How Marketo Makes $500,000 From a Single Piece of Content—Like This Coloring Book

A few years ago, Marketo’s content duo, Jason Miller and Maria Pergolino, found inspiration in the unlikeliest of places: a Foo Fighters coloring book. At the time, the team came across a 52-page concert rider titled “Tour 2011” that the Foo Fighters were giving out to fans. As part of that rider, the band turned 10 pages into a coloring book to tell people about their food preferences while on tour.

While the guide was probably not appreciated by the music promoters who had to sift through it to determine food demands for the Foo Fighters, it did spark an idea. And that idea eventually became one of Marketo’s most important pieces of content.

Jason Miller, now LinkedIn’s senior manager for content marketing, recounts in his 2014 content marketing book, Welcome to the Funnel, that the stunt inspired his team to create “The Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book,” a 30-page e-book marketers could print out to play a game of marketing automation mad libs, fill out a content marketing word search, and match drawings of influential marketers with the titles of the books they had written.

While this may sound like an off-the-wall idea for a B2B marketing technology company, “The Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book” was more than just fun and games. As with virtually everything Marketo puts out, the document was as commercially successful as it was critically acclaimed. According to Miller’s LinkedIn profile, it has been downloaded tens of thousands of times since it was published in 2011 and still drives thousands of views per week.

And, perhaps most importantly, the e-book was just one of a number of big, bold content efforts from the company, which, according to Welcome to the Funnel, averages about a half million dollars in ROI from each of its big releases thanks to a mixture of impressive creativity and meticulous planning.

“We wanted to do something that was fun and entertaining for our audience,” said Dayna Rothman, Marketo’s senior manager of content marketing. “I think when you’re marketing to marketers, marketers are always looking for ways that content can be interesting, creative, and engaging, and that’s something that we strive for in our content just to keep it unique and get heard through the noise.”

Using content as an anchor

Like many other companies in the marketing technology space, Marketo sees content as a great way to build trust with prospective customers by providing resources that will both entertain and help them do their jobs.

But Marketo separates itself from competitors by making content such a crucial part of its overall marketing strategy and meticulously managing how each piece is created and distributed.

In fact, for all of Marketo’s marketing campaigns, content serves as something of an anchor everything else is tied to. Whenever Marketo puts out a piece of content on its blog, its three-person content team will notify the company’s demand generation team. Then it’s up to the demand gen team to distribute the content in a way that guides prospective customers through the marketing funnel.

Marketo accomplishes this using a variety of paid channels, ranging from banner ads to social media buys to sponsored email newsletters from the Content Marketing Institute. In all cases, it is careful to share the right content for each channel. For instance, it will use a more engaging visual message to appeal to people on social media, whereas the sponsored emails advertise meatier content like a campaign report or e-book. To further customize the user experience and make sure it’s getting the most bang for its buck, the company also A/B tests with all of the content marketing it does on its paid channels.

“We try to determine what type of content works best for each channel, as well as for the particular audience we’re targeting, so that we can get smarter over time,” Rothman said.

The big benefits of the “Big Rock”

Though Marketo posts more shortform content like “4 Easy Steps to Building a Winning Sales Enablement Program With Marketing Automation” and “6 Vital Features to Look for in Marketing Automation Software this Year” on its blog, the linchpins of its strategy are quarterly e-books, which are usually presented as “The Definitive Guide to… ” a topic like lead nurturing or email marketing.
While Marketo uses an agency and a team of freelancers to help produce some of its smaller projects, the definitive guides, which are usually longer than 100 pages, are written entirely in-house by Rothman and the other two people on her team. Known internally as “big rock” projects, the definitive guides require about a month and a half of writing time and a month and a half of editing and design work after that.

Once the e-books are finished, individual sections are repackaged as shorter, shareable blog posts that will ultimately wind up in front of different consumers to drive them back to the original project.

“Once one [big rock project] ends, another begins, so we’re always kind of working on them,” Rothman said. “We find that the definitive guide is this type of content that really moves the needle most for us, and we get the most stud factor or bang for our buck.”

The service bureau model

In addition to the depth of its big rock projects, Marketo differentiates itself from others in the space with an extreme amount of planning and organization that goes into every piece of content.

Rothman’s team is set up in what she calls a “service bureau model,” meaning that her division is its own free-standing team that responds to request for content from various Marketo divisions like product marketing, corporate marketing, and SEO. Every quarter, the content team goes over the briefs sent to them from the different departments and comes up with an overall marketing plan and an editorial calendar. This infrastructure gives them the opportunity to stay consistent with their messaging and serve different parts of the company without being beholden to any one division.

Rothman also sits on a content governance board, through which she meets with key executives to make sure they’re getting the content they want.

Once the content has been published, a brief goes to the demand generation team to help them decide how to start sending it out to the public.

“We have a pretty dialed-in process for getting stuff created,” Rothman said. “We’ve found that it’s a great way to ensure that every team is getting what they need and that we’re really going out to the marketplace with cohesive messaging.”

Of course, for all of the work the content team does, Rothman is just as proud of the work it doesn’t do. While other marketing technology companies focus on pumping out quantity, Marketo takes pride in making sure that anything it puts out meets a high standard of quality. Unless a piece of content has clearly stated marketing tips that people can actually use, Rothman says it won’t be published.

After all, it’s not like you can put together an entire coloring book every single business day.

“I think that we have built a name for ourselves as an organization that has content that is useful, that’s engaging, that’s actionable and that’s not clickbait or fluff,” Rothman said. “I also think that being creative with the different types of content that you’re putting out and not being afraid to push the envelope a little bit is going to make you heard through some of the noise that’s out there.”

A previous version of this article stated that Marketo blog content was written by freelancers. All Marketo blog content is produced in-house. It also attributed the idea of the coloring book to Jason Miller. It has been revised to credit both Miller and Maria Pergolino. 

Image by Lane V. Erickson

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