The Content Marketing Journey, in 3 Stages

I’ve worked at the same company for the past three and a half years, but it feels, at times, like I’ve worked for three different companies. That’s just the nature of startups; you’re reinventing yourself more than Madonna in the ’80s.

Contently’s mission is still the same as when I joined in 2013. We’ve always wanted to help brands create content by giving them powerful content marketing technology and connecting them with the most talented storytellers on earth. But as we’ve grown to nearly 150 employees across four offices on two continents, our business has matured. So has the way we help brands reach their marketing goals.

And guess what? Our own content marketing changed right along with it.

Stage I: The plucky startup days (2013-2014)

What Contently was like: We resembled the kind of startup you’d see on Silicon Valley. A dozen hoodie-monsters crammed into a single room, spanning every generation from “young millennial” to “old millennial,” doing 37 things at once.

We had meeting rooms, but I never remember using them. We would just turn around our chairs and yell at each other. Our VP of product sat across from me and criticized my articles, paragraph by paragraph, uninvited. His crisp German accent made the feedback sound both less and more harsh. In turn, I would nitpick every flaw in our platform. It was one of the most mutually beneficial relationships of my life.

What that meant for our content marketing: Content marketing was an incredibly new discipline just gaining momentum, and there were a couple of other content marketing platforms out there that had launched before us and raised more money. As a result, I had one primary goal: build awareness.

Our content marketing operation was extremely top-of-funnel focused because we wanted to establish ourselves as the leader in content marketing. As I detailed in this piece from late last year, we focused on our audience’s biggest pain points, took advantage of the fact that there weren’t a ton of other content marketing resources out there, and grew our audience from 14,000 readers to over 100,000 in that first year.

We built an audience, but as we raised a $9 million round and grew rapidly, our content marketing goal was destined to change.

Stage II: Fast growth and feeding the sales machine (2015-2016)

What Contently was like: Between December 2013 and December 2014, Contently grew six-fold as we won dozens of clients. We were literally knocking down walls and taking over the offices of other companies. It was like a giant VC-funded game of Risk.

I remember walking into work the first day of January 2015 and feeling a sense of urgency. Our sales team had changed from two people into a half-floor operation. By the time I finally figured out what an SDR was, we already had 10. We started maturing as a business to identify our ideal clients: enterprise companies—most commonly in finance, B2B, tech, travel, and real estate—as well as fast-growth mid-market brands. We built new tools and capabilities for our platform with those clients in mind.

We were in fast-growth mode, and we needed strong marketing to fuel our growth and feed the sales machine.

What that meant for our content marketing: Contently didn’t really have a marketing team until the end of 2014. Content was our marketing. But that’s not sustainable; content needs to fit within a larger marketing framework. So we began to make key marketing hires and figure out how our content could better feed the sales machine.

As our approach evolved, we still remained focused on transparently creating content that helped our target audience—we just operated a little more strategically. We published “big rock” e-books and webinars that generated leads. We ramped up programs with content partners like HubSpot. We dedicated more resources to case studies, one-sheeters, and other key sales enablement resources for our sales team. We integrated lead scoring and marketing automation. We helped Contently continue to grow at a rapid pace, and along the way, we were named the Best B2B Content Marketing by The Drum and the Best Brand Publication by Digiday.

By the end of this period, we started to ensure that our content served all parts of the funnel.

Stage III: Full content marketing maturity (2017 and beyond)

What Contently was like: Contently entered 2017 in a great place. We were #508 on the Inc 5000, had hundreds of clients, and were named one of the best places to work in New York by Crain’s and Ad Age.

But at the beginning of 2017, something truly exciting happened: We hired our first CMO, Kelly Wenzel, and started the process of reaching full content marketing maturity. (If you want a sense of her marketing strategy chops, just read this piece.)

What that means for our content marketing: Over the next few months, we’re embarking on a content marketing journey. We’re partnering with SiriusDecisions to rethink different aspects of our marketing. That means reimagining our content strategy and how it’s woven into the fabric of our brand.

Along the way, we want to document that journey right here on TCS so our readers can learn how to build—or rebuild—a content strategy that completely aligns with business objectives. In a series of posts, I’ll analyze our successes and challenges, and tie the lessons we learn back to tips for our readers.

Our lessons will include:

  • Improving our brand strategy and messaging.
  • Establishing our product marketing and key foundational elements: personas, journey maps, differentiators, etc.
  • Ramping up our inbound marketing and improving conversion from top-of-funnel to mid-funnel and bottom-of-funnel.

Like anyone who works in digital marketing and hopes to have a job in three years, I’m excited to learn something new. Contently may no longer be a Silicon Valley parody, but we’re committed to evolving like all good startups should.

If you’re interested in following our journey over the next few months, sign up for our newsletter here to ensure that you get those posts in your inbox.

Image by Jacquelyne Pierson

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