Marketing Best Practices

The Healthy Content Promotion Strategy Cookbook

Brad Hess By Brad Hess January 14, 2016

Mmm, fresh content. Fresh, hot-off-the-press content is to a good marketing strategy what butter is to Paula Deen’s cooking. It makes everything work—you can’t have one without the other.

But here’s a dirty secret: anybody can cook like Paula Deen. My mom can cook like Paula Deen. But my mom doesn’t have a best-selling cookbook. Paula Deen does, because she has solid distribution and a great (Food) Network.

And butter. Lots of butter.

If you’re trying to cook up a tasty new marketing campaign, of course you’re going to need great content. But without a content promotion strategy, your campaign is going to go stale. Top blogger Derek Halpern wrote a few years back about his 80/20 Rule, which states that you should spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% of your time promoting what you create. While your organization may have split these roles into “content marketer” and “demand generation manager,” the basic idea still stands. If you drop the ball on content promotion, your eBook/guide/whitepaper/blog post will go stale faster than a French baguette.

Since I want you to be successful, I’m going to give you the secret sauce. Heck, I’ll even provide the ingredients, though how you prepare your content promotion strategy roux is up to you.

Content Promotion Strategy Ingredients

The modern marketing strategy is made up of three media types: owned, earned, and paid. The intersection of each medium is what Altimeter considers converged media. A good content promotion strategy will combine various channels. An obvious example would be amplifying social posts with paid spend. I’ll talk more about converged media later, but for now let’s look at the channels that make up each promotional pillar.

Convergence Venn Diagram

Source: Altimeter

Owned Media

Owned Media is just that—anything that you own. That includes all owned content: your website, landing pages, microsites, blog, and your CRM database.

Email distribution lists

What marketing team worth their salt doesn’t have a newsletter? While it’s not super sexy, email marketing is still effective at driving traffic and content consumption. According to a 2014 Gigaom study, email is considered the “single-most-effective tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention.” Oh, is that it?

Here at Ceros, we have a weekly newsletter where we offer up the content du jour (shill alert: you should totally subscribe). It’s been a tried-and-true channel for us. However, you need to be careful. Don’t abuse the privilege of sending emails. Keep it to every few days at most to avoid content fatigue.

Lead nurture campaigns

I’ve already made the case for email distribution. Add your fresh content to lead nurture campaigns to stretch its shelf life. Live long and prosper.

Outbound email campaign

While we’re on the email marketing kick, why not distribute your content in outbound emails? The days of cold calling are dead. For that matter, cold emails are pretty lame, too. Spice it up. Instead of begging for a meeting, add some value by giving the prospect memorable content.

On the technical front, it’s becoming more ubiquitous than free breadsticks at Olive Garden, but outbound email software like Sidekick, Tout, or Yesware is what you need to spread content at scale. At Ceros, we’ve found these tools to be a vital part of our marketing tech stack.

Evangelist outreach

Who are the people in your database that are in love with your brand? Make a special designation for these folks, and send them a friendly note whenever you have relevant content they would like. If you’re feeling bold, you can even ask them to share. But remember, no one likes a pushy marketer.

On-site Calls-to-action

When you publish a new piece, consider adding calls-to-action across your owned properties. Whether it’s on your homepage (except in a jquery slider, because c’mon, it’s 2016… plus they’re bad for SEO and UX), on your blog’s sidebar, header (a la HelloBar), or in the site footer, adding a call-to-action to your latest content can help improve conversions.

Here at Ceros, we use HubSpot for our CTAs. You can create great CTAs on your own using a tool like Canva and a bit of HTML, but the great part about HubSpot is that it allows you to create “smart CTAs” that are changed based on a contact’s list membership or lifecycle. If you convert on our “Free eBook” button a couple of times, you’ll see what I mean. 😉

Pop-ups

Kissmetrics Pop-up

Source: Kissmetrics

While they can sometimes be obtrusive and contribute negatively to user experience, pop-ups can at times provide value to the user while boosting conversion rates and content visibility.

You can utilize plug-ins like SumoMe, OptinMonster, Bounce Exchange, or PopUp Domination, among others. Want to build your own? There are some great open source options available, for instance, Ouibounce.

The beauty of interactive content is that pop-ups can be executed inside the eBook/guide, as compared with traditional PDF content.

Suggested Content widget

Outbrain, AddThis, and a slew of WordPress plugins are all viable options here. On our blog, we have built-in content recommendations for each post. That enables you to add your new content to related posts where relevant.

Social Share CTAs

We’ll talk about social media in just a minute. But here’s a convergence for you – social sharing buttons on your site.

Of course, making your content shareable is digital marketing 101. It enables virality, and can also be a good source of user feedback. Content that gets more shares is worth creating more.

