Guest Column | June 4, 2018

5-Time Software CMO Reveals Secrets To Building Inbound Marketing Strategy With A Media-Inspired Content Factory

By Allen Bonde, Small Data Group

Chain Strategy Visibilty Map

As a five-time CMO I’ve seen how storytelling and great content — delivered via helpful blog posts, compelling case studies, or even data-rich studies like Repsly’s “Buzzy Brands” series — can be a magnet for bringing qualified visitors to your website and sparking high-value conversations. In fact, targeted content is not only essential to building your brand and getting mindshare at the top of the funnel, but through linked offers and “bonus” content can be super-effective at boosting the volume of MQLs (at a nominal additional cost) and getting prospects ready to see a demo or take out a trial.

This is the appeal of inbound marketing, where the right mix of brand-forward content, SEO, and social media marketing can draw customers in to learn about your software products and services. And then educate them, and connect them with relevant use cases from their industry, and ultimately motivate them to engage with your business development and sales team.

But like most of marketing, inbound is a numbers game. Blogging is a perfect example: According to HubSpot, B2B companies that blog more than 11 times a month have almost three times more traffic than those blogging zero or one times per month. But blogging is just a start: Forty-three percent of consumers also want to see more video content from marketers (another HubSpot stat), and podcast listening continues to increase as well.

So how do you scale your inbound marketing and create enough rich media content, in the format buyers want, on the channels they visit, without breaking the bank or hiring an army of freelancers? And how can your content team gain better visibility into which content is most in demand while improving access to and reuse of the most popular assets?

The answer lies in deploying a “content factory” in your marketing organization. This content factory takes cues from both the support-desk model and broadcast media in terms of handling content requests from sales and field teams (or media), efficiently scaling the production of assets by tapping internal and external experts and reusing long-form content by “atomizing” it into other smaller pieces, promotions, etc. Here’s how it works.

Aligning Content Supply With Demand: The Actors And Activities

When I first applied this model in 2014 (at a $135M public software company, with significant global operations and distributed sales and field marketing) my goal was to make the most effective use of our two-person content marketing team, broaden our roster of content contributors, and leverage a significant library of technical marketing assets. A key concern was how to bubble up the most valuable assets while avoiding duplication of effort when different field teams made similar requests or were unaware of what another region had already produced.

In this environment there were six key factors:

  • my content marketing manager who acted as “editor-in-chief”
  • campaign owners (field marketers, sales directors, resellers, media partners)
  • content contributors (staff writer, SMEs, executives, or partners)
  • creative team (to create graphics, multimedia outputs)
  • promotion team (who managed our Website, social, and paid syndication)
  • analytics team

While my editor-in-chief was essentially the factory’s “shop foreman,” the other actors played unique roles in the life cycle of new content production, from the initial Request (campaign owner) and Ideation (content team), to Creation of the “reference” asset (contributor and editor-in-chief), to Media production (creatives), Release (promotion), and Measurement (analytics).

Each of these stages was mapped as a process and initially tracked using the Trello project management tool. The request process was deployed using a version of our existing support desk ticketing app.

Getting Creative: Building A Front-End Process To Drive Visibility

As mentioned, a key goal for our factory was improving visibility into what the field needed — and also providing visibility to the field so they could check on requests and also see what content was available (even if they didn’t request it). We were also getting overwhelmed at times with competing priorities so providing some structure around how we received and fulfilled “orders” was job number one. For this reason a Request + Creation Process was the first part we deployed. Here’s how it worked:

  1. Request initiated: campaign owner emails #content-request group with desired media type (e-book, case study etc.), topic/theme, call-to-action, and timeline.
  2. Assignment: core team (editor-and-chief and staff writer) tracks and assigns request or identifies existing asset to ship or modify.
  3. Creation: assigned contributor (team member or outside resource) produces asset, core team tracks, reviews and offers production help, coordinates any creative support, and logs when each stage is complete.
  4. Notification: core team communicates (via Trello and email) updates when content is available, with formats and tips; also team generates weekly digest of new assets and inputs for content newsletter.

In parallel we also had a simpler back-end process to gather data from campaign owners to see how content performed in the field by looking at views, clicks, shares, sign-ups, meetings secured, etc.

Driving Efficiency Through Standard Formats And Atomized Content

Beyond the processes outlined above and looking at creative ways to drive engagement (such as using a cheeky headline or statistic to grab attention, something I recently discussed on my blog), another key element of the content factory is standardizing around a fixed number of media types. Just like a real factory, you can’t just produce anything a customer wants. There are lines that are specialized to make certain SKUs, and suppliers, distributors, and retailers that are set up for certain product types. The same is true for content.

In the example above, we set out to support all the media types in use at the time in the marketing organization including video assets, written assets, live talks (and slide decks), infographics, etc. But perhaps the biggest innovation was producing and encouraging the use of three key “formats” for each piece of content — inspired by broadcast media models (think how a TV show is made up of episodes, segments, and also various promos during a season):

  1. Long form: the “whole show” — such as an e-book or Webinar, offered as premium, gated content and accessed via a landing page or other CTA.
  2. Standard-form: a video feature or case study or blog post, intended to introduce a concept or product with links to long-form “bonus content.”
  3. Short-form: short teasers for social channels promoting a new blog or event, or even a Tweet or Instagram post, with the goal of driving social sharing and awareness of standard form content.

In the original content factory we only gated long form content, but some long form content could be distributed outside of a landing page, say as part of a launch kit or as a printed piece at a tradeshow. At Repsly we have also experimented with gating our latest podcast episodes and occasionally video features when they were particularly timely or featured an exclusive guest.

Our blog (as it is today at Repsly) was our primary distribution channel for original content, but we viewed it also as a stepping off point to gain additional visibility via syndication partners. And a test bed for looking at what might perform well in paid campaigns, plus a key vehicle for starting conversations that were nurtured with additional atomized content offers — driven by insights from how they performed for other campaigns — at each successive stage of the funnel.

About The Author

Allen Bonde is a start-up advisor and founder of Small Data Group, as well as vice president of marketing at mobile CRM provider Repsly. Back in his consulting days he spent time at McKinsey and Yankee Group, and was also co-founder of social marketing pioneer Wyng and head of product marketing & Innovation at OpenText. He started his career as a data scientist in the telecom sector. You can follow him at @abonde.