How to Get Content Marketing Right

  • Research what customers want
  • Choose your channels
  • Create content that’s shareable
  • Promote across all channels
  • Measure performance
  • Optimize to boost engagement

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You’ve heard it a million times: you have to “do” more content marketing.

So you do it.

Or try to.

You write blog posts, you post all over social media, and you try to engage your audience anywhere and everywhere you can find them.

But while everyone else is talking about their killer results, you’re getting hassles and headaches. Certainly no results.

So you stop content marketing entirely. And you think that’s a good call… until you read someone else’s post about how absolutely incredibly wonderfully powerful content marketing is and how, if you’re not doing it, you’re crazy and yo’ mama’s crazy and your business is gonna die a soon and certain death. …Aaaaand you wanna throw your computer at them.

The truth is most people suck at content marketing. Even the people who rave about it.

Because doing it right is H.A.R.D.

And it takes way more time to see results than we’re used to.

BUT! When you get it right, content marketing is awesome. I know it is. I’ve helped dozens of businesses – like Google and thought leaders such as Jenny Blake and Gabby Bernstein – create better copy and content. And now I’m leading content at Copyhackers. So I know the power of content marketing. I also know that it takes not only a hefty amount of work but also a ton of discipline… and some sweet formulas and frameworks. Which is what I’m gonna help you with. 

Content marketing will help you understand your customers and potential customers more. It will get your ideas and products in front of decision makers and influencers. And it will help you make more sales with a lot less selling. (And, honestly, who among us wants to feel like we’re selling? Not I.)

If you’re not getting results from your content marketing, here’s the harsh truth: you currently suck. But all is not lost! This playbook will de-suckify you. And open your business to the power of content marketing. 

Here’s Why You Wanna Get Content Right

Seventy percent of B2B marketers created more content in 2015 than in 2014, and 48% of B2B marketers have a content strategy. Why? Because great content gets shared, brings in leads and widens your funnel – for a helluvalot less, in most cases, than paid ads.

The Content Marketing Institute spells out the value of content well:

  • Content marketing generates 3x the number of leads paid search does, per dollar spent (source)
  • Content creation is the single most effective SEO technique (source)
  • 27 million pieces of content are shared every day (source)
  • 80% of business decision-makers prefer to learn about a company in articles vs in ads (source)
  • 82% of consumers feel more positive about a business after consuming custom content (source)

And if you’re still not sure whether content marketing is worth investing in – and doing right – here’s a deck to convince you:

Mastering the Buy-In Conversation on Content Marketing: The Essential Starter Kit from Content Marketing Institute

How to Use This Content Marketing Playbook

This playbook is divided into seven repeatable, proven steps.

But let me be clear: content creation and content marketing aren’t part of a perfectly linear process.

That’s why you should set aside about 10 minutes to read this playbook. Get a sense of the big picture (especially if you’re just getting your content marketing plan off the ground). Appreciate how fluid content marketing is. And return to each step when you need to. 

Step 1 – Set Your Direction

Before you begin creating content, you have to get clear on your goals. It seems obvious, I know, but the reason why content marketing strategies fall apart is because there’s no set direction. And when there’s no set direction, people rarely follow through. In step 1 you’ll define why you’re creating content, who you’re creating it for, and what you want to achieve from it.

Step 2 – Do Your Research (And Never Hire Bananas)

In step 2 you’ll research your ideal customers through the “Jobs-to-Be-Done” framework. When I work with clients, I position it like this: Your audience wants something. Maybe they want to feel like genius writers and master storytellers, or they want to make their boss say, “Wow, you killed it with that latest design,” or maybe they want to go to bed at night no longer worrying about how they’re going to get their business up and running. They want a solution that will solve their problems and if they don’t get it from you, they’re going to get from someone else. In this part you’ll design a strategy that turns them into YOUR loyal and raving fans.

Step 3 – Choose Your Channel

Once you’ve identified your goals and researched what your ideal customers struggle with the most, it’s time to determine the channel or channels where you can have the biggest impact with your story. There are a thousand and one marketing channels–or 43–and you need to find the best place to deliver your content and maximize it for each stage in the buying cycle.

Step 4 – Create Content That’s Useful, Clickable and Shareable

Whether you’re creating your content, or you have a team that’s doing it, you need to know how to produce content that’s useful, clickable and shareable. And you have to do it consistently. In step 4 you’ll learn the value of storytelling, the surprising places to find the best writers, and how to stand out from your competition.