Social share buttons may be a given, but test them anyway. Consider which channels you display, and whether you opt for a floating bar or hard-coded buttons. One experiment I hope to run soon (if anyone has done this, let me know in the comments): social icons vs. icons + counter. Currently on the Ceros blog, we don’t have numbers on the shares. Does the counter really act as social proof and encourage people to share more?

Earned Media

You’ve gotta earn it—earned media consists of social networks, forums, and other online communities. These channels are sensitive, so be sure that whatever you post represents your brand and content, while providing additional value to the community.

Also, make sure you are a full time member of each community. The more active you are, the more responsive people will be to your content.

Social Media Posts

While this post is on content promotion strategy, let it be clear: social media success is not founded in promotion. First and foremost, you have to provide value and be  part of online communities. Share content that isn’t promotional, so that when you do promote something of your own people are more receptive.

Here are a few ways to engage in online communities and, when the time is right, share your content.

Twitter chats

Plenty of tips from Buffer on all the steps to Twitter chats here. The TL;DR version: Twitter chats are a place for audience engagement. Don’t actually promote your content on these chats, unless it is super relevant. And even then, think twice.

LinkedIn Groups

I may be beating a dead horse here, but when you get involved with LinkedIn Groups, try adding value to the community first. A simple Groups search in LinkedIn of your focus niche will provide a list of LinkedIn Groups that might be a good fit for your brand.

Don’t: Look up a bunch of LinkedIn Groups the day of your content’s release and post it everywhere you can.

Do: Look up a bunch of LinkedIn Groups today, and start answering members’ questions, asking questions, and commenting on others’ content.

When the time comes to promote your content, your small investment of time will pay a big dividend. Here are some more helpful tips on LinkedIn Groups from John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing.

Share with relevant parties 1-to-1

When you’ve got a lofty goal, scaling your content campaign seems like it requires some big initiative. Well, take your head out of the clouds for a minute. Sometimes a little one-to-one communication is what you need to get your campaign up and running.

Whether that means outreach to influencers (see below), emailing a few of your customers, contacting your personal network, or bloggers who have published content similar to yours, a simple email saying, “Hey, I made this, you might like it. Can I get your thoughts?” should help fan the flames.

Influencer Outreach

Influencer outreach is so hot right now. As Lee Odden says in our influencer ebook on brand storytelling:

 The opportunity is for brands to connect and co-create stories with their audiences in new, meaningful ways that inspire participation and engagement. I like to call it, ‘participation marketing.’

Identify the people who are social influencers in your industry, and form relationships with them. Get their input to help create new content, and when you publish content relevant to their interests, send them a friendly note and ask for their thoughts. Platforms like TapInfluence, Traackr, ContentMarketer.io, Pitchbox, and others have sprung up as ways to systematize influencer outreach.

Industry-relevant Forum Sites

Find forum sites relevant to your industry, and share your content there. Wondering where to start? Try searching Google for “your niche” + “forum”. Voila!

If you’re like us, you post on Inbound.org, Growth Hackers, Hacker News, and Designer News. Plus don’t forget Product Hunt if you’re launching a new app or microsite.

Brand Advocacy

Your co-workers should be your biggest advocates, right? Put them to work sharing your content. Here at Ceros, we send out an email to the team with each new content release, including suggested copy for sharing on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

If you want to take brand advocacy to the next level, consider a tool like Influitive. They’ve got a good rundown on how to build a brand advocacy community.

Social share buttons in the piece

Even if your content is a static PDF, you should still have some clickable areas for people to share your eBook, guide, or whitepaper. This is one of those obvious tips that you are probably already implementing. Then again, I wouldn’t assume you know the recipe calls for salt. Social share buttons are that important.

Tweet this Quote

Our brand storytelling eBook features “Click to Tweet” calls-to-action throughout the piece, and it ended up driving 10% of the total pageviews for the initiative. Sharing links are easy to create with the site sharelinkgenerator.com. For WordPress, CoSchedule has a nice Click to Tweet plug-in you can utilize as well.

Embed code widget

If you are promoting an infographic—or better yet, an interactive infographic—you need to provide a simple way for people to embed it. Siege Media has a nice embed code generator that makes it simple.

Snip.ly and other “Borrowed Content” CTAs

This tactic is a bit controversial. Snip.ly and similar offerings like Hootsuite’s Ow.ly social bar mean you can wrap third party content in code, so when you share your Snip.ly link, a call-to-action for your brand is visible hovering over the page you’ve shared.

Why I like it: Generate more brand awareness and drive additional clicks and conversions when sharing third party content

Why I’m not sold on it: It’s disingenuous. You’re interfering with the user’s expected experience, and taking a form of ownership over someone else’s content.

Over at the Velocity Partners blog, Doug Kessler has a thorough review of Snip.ly.

