Content Marketing: Seven Steps to Create Content Like a Publisher

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Content Marketing

Recently Jim Burns, founder and president of Avitage, sat down with me to talk about how to Create Content like a Publisher via a live broadcast. Jim says that “Content is the new currency—the fuel that drives demand generation, accelerates buyers through their process, differentiates vendors, enables sales, and creates unique value for customers.”

The full 32-minute conversation and additional materials about creating content are available in a focused library on this microsite.

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation (edited for length):

Act-On Software (AO): Jim, you’ve been a content creator for a long time now. What’s driving the changes?

Jim Burns (JB): We’ve learned that in the early stage of the buyer’s journey, people aren’t that interested in hearing about our company, or our features and benefits. So we’ve shifted to creating buyer-relevant content. We’re thinking more like journalists, and we’re keeping in mind all the different channels we need to push content through.


But in the years that we’ve been doing this at Avitage, we ran into a whole set of operational challenges. We know you probably have a really good handle on building collateral and advertising content, but content marketing is different. If you’re committed to creating content that’s relevant to your prospects, in the many ways that people want to consume it, you’re probably hitting the wall operationally.

AO: We hear from our own customers that the two big content challenges are getting expert input, and the cost of content.

JB: Your experts—whether they’re technical or executive, in-house or third party, maybe even your own customers—are critical to your content efforts. But it’s not their job, and they’re busy. One option is for content creators to get them in a room and get that expert to offload domain information, so the content creator can know what to say and do it properly. This is really too tedious and too expensive, so let’s introduce a new way to do this. We want to drive down the time and the cost that are impeding content creation.

Content Strategy

JB: Lots of marketers have content strategies around their website, but we need to focus on a broader strategy.

We have to move from what IDG called “Random acts of content” to a strategic, continuous process. And learn how to reuse, leverage and extend content. We call it “content extensions.” It’s also necessary for the financial people in your organization to think of content as an asset rather than an expense.

One way to leverage your content is to let it address problems and approaches, rather than specific features and capabilities. That way it doesn’t get outdated quickly, and can go on producing returns for you for years.

AO: We’re going to jump right into the seven practices now.

JB: I’m going to give the seven practices, but I’ll emphasize the first few because if you get those right, you’re well set up to follow through.

The 7 Practices of a Structured Publishing Program

  1. Content Strategy and Planning. Your content strategy should override everything. It will inform your planning on a project level, so you’ll be thinking not only How does the strategy fit this specific deliverable? —but also what content extensions can be built off of each project. Possible questions to ask:
    • How do we know what content to build next? Answer: Choose the topics you want to anchor conversations in. Know what to listen to so you can hear the gaps. Decide what you will curate.
    • How do you know what’s relevant to the buyer? Answer: Make sure it passes the “So what?” test. Personas are not an option; they’re mandatory. You must understand your buyer’s top line concerns, often revenue and productivity, and their buying process. You need to know the questions they’re going to ask and the information they need…that’s what we’re producing content for.
  2. Acquire. Acquisition is a key differentiator. Master this, and you’re well on your way. Whenever you’re preparing to meet with a subject expert, remember that the strategy work you’ve already done and documented informs the primary deliverable, whether it’s a white paper, webinar, video, whatever.
    • Think about journalists, they’re always recording, audio or video, and we suggest you do too. Then you transcribe and edit, keeping mind the different form factors you’ll need. Tag the deliverable and the modules you create for topics and subtopics, segments and personas, for example, whether it’s technical information or a customer story. Tag them in ways that you want to be able to search on, so that if for example, someone later is writing a blog and needs a data point, it’s easy to find. Once you get this done, when you begin to create, you’re in more of an editing mode.
    • The other part of acquisition is curation. People think you have to build all this content, but if you focus on your gaps you can still add value with content you curate rather than create. Look for third-party content of all kinds: blogs, white papers, webinars, other.
  3. Create. You can take those reusable assets and create something new in a different form factor. This process helps you anticipate what will be needed, and think about it in terms of form factors you can use with marketing technologythat lets you target segments. You wind up creating a finished piece with modules, and you can produce content before it’s needed.
    • When interviewing a subject matter expert, create an interview guide that helps you build the piece out; this is much more efficient. You’ll know what you’re interviewing for and you’ll have content extensions in mind.
    • What we’re seeing is that content is coming from throughout the organization…our bloggers, our salespeople who are putting things together. See this as a challenge to support them to make it easier for them to produce quality content.
  4. Edit. Once you have audio or video, you can transcribe it, which will help you edit your audio or video, figure out what snippets to take that you can turn into reusable assets.
  5. Database. Once you begin creating all these pieces, you have to have some way of managing them in a database. “Content inventory” is a key operational efficiency. Without it, you won’t know what content exists against all those buyer personas and the questions people will have. And you won’t know what condition it’s in. One good way to leverage your time and your money is to leverage what’s already there, so keep track of it. Identify the gaps so you can fill them in.
  6. Assemble & Deliver. Relevance is a function of the audience and the situation. How can someone in marketing or production, producing content ahead of time, possibly know how to make it relevant to the situation when a marketer is trying to run a nurturing campaign or a salesperson is trying to engage with a customer? The idea of making it easy to assemble and deliver, not unlike what people have been doing with PowerPoint for decades, becomes critical. People are already starting this with blogs, for example.
  7. Track, Measure and Improve. Lastly, it needs to be tracked and measured, not only so we can demonstrate the value, but so we can ultimately improve it.

AO: As we wind up, Jim, what would you like people to consider as key takeaways?

JB: First, since buyers have changed their behavior, there’s a major change in thinking needed. We need now to behave like publishers; build content out in smaller, iterative chunks that simulate a conversation. I call it “having conversations through content.” And leverage every dollar you spend.

Second, once you change your thinking, you have to change your process. We need to move to continuous process, build a useful content framework, build the storyline and apply it to extensible content, edit more than we create, syndicate and curate, and track, measure and improve.

Lastly, we need to change our content priorities. I think most of us can get where we need to go by focusing on three main content extensions. Whether your deliverable is a white paper, a webinar or other asset, on the back end you should extend it in three ways: blogs, video vignettes, and topical microsites. Think first and foremost about reusable assets.

AO: I want to remind everyone that the full conversation and a whole host of other assets including videos, slides, templates, and documents can be found at our microsite. Thanks everyone!