Step 5 – Promote More Than Seems Reasonable

Most content creators spend 80% of their time creating content and then 20% of their time promoting it. That’s backwards. In step 5 you’ll learn what do with your content once you’ve created it so you can get returns on it for years to come. Once you figure out how to increase engagement, sales and retention, you’ll be hooked.

Step 6 – Measure and Monetize 

Even though this is step 6, you don’t have to go through the five previous stages before you start seeing a monetary return on your investment. Think of these seven steps more like a lily pad than a ladder. In this section you’ll determine when to start shaking the money tree, how to diversify your streams of income, and how to position yourself for unexpected and very lucrative opportunities.

Step 7 – Take Out the Big Red Pen: Repurpose, Improve and Increase Your Audience Engagement with Low-Hanging Fruit

Chances are you’re leaving money on the table. And I’m pretty sure you’re not cool with that. So in step 7 I’ll share how to make sure none of your ideas or content falls through the cracks, and give you the quick and dirty tool to ensure you keep your fans raving, the momentum going, and the money rolling in.

Let’s get started.

Step 1

Set Your Direction

The majority of marketers don’t have a documented content marketing strategy – only 35% do.

The other 65% fly by the seat of their pants. They communicate on a variety of channels, guided by nothing more than the other content out there telling them this is what they should be doing. They may have identified their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for their business as a whole, but not for their content marketing specifically.

But, according to research done by the Content Marketing Institute, marketers with a documented marketing strategy are:

  • Far more likely to consider themselves effective at content marketing
  • Far less challenged with every aspect of content marketing
  • Generally more likely to consider themselves more effective with every tactic and social media channel
  • Able to justify a higher percentage of the marketing budget to be spent on content marketing

Okay, so documenting your strategy is a good idea, but where do you start?

Unfortunately, there’s no one fantastic template for a content marketing strategy because there are just too many variables to consider. However, here are 6 questions to ask yourself and your team as you begin to set the direction for your strategy.

1. What do you hope to accomplish with your content marketing? (e.g., brand awareness, lead and customer conversions, retention)

2. Is there demand for your content? What are the pain points you can solve with your content and are there enough people paying attention to justify your plan?

3. What valuable experience can you deliver at each stage of the buyer’s journey?

4. What resources do you have to execute your plan? Will it impact other marketing initiatives? Do you have the team to execute? If not, what talent holes do you need to fill?

5. Do you have the time? Not only the time to execute it, but the time it takes to start seeing results? Content marketing is a patient person’s game. Are you willing to put in the work, over the long term?

6. What happens if your strategy fails? What do you have to lose if it does? Is it worth the risk?

Once you and your team are able to answer all of those questions, and you’re ready to move forward with your plan, it’s a good idea to craft a content marketing mission statement.

What’s a content marketing mission statement, you ask? It’s a single statement that will help you stay committed to your goals and ensure everyone is working toward them.

If at any point during the execution of your plan it feels as if you’ve gone off track, go back to this statement and make sure your actions are aligned with it. If they’re not, determine what needs to change. Has your mission changed? Or have your actions gone unchecked and you and your team need to refocus your efforts?

Here’s a fill-in-the-blank template you can use to help craft your content marketing mission statement:

We’ll become the best ________________ for ___________________ who are interested in __________________. This will help us become the ________________ and ________________.  And unlike _____________, we do ______________ differently by _______________.

Here’s an example of the template in action:

We’ll become the best dating site for location independents who are interested in meeting people who also love working on the road and living out of a suitcase. This will help us attract the most members and become the largest and most successful niche dating site online. And unlike most of our competitors who rely solely on virtual matches, we host free “group” dates in locations all over the world so our members can combine their love of travel with their desire to meet the love of their life.

Your content marketing strategy is born out of that mission statement. 

Soon, it’ll be your turn to create a strategy. We’ll give you a big ol’ template for that at the end of the post. (It’s called the Content Marketing Toolkit for Startup Marketers.) But before you fill in that, on to Step 2…

Step 2

Do Your Research (And Never Hire Bananas)

Now that you’ve set your direction, it’s time to research what your ideal customers really want.

Without knowledge of what problems your ideal customer is trying to solve, putting a content marketing plan in place is just as useful as doing nothing.

But before we dig in, I want to warn you. I don’t do personas. It’s not because I hate them. I just like the Jobs-to-Be-Done Framework better. It’s kind of like chocolate ice cream. I don’t hate it. But I’ll always pick vanilla because it makes me want to do a happy dance and chocolate doesn’t.

