There's more budget being allocated to content marketing than there ever has been. We're seeing more creative content and projects that push boundaries from a design and technical perspective. And ultimately, competition has never been as fierce for the attention of your audience.

Bigger budgets is great for those of us working in this field. It allows more freedom to create compelling assets and promote them. But it also places more emphasis on the accountability of our content marketing against tangible marketing goals and business objectives.

Higher investments mean there's more at stake, so minimising the risk of failure with our content and maximising the potential returns is critical. Here are four rules I live by to get as much out of my content marketing as possible.

1. Format Last

A format first approach to content sets you up for failure from day one. Projects that start with something like, "let's create an infographic," or "let's build an interactive quiz," are skipping way too many steps.

The format should come after the goals, the audience research and the ideation and concept development. And ultimately, the format should simply be the one best suited to conveying whatever message, story or information it is your content needs to achieve.

If you have a few stats to share, you probably don't need a big complex interactive HTML5 piece. On the other hand, if you want to answer a complex question for a user where the answer depends on a number of different things (e.g. "Where should I go on holiday?" or "How much should I cut my outgoings by?") then there's an argument for an interactive quiz or tool that allows users to input information before determining the final outcome.

Don't be led by format. Let the story or message lead the format and make it one of the final decisions in the content planning process.

2. Start with Multiple Ideas and then Narrow Down

"There's nothing as dangerous as an idea when it's the only one we have."

Those are the words of Émile Chartie (when writing under the pseudonym, 'Alain,').

This, for me, is particularly apt in content marketing. Starting with one idea gives you nothing to compare it against. At best, it means you'll end up not progressing with your project. At worst, it means you'll run with a substandard idea out of the desperation of having no alternatives.

So, I like to adopt a process for generating a large pool of ideas at the outset of any campaign or project and then whittle them down, sifting out the weakest and strengthening the strongest even further.

I'm a big advocate of the 635 Method of Brainwriting. It's a simple tactic that, with a group of 6 people, enables you to come up with 108 ideas in just 30 minutes.

3. Budget for Promotion Appropriately

There are too many great pieces of content that are only ever seen by a handful of people.


Well, if your content is amazing and it still doesn't work, then it's a fair assumption that your promotion plan was poor (or non existent).

"Build it and they will come," simply doesn't apply online today, save for a few lucky exceptions.

In many projects, I budget as much for promotion as production but the number will vary project to project.

When you come to setting goals, you'll have an idea of what you need to achieve them. If your goal is to drive an audience of a certain number of people, then research the channels and advertising opportunities to reach those people. If you need to land links or coverage to your content, then you'll want to plan to involve key influencers and journalists in the process early.

It's not always about physical spend on advertising. Sometimes allocating as much to promotion as to production just means people power.

But you'll need a solid promotion plan and should consider this a key part of the process.

4. Measure Everything

The only way we improve is by taking the learning from a project and applying them to another. So I advocate measuring everything.

Of course, we measure progress against goals, but other things I measure consistently:

  • Secondary KPIs. If my project is geared around building links and coverage that will be the primary focus. But what other measures might be good secondary indicators of success? Time on the page? Visits driven? Social engagements. Set secondary KPIs and measure against them
  • Response rates on outreach emails with a view to fine tuning our email approaches
  • Time it takes to achieve the goals against the budget going in so we can make efficiencies on an on going basis

These are just three points, but ultimately you should have a clear idea with every project about the cost, what it delivered, what worked and what didn't.

Content marketing is not easy. Even with the best processes in the world, there's always a degree of good fortune needed too. But by learning, setting process and making it more efficient, you take positive steps towards improving success rates and minimising the risk of an expensive failure.