-person events, tweets and blog posts specifically because of this original research.


This quote from Chris Brogan puts the importance of print in perspective:

“We…have to remember that the physical world exists, and that there are times when we have to bridge into that world [with print].”

For years I’ve witnessed big brands move their content away from print  to web on an exclusive basis, only to come back when they don’t see the results they once used to. If print is not part of your content strategy, start considering it now.

Print Magazine
In 2010, I made the case in this blog post that there was an opportunity in print. As we have grown, we’ve been able to expand our presence in print format with the launch of Chief Content Officer magazine.  CCO launched as a quarterly 24-page supplement to BtoB magazine as a strategic resource for marketing executives (we also have a European and Australian version of CCO).

From just the first issue, we’ve received hundreds of comments and thousands of qualified sign-ups to the magazine. Needless to say, it has surpassed our expectations.

But don’t think you must develop a magazine, which can be costly considering printing and postage. Alternatively, you might think about:

  • A print newsletter
  • Postcards with helpful tips
  • QR Codes on signage, vehicles or even business cards that links to content


The Industry Event
I’ve been lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) to have attended more than 50 in-person events over the past year. Some think, with the rise of social media and online marketing, that in-person events would be suffering.  In fact, they are thriving.  Attendance is up across the board.  Social media has fueled the increase and need to meet face-to-face.

If you want to be the leading content provider in your industry, that also means holding an in-person event, with the ultimate goal of it being THE industry event for your particular niche (to drive customer relationships and sales). This is our goal as well.  In September of this year, we’ll hold Content Marketing World, which by all indications will be the largest content marketing focused event in the world – with over 50 speakers in literally every content marketing area of expertise imaginable [early bird rate ends April 30th and we’ll most likely sell out, so sign up today].

What’s Next?

Now, in the past decade, the three-legged stool strategy has certainly added additional legs to the stool. Consider mobile, database and directory strategies, tablets, premium content strategies and more to add to the mix.

But as for right now, and into the next decade, the trusted content provider will need to continue to focus on the three key legs of the stool – online, print and in-person. If you are having trouble getting the content marketing strategy you need, you may actually be missing a leg to your stool.