Content Week and JobsSo what is the Jobs-to-Be-Done framework? It actually has a lot in common with the persona approach; it’s really just a difference in focus.

Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School and architect of the framework makes this distinction:

“The customer is the wrong unit of analysis for innovators to focus on. Instead, focus on the job that customers are trying to get done when they use your product or service.”

When he first talked about this concept with his co-authors in a 2007 article in MIT Sloan Management Review: Finding the Right Job for Your Product, he gave the example of how people at a fast food chain were “hiring” milkshakes to do a job for them – as a food to consume early in the morning, while driving on a long, boring commute.

“By focusing not on the customer for the product but, more specifically, on what the customer was trying to do—consume a filling food on a boring daily drive—the fast-food company could customize the product for its early-morning milkshake buyers in ways to make it more effective in that function. It also gave the company a greater understanding of its competition—which, in the case of the morning milkshake, ranged from bananas to doughnuts.”

Note: Don’t hire bananas to do a job a milkshake could do.

In essence, the JTBD Framework takes out the “who” and focuses instead on the “what” and “why” of consumer behavior. It frames purchasing decisions as a choice to “hire” a product or service to do a job.

When I pay a monthly fee to my yoga studio, I’m not just buying yoga classes, I’m “hiring” my yoga studio to ease my stress, reduce my back pain, and make me feel more relaxed on a daily basis. In that case, my yoga studio is not really competing with other yoga studios to get my business. They’re competing with other solutions that provide me the same benefits, such as massage therapists, conventional gyms, and maybe even a mattress store.

The reason JTBD is so helpful for startup marketers like you is this: you’re not creating your segments of users based on demographics or personas but rather based on motivations, context and triggers. People don’t buy survey software because they’re 34, female and university graduates; they buy survey software because they are motivated to complete a survey task. That’s critical when you’re writing content, writing copy, planning campaigns and even thinking about your value proposition…

So how do you use the JTBD Framework?

The JTBD Framework involves interviews with customers designed to uncover the moments of struggle that led them to “hire” your product or service. Joanna has been super-lucky to sit on JTBD interviews with Bob Moesta, in which he employed a “documentary”-style interview approach (which you really have to experience to truly appreciate). 

Alan Klement recommends these strategies and tactics to find the struggling moments when you’re ready to conduct your interviews:

1. Start by interviewing people who have purchased and used your product or service or one similar to it.

2. Interview in teams of 2. That way, while you’re jotting down a note or thinking about a response, your interview partner can jump in and keep things moving.

3. Ask them actual questions about their struggles. For example, start with, “Take me back to the last time you did your taxes.” Then, like a cameraman, inspect that moment from all angles until you find the story. Then move on to the next point in their journey, looking for the struggle.

4. Avoid assumptions. We may think that a person is doing their taxes while sitting at home, when in fact, it’s the week before taxes are due, they’re on a cramped airplane that’s about to land, and they’re desperately trying to finish before the steward comes by and tells them to close their laptop.

Klement says:

“This level of detail is important to us because, as we craft our messages, it changes from a more generic and over-abstracted “Do your taxes faster & better” to “You’ll never again have to worry about how you’re going to fit ‘doing your taxes’ into your busy life.”

Ross Belmont offers an interview template and a great walkthrough on exactly how to use it.

JTBD Framework Interview Template

Getting deep inside your customers’ heads and learning what they’re trying to get done will help you create and execute a content marketing plan that’ll actually work.

Want to learn more about the Jobs-to-Be-Done Framework? Check out this and this.

Step 3

Choose Your Channel

In 1990, there were approximately 8 channels to communicate with customers. Today, there are approximately 43.

It’s good news in that now any startup can attract attention, not just the ones with the biggest budgets. And you’ll be rewarded based on the substance of your message. The challenge is to choose the channels that will get you the most traction… while taking care not to spread yourself too thin.

Chances are you’ll learn more about the channels your customers frequent the most in your JTBD interviews, and that’s a great place to start.

(A bad place to start, by the way, is to listen to the advice from idiot marketers out there who tell you that you MUST be here or there or wherever the hell the channel of the month hour happens to be.)

The truth is, you can have a significant on- and offline presence and build a platform that delivers a great ROI by ignoring most of the channels.

So, how do you choose the right one? Easy. Choose the one your customers use.

How do you know which ones they’re using? Ask them.

Please don’t guess. It rarely works. And if you don’t have enough time, interest and energy to get on the phone with your customers or take them out to lunch, you probably shouldn’t be in business anyway.