Doug Kessler Snip.ly

Source: Velocity Partners

Content syndication sites – LinkedIn Pulse, Medium, Business2Community

While content syndication needs to be done carefully (no one wants a Google penalty), it’s still a great way to get your content in front of new audiences.

If you are releasing new content, feature a CTA in the middle of a new blog post driving to your landing page. It will get pulled by a content syndication site, and you can expect to earn a handful (maybe 5-10) leads in a month from each site depending on traffic and the post itself.

Content partnerships

Marketers are friendly people. Make friends.

At Ceros, we’ve been fortunate enough to forge relationships with some super cool folks in the content marketing industry. But it didn’t happen by chance.

Keegan Forte, our director of business development, outlines how you can start a content partnership program of your own:

Start by pinpointing your ideal partner—someone who shares audiences with you and has a loyal following.
Then, once you’ve found the right person within the organization, start the process with a few personal emails clearly stating how you’re looking to partner. Be sure to discuss each other’s goals, ongoing campaigns, and current content creation processes—this will help you land on a topic and content format that will be most effective for both parties.
Lastly, defining success metrics is always a must. Set benchmarks for each side so you can ultimately call it a win … or a loss.

If you want to partner with us (we’d be flattered), feel free to reach out to Keegan.

Paid Media

In an ideal world, you would be able to survive off word of mouth and referrals alone. Unfortunately, there are times when you need to ramp up content performance beyond the typical inbound traffic. That’s where paid media comes in.

Done right, paid media is supplementary to your owned and earned channels. At the end, I’ll discuss some strategies to blend your paid spend into your content promotion.

Paid Social

No longer the new frontier, social advertising is a core component in many content distribution plans. Targeting and analytics have gotten very good over the last few years as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn fight for our marketing dollars. All three channels launched new UIs over the last year, making it easier for content marketers to reach our audiences and prove the impact of each campaign at a conversion level.

Also Pinterest and Instagram rolled out full-fledged ad offerings, though they are mainly tailored to ecommerce and brand awareness. Consider these, and alternative channels like Reddit, where there may be less competition.

Adstage Dashboard

Source: AdStage 

If you are making a commitment to social advertising, I’d recommend investing in social ad management. I’ve found AdStage to be useful, which is a more budget-friendly social ad platform. If you’ve got a little more to spend, take a look at Marin Social, Kenshoo, and Sprinklr.

Display ads

Frankly, for direct response campaigns (which content promotion campaigns typically are), display ads are not a great bet. As Contently points out in their Content > Advertising piece, “interruptive advertising is failing.” Even before the advent of ad blockers, people are more likely to be struck by lightning than click a display ad.

That said, display ads can be a good way to keep your logo and brand in front of your audience. Make sure you are measuring view-through conversions if you utilize display or you won’t even realize they did anything.

Retargeting ads (Display & Social)

Retargeting display ads are like paprika—you don’t always realize it’s there, but when it’s not there, you can tell something is missing.

While display ads are falling in popularity, retargeting display is still an effective way to stay top of mind with your audience. One way B2B brands can effectively use retargeting display to promote content is to upload a contact list. For example, you can export a list of outbound prospects from your CRM and upload them to your retargeting platform (AdRoll or Perfect Audience, for instance). The platform will match the email addresses to known cookies and you can advertise your content to that list.

Consider going beyond display and retargeting on Facebook and Twitter to get the most out of your content promotion. Both channels are more content-friendly than display and better for direct response.

A few tips for social retargeting:

Install the pixels across your site

For Twitter, you’ll want to add a website visits pixel and conversion pixels. The new Facebook Pixel is a cross between the custom audience pixel and the conversion pixel. Instead of managing a bunch of different pixels, just install the one across your sites. This is super easy to do if you have a tag manager like Google Tag Manager in place.

Don’t blindly target all visitors

Segment as best as you can. If you are using interactive content, you can drop Twitter & Facebook pixels into that content and offer up more relevant content or a product demo to people who have read your eBook. Or, promote your eBook to people who bounced from the landing page.

Suppress your customers from getting ads

No one likes wasted ad spend. If you get too liberal with your retargeting audiences, you’ll end up targeting everyone. The most important suppression audience is your customer list. Whether you put the retargeting pixel on your customer-only area (e.g. a login page) or upload a list of customer emails, ensure that you’re not blasting your most valuable audience with costly ads.

Content Recommendation

All those “similar content” widgets on news outlet and publisher sites are operated by services like Outbrain and Taboola. You can advertise there with a small investment, and cost per clicks are low. However, as Contently cautions in their pros & cons run-down, performance can be hit-and-miss.

Personally, I’ve only seen super high bounce rates and unqualified traffic from this channel, even after optimizations. But perhaps it can work for you. Have you had success with promoted content recommendation? Please let me know in the comments.

