Client Stories

Case Story: How Cardinal Health Mastered Paid Content Distribution

Contently Case Stories is a series highlighting some of Contently’s most successful clients.

Building an audience takes time. It takes talent. It takes strategy. Budget, of course. And a little luck too. There’s a science to putting all of the pieces together. If a brand overlooks even one of those factors, it may never achieve the desired results.

In today’s digital media landscape, content distribution is often the step brands overlook the most. They spare no expense on hiring talented writers, editors, photographers, and designers to craft a great piece of content. But when the story is complete, brands don’t always treat distribution with the same sense of urgency.

It’s easy to assume your audience will find an article because it’s well written or watch a video because it’s entertaining. But as more content floods the internet, that calculus has changed.

For Cardinal Health, a global healthcare services and products company that ranks among the top 25 of the Fortune 500, rethinking its content distribution model helped elevate its content marketing program to the next level. Cardinal Health already had great content. The brand just had to figure out how to make sure the right people found it.

Fixing the Funnel

Cardinal Health’s digital publication, Essential Insights, speaks to a specialized audience of health system professionals, pharmaceutical manufacturers, retail pharmacists, and physician offices. Stories deal with weighty topics like shaping the future of healthcare and improving patient care. Not only is growing an audience crucial to Cardinal Health’s business, it also has the potential to educate the people in charge of America’s healthcare system.

In early 2017, Cardinal Health’s Essential Insights team had a standard publishing process. They would commission an article, post it on the online publication, and share it on the brand’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles.

“We put that structure in place a few months before we partnered with Contently,” said Stephanie Pavol, corporate communications manager for Cardinal Health. “We were just doing organic distribution before. So we might be lucky if we had five hundred views on an article.”

essential insights

The results weren’t bad for a niche audience. But after a few months, the team noticed that while the content was getting better, the engagement remained the same. That’s when an important realization led to a breakthrough. Over the years, major social platforms like Facebook have limited organic reach for brands and publishers, regardless of how good the content seemed. To succeed, Cardinal Health needed to rethink part of its strategy.

“Our content was sitting too much in the middle of the funnel,” said Katie Minister, director of digital marketing and ecommerce for Cardinal Health. “Our work with Contently was to help us build an enterprise program that could serve content to the top of the funnel.”

The transition wouldn’t happen overnight, but with a few adjustments, Cardinal Health could attract new customers and foster loyal relationships that fueled the business.

Paying It Forward

If you’re going to spend money creating content, it only makes sense to put some additional investment behind it to make sure a large audience actually sees it. But making sure the increase in readers leads to meaningful engagement is more complicated.

The beginning of Cardinal Health’s relationship with Contently focused on the fundamentals—researching target groups, testing headlines, and experimenting across different distribution platforms. Contently’s dedicated distribution manager advised Cardinal Health on how to maximize the ROI of its content with paid distribution.

The biggest challenge came down to overcoming regulatory concerns for the healthcare industry. “We worked through the process to make sure every kind of headline was in line with industry guardrails,” Pavol said. “Once that was worked out, it really helped us drill down into our niche audience within health systems or pharmaceutical companies and optimize our campaigns.”

Cardinal Health locked in on Facebook and LinkedIn as the primary platforms for its paid program. It also invested in Outbrain initially, to make sure the spend was driving both value and volume.

“We’d never have been able to get this level of traffic without implementing paid social.”

As Cardinal Health grew more comfortable experimenting with paid distribution, the marketing team also started to publish more efficiently. While the process for distributing content once took a few days, it now only takes one day to execute all promotion for a story. The Essential Insights team has the trust of the business to work with Contently’s distribution manager and make smart decisions.

The paid content distribution also supported existing marketing programs. For example, Cardinal Health sends monthly emails to subscribers that recap the most important content from the previous month. The increase in paid spend correlated with a surge in email sign-ups. The team then started tracking email engagement rates to make sure they didn’t sacrifice attention for one-off traffic.

After a little more than a year, the results speak for themselves. Cardinal Health tripled its average monthly site traffic and increased email subscribers by about 200 percent, adding thousands to the audience. “We’d never have been able to get this level of traffic without implementing paid social,” Minister said.

With steady success and more internal support for content marketing, Pavol and Minister are ready to experiment with more ambitious programs in the near future. They’ve started surveying subscribers to explore personalized content. The team added writers from Contently’s talent network to cover some new healthcare topics. They’ve even been able to publish stories on newsworthy topics before other healthcare trade publications and consulting groups.

“We can take all of this knowledge into the organization and share that our marketers and communicators are creating successful content campaigns,” Pavol said. “It’s something that’s been great for us to learn, and now we plan to apply it more broadly beyond this program.”

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