I was recently working with a few clients who resisted every suggestion I made to do research into the thoughts and behaviors of their ideal clients. Here’s how those convos commonly went:

Client: “I already know what our customers want. I know what they think. I know what they do. I’ve been working with them for 12 years.”

Me: “Great. I’d love to see the research you’ve done over the years.”

Client: “The point is, what should we create?”

Me: “If I could just see the research…”

Client: “No, no, no. What should we write in our emails?”

Me: “I have no idea. If you’ve already done all of the ‘research’ or at least you already know everything the research would tell you, then you should know exactly what they want you to create, exactly what words they use to describe their struggles, and where they go to find the answers.”

…And now I’m working at Copy Hackers. Because trying to convince clients to look outside themselves for answers is very difficult, sadly – so now I’m going to work to convince YOU. Because you will uncover new types of content to create and the exact channels to serve when you put a priority on listening to your current and potential customers through JTBD interviews.

Get to love customer research. Or find somebody who does. It’ll make everything you do in your marketing easier.

Which brings us back to which channels you should use.

This infographic from Web Marketing Group suggests 3 ways to determine which channel(s) to focus your content efforts on:

  1. By who you’re targeting and where they’re already hanging out.
  2. By type of channel (owned, paid and earned).
  3. By time and money.

Choosing the Right Media Channel

I recommend choosing a primary channel where you’ll spend most of your time, money and effort. And then slowly build out from there. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin and then realize you’re not getting traction anywhere.

For example, I’ve had a lot of clients go crazy on social media as their primary channels and then get burnt out and lose momentum on their campaigns. But a big social media push is like a bad diet. It dies (along with the results) the minute you stop.

The key to success on any of the channels you choose is consistency. So experiment with a couple of them and then make your final choices based on the results you get combined with the interest and bandwidth you have for maintaining and growing your presence on each one.

In order to help you track your results, goals and activity on the different channels, there’s a Channel Plan Checklist in the Content Marketing Toolkit for Startup Marketers available at the bottom of this post…

Step 4

Create Content That’s Useful, Clickable and Shareable

A few years ago I was planning a birthday party for my 6-year-old daughter.

If you have or know one of these little humans, you know that birthday parties are kind of a big deal.

The cake, the party favors, and even the dang napkins matter a lot.

I’m not mom of the year when it comes to parties and you won’t find balloon ladies or reptile sanctuaries or cute little ponies in my backyard on party days.

But on this occasion I wanted to at least get the basics down. I planned out the cake: monsters. I got the napkins and the plates: more monsters. And then I got to the party favors… and there were no monsters. So because I already had a basket full of monster accessories, and I didn’t want to take the time to rethink the theme, I just grabbed a bunch of sparkly pink tiaras because, well, what little girl doesn’t like tiaras?

When I came home and proudly showed my daughter my stash, she said, “I like tiaras and all, but this doesn’t make any sense. Why didn’t you get something about monsters?”

I said, “You’re right. But they didn’t have monster party favors so I got you tiaras.”  

The fact that I totally blew the whole theme made me think about content marketing. (I think that means I need a vacation.) And how people, companies and brands blow the theme all the time. They create content just to get something out, but it doesn’t fit with the theme of their business. Or more importantly, the goals of their business. And it leaves their audience either scratching their heads because they’re holding sparkly pink tiaras that they most definitely did not ask for. Or it prompts them to just get the hell out of there because they know the party’s gonna blow…

Content marketing is about inviting people to a party they can’t wait to come to. A party that’s going to make them appear smarter, better informed and super interesting to everyone they meet. A party that makes so much sense and is so aligned with their goals that they don’t want to leave.

That’s the kind of party I’m helping you out with today. And it starts by creating content that your people will devour like it’s chocolate-and-vanilla monster cake.

Here are the 5 ingredients you need to create remarkable content:

  1. A repeatable process
  2. An idea intake machine
  3. A masterful storyteller
  4. A big goal and a subgoal
  5. A (happening) place to share your ideas

Now let’s dig into them.

#1 – A Repeatable Creative Process

I’ve been a writer for 20 years, so this process is home to me. However, as a startup founder or part of a startup team tasked with jumping in whenever and wherever you can, especially if writing’s not your primary reason for being, the process of going from idea to final words on a page might not feel quite as natural to you yet.

Here’s my process when it comes to writing a blog post or any other type of long-form content. If you like it, use it each time you’re ready to write a new piece. If you don’t like it, find something that works for you and stick with it. When you have a consistent process, you’ll do it consistently.