CPL campaigns

Particularly useful for B2B, cost-per-lead (CPL) programs are a good way to get guaranteed qualified leads at a price lower than most programs. Offered by vendors like Madison Logic and Netline, and publishers like Demand Gen Report, CPL programs entail providing your content to the publisher for a guaranteed number of leads that fulfill your specified criteria. These leads are generated by the publisher, who promotes your content within their site and newsletters.

The nice part about using CPL campaigns to promote interactive content is that you are able to capture all the traffic to the content piece for retargeting, whereas normally you’d just get a list of leads delivered to you from the publisher.

Beware: the cost-per-lead may be lower than your other channels, but watch contact churn carefully. CPL programs can sometimes yield lots of unsubscribes, which raises the cost-per-opportunity and lowers ROI.

Paid Industry Newsletters

Whether you are looking to jumpstart your content on launch day or stretch it out a few more weeks, paid newsletter campaigns are a good channel to consider. While more costly than social ads, if you find the right partner then newsletters can drive lots of traffic, leads, and social sharing. You can work directly through a publisher of your choice, or find industry publications with companies like Smartbrief or Fierce Markets. Also, check out LiveIntent, which enables you to target your specific audience across over 800 publications.

The Content Promotion Recipe

Whew, I feel like a sous chef who just spent a night in Chef Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen. Now that you’ve got your mise en place, let’s get cooking.

Step 1: Establish target, objective, and goals

This is the most important step. Without step 1, you will be aiming for an invisible moving bullseye. Even if you’ve been “practicing darts” for hours after work at the pub that’s not easy.

Ideally you’ve done step 1 before you create the content. Be sure to answer these questions:

Who is your target audience for this content piece?

Define your buyer persona: demographic, firmographic info, geographic location, industry, title, buying behaviors, interests, skills, time of day they will be most interested in your offer.

What is your top objective for this campaign?

  • Awareness
  • Traffic
  • Leads
  • Audience Engagement
  • Sales

What is your goal metric?

This ties to your objective. Use historical campaign performance data, or at the very least set a best guess goal.

Compare channels across the marketing mix you plan to deploy and commit each channel to a % of the total goal. Use this target to allocate budget to any paid campaigns.

How will you measure your goal?

Analytics are typically the last thing we think about. But you need to think about it first. If you can’t measure the critical elements of your campaign, then you will never be successful.

Attribution can get tricky, particularly with multi-channel digital campaigns. Make sure you have Google Analytics or another system in place with goal conversion events set up.

Step 2: Tune your marketing mix to the right channels

With your target, goal, and objective in hand, assess how you are going to meet that goal. This is the fun part. This is the strategy.

Areas to consider:

Channel Mix: Which channels do you choose, and why? Your target audience and goals will dictate your channel mix. If you are hoping to reach a new audience then retargeting your CRM data probably won’t be in play. Likewise, if you are selling financial products then LinkedIn is a better bet than Facebook.

Pacing: Do you start with an email blast, or one-to-one outreach? Run a promoted tweet to launch your campaign, or as a way to extend your reach after the content has already launched? Spend big at the beginning of the campaign or evenly across the month?

Execution Plan: Cozy up to a spreadsheet and write out a detailed plan for your content promotion. This will help you think a few steps ahead. Plus, when you are juggling 10 different channels and have to coordinate across multiple departments or people, you’re going to need to have everything laid out.

Step 3: Launch your promotion

Once everyone is on the same page, and your content is looking pretty, it’s time for that moment you’ve been working towards for weeks (or months). Launch day.

But guess what? Something will go wrong. It always does. So take steps to safeguard yourself. Test everything on a staging site. Publish your social posts on a dummy account to preview how they will appear. Do whatever you need to do to feel confident when you launch.

Step 4: Monitor the campaign

Whether it’s the same day, a week later, or 30 days after launch, you should always keep an eye on your campaign. Are you hitting your high level goal metrics (impressions, traffic)? Are you seeing the conversion rates you anticipated?

The earlier you’re able to identify where shortcomings are, the easier it will be to correct them. Utilize automated alerts to make sure nothing goes unnoticed. Most analytics, marketing automation, and advertising software have the ability to configure automated alerts and dashboards.

Step 5: Analyze results

Take a look at the goals you set for your campaign. How’d you do? That’s reporting.

Now, regardless of outcome, dig into those results. What channels enabled you to achieve your goal or which tactics prevented you from hitting your goal? Understanding the underlying factors for your success or failure is analysis. Don’t confuse it with reporting.

Assuming step 5 goes well, proceed to step 6.

Step 6: Ask for a promotion

That’s it! You’ve baked your first content marketing strategy. Won’t mom and Paula Deen be proud?

Brand Storytelling eBook


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