How We Built Our Content Marketing Stack to Drive 10x ROI

Five years ago, the term “marketing stack” was barely used outside of discussions between the most tech-savvy CIOs and CMOs. There were roughly 150 tools you could use to manage how people interacted with your brand. If you were enough of a marketing geek, you could memorize them over your morning coffee.

The scene has changed dramatically since then. In the last year alone, the number of marketing technology companies has grown 94 percent, to 3,874 vendors and counting. That’s a 2,482 percent increase since 2011.

Understanding marketing technologies—and how they work together in a stack—has become a critical part of any marketer’s job. There are even competitions, like The Stackies, that judge the best ones. But as the exponential increase in technologies suggests, building a marketing stack is more complicated than ever.

At Contently, people regularly ask us questions like: How do you build your stack? How does your content translate into actual business? So, in an effort to share our knowledge with the rest of the industry, we’re going to reveal how our martech stack works. But before we begin, let’s go over why marketing stacks are so damn important.

What is a marketing stack and why should I care?

A marketing stack can be intimidating, but it’s really a simple concept at its core. Basically, it includes the different technologies you use during your marketing process, from the first time a prospect encounters your brand to that final sale.

Creating, managing, and improving a stack is critical to marketing success. Without a stack, you might as well use a tally system and just guess how effective your content is. Without an efficient, integrated, and optimized one, you’re just wasting your money.

So how do you build a stack?

1. You first have to understand your goals. Buying tools won’t help if you don’t have a strategy in place.

2. You need to consider the framework of your entire marketing ecosystem, as well as the individual tools that will power it. Then you need to figure out how these tools will work together.

3. You need to ensure that each marketing solution tracks results. If there is no way to prove the ROI of your efforts, there is no way to justify them. (Your boss won’t be happy if you can’t back up the purpose of that software that costs $4,000 per month.)

Marketing stacks can look very different depending on a company’s priorities. Scott Brinker, editor of ChiefMartec, simplifies marketing stacks into four categories: suite, platform, multi-platform, and bus.

According to Brinker, most martech companies began as a suite: a single solution provided by one vendor. This suite model eventually gave way to the platform, as leading vendors developed software that also allow for additional plug-ins. Think of it like a web browser that you can trick out with various technologies—with companies like Salesforce, Marketo, Oracle, Adobe, IBM, Act-On, and HubSpot stabilizing your add-ons.

However, these platforms typically weren’t enough on their own, particularly for larger enterprise companies. As a result, two additional models emerged.

One is the multi-platform model, in which several big martech platforms interact. For example, a company might rely on Salesforce for managing the sales process, HubSpot for inbounding, Adobe for content, and so on. These large platforms vary wildly in their ability to communicate with each other.

The other model is the bus, which emerged partly as a response to the multi-platform model. The bus unites many tools—but in this case, one technology connects the data between all platforms. Brinker refers to this guiding technology as a “marketing middleware” that “specialize[s] the flow of data across platforms.” It’s a lot like an operating system for your various marketing programs.

Brinker’s topologies are a helpful way to conceptualize how brands can bucket their marketing technologies. Whether or not you fit into one of these four frameworks, the important takeaway is that a brand’s stack will ultimately depend on specific company goals.

The buyer’s journey

Every person has a unique experience with a brand. The process (to use an established metaphor) resembles dating: Even if you date the same person that your best friend swiped right on last month, your experience will be different.

Some leads have that instantaneous connection with a brand. Others take more time to nurture. Some play hard to get, only to find what they wanted was in front of them all along. In each case, the technology in a stack tracks the user’s behavior and manages the brand’s response to this behavior.

Let’s examine the journey of one hypothetical lead through Contently’s stack.

Drake becomes a Contently lead

Drake, the CMO of a Fortune 500 enterprise company, wants to launch a content marketing initiative. He starts this process on Google, searching “how to build a content team.” He clicks on one of the top three articles: “How to Build a Culture of Content and Transform Your Marketing.”

A few days go by, and Drake is served a retargeted sponsored ad on Facebook. He clicks on the new article, “Why Cisco Is Hiring 200 Content Marketers.” Drake is so delighted with the article that he shares it on Twitter and decides to follow Contently.

While on Twitter, another article takes Drake back to The Content Strategist. He decides it’s time to sign up for Contently’s weekly newsletter. Later that week, Drake receives an email from Jess at Contently with the subject line “How to Staff an Amazing Content Team.” He clicks through and fills out a form to download the e-book.

Ten days later, the newest edition of Contently’s print magazine, Contently Quarterly: The Summer 2016 Issue, arrives at his office door. He reads an interview with Glenn Greenwald and continues on to a story about how Marriott is growing its multimedia studio. A week later, the Quarterly is still on Drake’s desk when he gets an email from Luke, who works on the sales team.