Get your head right. Writing content when you’re in a bad mood is like drinking and driving. It’s not good for anyone. So, tap into the excitement of what you’re doing–helping people who are actually looking and begging for your help. And then write like you’re delivering the best gift they’ll get all day.

Choose a topic. More importantly, choose a topic you know about and your audience wants to know about. I usually choose a topic and give it a working title. Then I come up with three strong points related to it. Maybe it’s an opinion I’m testing out, I have a case study related to it, or I just learned some super juicy (and interesting, please) facts that would make them want to read more.

For example, did you know that if you can get people to read the first 3-4 sentences of your article, they’re more likely to read your entire article? And that the width of your content matters? It does.

Write down everything you know about that topic. Let’s say you’re writing a post about how to write a story. You would turn on your timer for 10 minutes and jot down every single idea you have about that topic. Don’t let your pen leave the page. Just get it all out. And when you think you can’t say any more, say more.

Walk away. Now that you have all of those ideas fresh in your mind, get away from the computer. Take a walk, run a mile, take a shower or do something else that’s mindless. While you’re doing this mindless work, but using your body, your mind will start putting together everything you wrote down and mashing it up with things you never would have thought of had you stayed tied to your desk. This is what movement does to our brains. It makes us smarter. And it allows us to take average ideas and make them great.

Research. Now that you’ve landed on your idea, start your research.

The first thing I do is put my keyword or keyword phrase into BuzzSumo (my favorite research tool) and see what other blog posts have addressed this topic.

I’ll read the top 10 and all of the comments, which frequently include information about what people think the author left out.

That will give me some initial ideas of what to include in my post.

Buzz Sumo

Next, I’ll do the same thing on Amazon. I’ll put in my keyword or keyword phrase and look for recently published books that have more than 50 reviews. Then I’ll read the reviews, looking primarily for comments that mention what the reader thought was missing from the book. I’ll copy key ideas (a great way to use the language of your audience) and then paste them into my working Google doc.


Finally, I’ll spend time reading the blogs of the thought leaders in my space to see what other gaps I might be able to fill in my post.

Make sure during this research process that you’re documenting any sources and make sure you mark the ideas that aren’t yours so you don’t accidentally use them in your work without giving credit.

On my Google doc I always mark ideas I got from someone else in bright pink highlights. So there’s no way I’ll miss them when it’s time to write the first draft, which is next.

Write a rough draft. When it comes to writing the rough draft, also called a spit draft, just get all of your ideas out on the paper. Don’t worry about picking the perfect words and phrases just yet. Let your post take shape without too much in-the-moment editing. You’ll have plenty of time to edit it later.

Organize your research and links into the draft. Once you complete your spit draft, go back to your research notes–I usually keep these at the bottom of the doc–and start dropping your links, graphics and screenshots into the draft. This allows you to give your mind a break and it brings the post to life. It also gives you a sense of where you might need to add more research or proof to better make your points.

Walk away. Again, give your mind a chance to rest. Ideally you’ll be able to sleep on it and come back to it fresh. If you’re short on time, taking a power nap or doing something physical will boost your creativity and get you ready for the editing process. Apparently beer and coffee are a good combo to have in your toolbox for the next step.

Edit your piece. This is where the real work begins, so give yourself plenty of time to focus on it. Begin by printing out your document. Next, grab a pen and read it out loud as if you were your ideal reader. You’ll catch exponentially more mistakes if you read it out loud. There are times when I’ve also had a friend read it out loud because that helps me to catch problems with flow and cadence that are hard to catch when I know how it’s “supposed” to sound.

During this phase, make sure your links are working, your sources are cited, and your facts have been checked and checked again.

Have it edited by a professional. If you have an editor you respect, you’re one lucky duck. If you don’t, get one. This doesn’t have to be someone on your staff. You can find great freelance editors who will be well worth the investment. An editor worth their salt can make a good piece great and they’ll also give you the added bonus of knowing that the work you put out is the best it can be. 

Make final edits. If your editor has requested changes, give it one final pass and then get it ready for publishing.

This creative process can be used whether you’re writing a blog post, print magazine article, white paper, webinar script, or basically anything that requires more than 140 characters and a photo.

But this is not about adopting my process. It’s about finding a process, rhythm and flow that work for you and supports you in creating the most useful content possible.

Now let’s move on to the second ingredient you need to create remarkable content.

#2 – An Idea Intake Machine

As I mentioned above, part of the creative process involves coming up with a topic or idea worthy of exploration. I wish I did have a machine that would just spit out ideas on command but until robots catch up to me, I use a simple Google spreadsheet to hold all of my ideas. When it’s time to write a new piece, it helps to have deep reserves to pull from.

I have this tab open in my browser 24/7 and each time I read an article, a post, a tweet, or a comment that inspires me, I grab it and plop it in my doc.

I usually keep one tab on the sheet filled with general topic ideas and then I carry those topic ideas to this sheet. That way I can sort by that column when I’m ready to write a piece of content on it.

You’ll find this template on tab 8 in the Content Marketing Toolkit for Startup Marketers.

Content Ideas

Here’s a great infographic from Richard Darell at Bit Rebels that shows the visual process of coming up with content ideas. Whether you’re a writer coming up with ideas for a client or you are the client, all of the same steps apply. Creating-Good-Content-Ideas-Infograhic

#3 – A Masterful Storyteller

I think journalists get a bad rap. But that’s just because the news has become a cesspool of fear- and panic-inducing propaganda and what the hell, they have bills to pay too.

But they’re damn good storytellers, and that’s what you need when it comes to creating content and telling the story of your brand.

I heard someone say–or maybe I read it–that their best content creator had spent 10 years as a bartender prior to writing for them.

It makes sense. Can you imagine anyone with better stories? Or anyone who has heard more stories in the course of their career? Maybe a hairdresser.

The point is, content marketing is all about telling your story. And since this is a looooooooong game, and you’ve gotta write thousands of bits of copy over the course of the life of your business, you need to find someone, or many someones, who can come up with a thousand ways to tell your story.

My suggestion: Mine the interwebs, LinkedIn and job boards for a former journalist/bartender/hairdresser turned wannabe pro writer. I’m not kidding.

Here’s an example of great content marketing. Without the marketing. This is storytelling.

What if you could tell stories like this?

Another suggestion: Do not mistake copywriters for content creators. Sometimes they’re one and the same. Often, they are as different as night and day. So, the copywriter who’s writing your onboarding emails or landing pages is probably not going to be the same person who’s writing your blog posts or white papers. At least not in a perfect world. They have similar but different skills sets; if at all possible, give them assignments that will let them shine.

#4 – A Big Goal and a Subgoal

You already know your big goal. You identified that in the first step of this process. But each piece of content needs to honor that big goal while at the same time focusing on a subgoal. Maybe it’s to drive someone to a free webinar, to get people to respond to questions, or to make people aware of an update in your software they’ve been asking for. Whatever it is, make sure you have a goal for each piece of content and make sure it aligns with your big goal before you hit publish.

#5 – A (Happening) Place to Share Your Ideas

It’s a very sad reality that many pieces of content go to die on blogs that nobody’s reading. Great ideas get posted there with high hopes and then… crickets. This is certainly possible when you’re first starting out. Which is why I always recommend having a wingman.

Your wingman is a blog, a group or a social media platform hosted by someone who is already talking to people who really want to see your content. Because your content is going to be awesome. And useful. And make them say, “Holy hell! Where can I get more of that?” At which point they will end up on your blog, which will cause them to say nice things about you, which will create the exact ripple you were hoping for.

This is great and all, but how do you make your content stand out?

This is the question everyone knows they need to answer, but just thinking about it makes most want to abandon their marketing efforts altogether. So much pressure.

If you’re the first to market, differentiation is pretty easy. But if you’re first to market, you’ve got other problems to worry about, such as convincing people to want what you have to offer.

But what if you’re a startup marketer marketing a product or service with a lot of competition? How do you stand out from all of the other startups who are sending out newsletters, posting on Facebook, and following cookie-cutter marketing tactics that make you want to scream?

Producing more of the same is not going to get you the results you want.

What will is the Content Tilt. According to Joe Pulizzi in his book Content Inc.,

“The content tilt is that area of little to no competition on the web that actually gives you a fighter’s chance of breaking through and becoming relevant. It’s not only what makes you different, it’s so different that you get noticed by your audience. That audience rewards you with their attention.”

So, how do you find your tilt?

According to Pulizzi, first employ the Press Release Method. Second, ask your potential readers. Third, leverage Google Trends.

Recently I was working with a client who was in a very crowded space–online dating. Her content was good, but good is not good enough. Good is expected. It has to be remarkable and different.

So I hopped onto Google Trends to see if I could help her uncover a potential content tilt.