Over the course of the sales cycle, Drake will receive Contently content to stay top of mind and accelerate the sale. Drake’s trajectory at this point depends on his budget, authority, and the needs of his organization. He may, for example, access one of our recent webinars through On24 (a software platform) that’s relevant to his pain points.

If Drake’s budget gets cut or his board decides to revert to traditional marketing tactics, Drake will be added to a “win-back” campaign through Marketo, where he is served valuable content to keep Contently fresh in his mind. For the purposes of this story, let’s say Luke successfully closed the deal and earned a hefty commission.

What martech systems were at play?

From that first search to that final phone call, there were many marketing technologies at play. Here is breakdown of how our software tools impacted Drake’s journey and prompted action.

Contently: The blog post Drake first found was produced on Contently’s content marketing platform. After responding to a pitch from a freelancer on our talent network, our editorial team assigned, created, and edited the story using the Contently workflow system. Prior to the publication of this article, we used Contently Analytics to determine the right topic, format, and tone for prospects looking to build their content team. We also have custom fields for keywords, images, tags, and meta descriptions that help boost SEO once an article goes to the next step.

WordPress: Once the story was complete, our senior editor pushed the story directly to Contently Live, our custom CMS. Contently Live is a WordPress template that’s integrated with Contently’s platform and helps increase lead generation.We ideate, produce, and optimize editorial content on the Contently platform, but everything we publish is hosted on Contently Live.

Google Webmaster Tools, Moz, Screaming Frog: Since Drake came from an organic search, Google AdWords wasn’t involved in this case. Instead, prior to Drake’s search, we used several SEO tools to help us rank organically.

AdRoll: We were able to reach Drake on Facebook with retargeted ads served from AdRoll.

Buffer: On Twitter, we tapped into Buffer analytics to ensure Drake saw organic Twitter posts at the most likely point of engagement.

SumoMe: Back on The Content Strategist, Drake was prompted to sign up for the weekly newsletter with a pop-up inspiring him to subscribe.

Campaign Monitor: The newsletter was compiled and sent through our email service provider (ESP), Campaign Monitor, which integrates with Marketo and Salesforce, and allows us to segment audiences by location, industry, department, and title.

Marketo: Drake officially entered the Marketo lead database after he filled out the lead form to download the e-book. Here, our marketing team tracked all of his interactions with Contently content.

Document Analytics: Once Drake began reading the document, we tracked his engagement on every page, using the Document Analytics feature on our platform. Once we saw where Drake spent most of his time scrolling and clicking, we could share more relevant content and prepare the sales team with insights on his behavior for a future call.

SalesPredict, Clearbit: After Drake was in Marketo, he went through a series of tools that helped us determine how qualified he was as a lead. SalesPredict looked at Drake’s demographics and prior behavior with Contently, and assigned him a lead score. Clearbit, which appends additional data points like company name, location, job title, and other public information, gave further context to Drake’s value.

Print for Less (PFL): We used this direct-mail service to send Drake The Contently Quarterly.

Salesforce: We pushed Drake into Salesforce, where he was assigned to Luke. In Salesforce, Luke could track each interaction with Drake.

On24: During Luke’s nurturing process, we used On24 to serve Drake relevant webinars.

Here is a helpful diagram that illustrates how different tools helped move Drake down the funnel:

How did they work together?

If we follow Brinker’s topography, Drake made his way through our multi-platform stack. At Contently, four marketing technologies guide our stack: Contently, WordPress, Marketo, and Salesforce. From there, a variety of SaaS services work with one or more of these central technologies.

As the source of our content production and analytics, Contently is the focal point between these main players—pushing content (WordPress), servicing marketing initiatives (Marketo), and empowering sales communication (Salesforce). The key is the different elements of our tech stacks are never isolated during a lead’s journey.

Tracking everything this way ensures we connect content to ROI. Without an integrated system to record the interaction between Contently and Drake, it would have been impossible to attribute a particular piece of content to the eventual sale.

As content marketers for a content marketing platform, it is critical we understand the value of each piece of content as it relates to a sale. Our stack makes that possible. In fact, it generates 10x ROI, based on findings from our marketing, editorial, and sales teams. (There is no better feeling than when a sales director tells you that your creative project was worth over $100,000 in ROI).

It’s important to note that while these are the hypothetical tools used in Drake’s journey, this is not an exhaustive list of our marketing technology. It is also not a fixed stack. As our needs develop, so will our stack.

(Editor’s note: Our senior marketing operations manager would like me to make clear that this post is not an open invitation for vendor solicitation.)

Started from the bottom

Whether you follow the suite, platform, multi-platform, or bus stack model, a seamless relationship between technology and content is often the difference between complete confusion and meaningful ROI.

While the explosion of marketing technology might make it harder to determine which solutions to invest in—there are thousands, after all—it also means technology exists to solve almost any problem you can think of.

In the words of Drake: What a time to be alive.

Image by Sudowoodo / Shutterstock

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