I discovered that the interest over time for online dating is down considerably for that term. Google Trends Interest However, moving down the page there’s a section called “Related searches.” This could have been a potential source for her tilt. Google Trends Term Queries about “lesbian dating” are up 650%. And queries about “lesbian online dating” are up 600%. If she were looking to really narrow her niche and stand out, instead of just focusing on online dating in general, the data might have supported exploring the idea of focusing on becoming an online dating coach for lesbians.

Once you have a potential tilt, ask your readers what they think of your idea. If you don’t have an audience yet, you can run your ideas by friends and family who are closest to your target market.

In the case of my former client, she had already built a hugely successful offline matchmaking company. And she had a list that was engaged and loved her content. If she were interested in testing the online dating for lesbians market, she could have sent out a quick survey (using a tool like Survey Monkey) to see if anyone raised their hands. If they did, she could follow up to get more information and determine whether or not it made sense for her to explore that niche in her marketing.

The real truth about finding your tilt is that you’ll never find it unless you put yourself out there and create content on a regular basis. Content marketing is not something you dabble in. So, begin or restart your content creation process and pay attention to all of the sneak peeks you get along the way that give you clues as to how to differentiate yourself and your offerings. They’re out there, you just have to pay attention.

My final thought on the subject is this:

What would your audience do if your content was gone?

If the answer is “nothing” or “they’d just find someone else to follow,” you’ve got a problem.

There are a handful of blogs that I read on a consistent basis. Each have 1000s of posts in their archives and I’ve read every last one of them. If they left and took their content with them, I would cry. Just like I cried when my favorite massage therapist took off to France to make cheese. (Although, can you blame her?) I’d cry because there’s nobody else like them. There’s nobody else that delivers consistently good, personality-driven content, on a topic I love, like they do.

That’s what you want to strive for. Everyone talks about how there’s so much noise out there and nobody wants to read blog posts and tweets anymore. That’s a cop-out. Nobody wants to read boring and stale regurgitations that are 100% derivative and 0% interesting.

There’s still room for greatness. No matter what industry you’re in.

So, produce the kind of content that’s so good they’ll cry when it’s gone.

And then, move on to step 5 of your content marketing strategy, which is all about promotion.

Step 5

Promote More Than Seems Reasonable

In 2005 I started my first blog. I wrote 3-5 posts a week. For years. My promotion strategy? Nonexistent. I spent 100% of my time creating and 0% of my time promoting. Fortunately, back in those days you could get away with that lame strategy and still get a few eyes on it.

But today, that would never happen.

If you want eyes on your content, and you want people talking about it, you have to promote it like it’s an Olympic sport.

It takes time and effort and – most importantly – consistency. But all that work is WORTH IT. Here’s how to do it.

1. Create a “Marketing Promotion Checklist” spreadsheet. Or, you know, use the one I created for you on tab 13 of the toolkit below. Here’s a sneak peek at it.

Marketing Promotions Checklist

2. Make a list of all of the places you could be promoting your content. When it comes to your owned media, you should be using every opportunity you have to promote your content. However, when it comes to social media and third-party platforms, pick the channels you decided to focus on in step 3 of this playbook.  It would be great to do everything, but chances are you don’t have the time to do everything and do it well.

3. Each time you create a piece of content, consult columns b-d and make notes of what you did and when and what the results were. This is a great way to keep track of your efforts and to see what channels are giving you the best results. It’ll also help you determine when you’ve built a strong enough foundation in one that you can start experimenting with your next channel of choice.

In an ideal world you’d have someone on your team who’s responsible for promoting across all of the channels. The writer would create the piece and then depending upon your editing and approval process, it would be handed over to the head of promotions and that person would complete the checklist.

Is this making you think of a brilliant blog post you recently wrote that’s sitting sad and lonely on your site? I love this infographic on 12 Things to Do After You’ve Written Your Blog Post by Brody Dorland. 12-Things-Infographic-1000px There’s no statute of limitations on great content. Even if you have blog posts you haven’t thought about in months, if they’re useful and interesting to your audience, run through this 12-point checklist and bring them back to life. You could break down a similar strategy for each type of content you create. For example, every time you post a picture on Instagram, you might have a similar process to make sure it doesn’t just die in your feed, never to be seen, talked about or passed around again. Here’s Marketo’s advice on how to get the most out of your time on Instagram. 00-InstagramMarketing-revised Content creation without promotion is like monster cake without the frosting. Pointless.

Don’t kill yourself creating brag-worthy content your audience will love and then not take it across the finish line.

Send it off into the world and then do a little happy dance. Because if that’s not the time to pull out the content marketing dance, then what’s the point of having one?

Step 6

Measure and Monetize


This is the sixth step in building your content marketing strategy, but for most of my clients, measuring and monetizing are front and center at every step in the process.

We’ll talk about measurement first.

Jay Baer, co-author of “The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Company Faster, Smarter and More Social”, says that there are 4 key metrics  every content marketer needs to measure:

  1. Consumption metrics,
  2. Sharing metrics,
  3. Lead metrics, and
  4. Sales metrics.

He says that most marketers overvalue the first two and undervalue to the last two. But if you focus your metrics on behavior (becoming a lead or becoming a customer), you’ll be measuring what’s most important.

This is not to say that thousands of Facebook likes and shares are meaningless. If those likes and shares end up driving people to your site where they become leads and customers, then those stats are very meaningful. BUT! Measuring likes and shares alone will give you an incomplete and inaccurate picture. If you want a really accurate picture, read how Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion, measures the ROI of his blog.

The challenging part about content marketing is that it takes time. Yes, it does. People are always trying to sell you on how quickly they wrote X or created Y… but a general rule of thumb is that, if you see the marketing message “In record time” or “Faster than you think”, chances are good a copywriter wrote that to convince you. (Says the copywriter.) Great content creation, promotion and marketing takes time. It’s a long game. In some cases it can take a minimum of six months for a campaign to produce enough data to even analyze whether or not it’s working. That doesn’t mean you put your head down for six months and cross your fingers, but often you have to be willing to invest a lot of time and energy long before you know if it’s even working.

As I mentioned in step 1 – Set Your Direction – you need to determine upfront what your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be, how they’re aligned with your business goals, and how you plan on tracking and growing them. Use these as a starting point to measure incremental success so even when you’re just getting started, you can assess whether or not your content marketing is headed in the right direction.

I love this infographic from Curata that breaks down the metrics you could be tracking by each stage of the buying cycle. content-marketing-metrics-analytics-model While it might take some time to see the ROI on all of your content marketing initiatives, that doesn’t mean you have to wait to monetize your business.

What about monetization?

As an owner of a startup or part of a startup’s marketing team, you’re probably used to thinking about new ways to make money. Now that you’ve created a content marketing strategy, and you’re soon going to be knee-deep in content assets, it’s time to think about ways you can monetize them. Here are a few:

  • Books
  • Live events (attendees and sponsors)
  • Virtual and in-person trainings
  • Licensing of content
  • Workshops
  • Podcast sponsorships
  • Paid speaking
  • YouTube advertising royalties
  • Paid newsletter or magazine subscriptions
  • Affiliate programs
  • Subscription and membership programs
  • Native advertising
  • Crowdfunding

The wealthiest people are typically those who earn their money from multiple streams of income. Even if your startup’s main goal is to sell a software service or widget, it doesn’t mean that as you build your platform and customer base that you can’t be monetizing your content all along the way.

Step 7

Take Out the Big Red Pen

Repurpose, Improve and Increase Your Audience Engagement with Low-Hanging Fruit

Once you’ve implemented the first six steps of your content marketing strategy and everything is running like a charm, it’s time to pull out the archives and grab some of your low-hanging fruit.

Most of my clients started their businesses without a solid content marketing plan in place. Which means they spent most of their time throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it stuck. When it didn’t, they’d just write more content and give it another chuck into the interwebs.

Once they realize everything that can be done with content, they want to make sure they’re not missing opportunities to reuse content they’ve already created. This is where repurposing comes in.

Here are several ways you can repurpose your content.

Repurpose Content Jay Baer, mentioned earlier, is a master at repurposing his content. He posts a 3-minute show every day called Jay Today. He talks about business, marketing and social media.

Once he’s completed the video, he repurposes that content into 8 more pieces of content. To get the full breakdown of Jay’s repurposing strategies, read this case study from Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing Institute.

Even a simple blog post can be a goldmine of repurposing activities.


In an age of Snapchat and Twitter and viral blog posts, we’ve gotten used to the idea that in-the-moment content is best. Ideas, technology and opinions change at an alarming rate so whatever is newest is most valuable. But with a few edits, the addition of the most up-to-date research, and some fresh graphics, you can pull old blog posts and white papers out of the archives and get just as much traction on them as you did on something you wrote last week. In much less time.

And… congratulations! You now know more about building a content marketing strategy than the majority of startups marketing online today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this playbook and you’ll use it, along with the toolkit below, to create waves in your industry… engage raving fans… and maybe most importantly, increase your leads, sales and customer retention from here and beyond.