Aug 7, 2023
Growth Frameworks
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 min read

Content marketing is worthless without an engine for distribution

You write a blog. You publish. Your effort ends there. 

This is what I’d classify as old-school content marketing, which is now worthless without a robust distribution engine. There are an average of 70 million new blog posts published on WordPress each month, so how does one stand out from the pack today? 

Content and distribution should work together harmoniously when you are attempting to build a world-class content marketing program. 

A distribution engine is the system created to repurpose and federate pieces of content across multiple mediums, with constant testing and analysis of performance. You can imagine it as operating like an airport: the planes are your seed content pieces and the destinations are the repurposed medium content. I’ll explore this area some more later in this article. 

First we will examine how to plan your content marketing effectively, before I next walk you through how to build a distribution engine for accelerating your reach.

Explosion of content mediums

Over the last five years we’ve witnessed an explosion in new forms of content consumption, primarily dominated by a shift to video. There has been the rise of short-form video channels through TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, along with podcasts and newsletters to name a few of the more notable members of these new mediums. 

While this has meant a much tougher job for content marketers, it has also unlocked new forms of connecting with target audiences. Consumers who previously were not receptive to long-form video content, instead can learn about startup offerings through new channels. 

Scalable content planning 

When using the airplane and destination analogy your content planning comes down to what kind of aircraft you want to create. These planes come in various configurations, so picking the correct ones for your fleet is a critical first step for feeding a distribution engine. Below are two guidelines that I’ve followed over the last year when content planning for my startup: 

  • Start with longer form pieces of content as a foundation.
  • Create content that can be repurposed on 2+ channels minimum.

If you have followed these guidelines, it’s crucial to then create the correct first piece of content (your plane), and I have included a sample brief below that you should use as a framework:

Sample content brief for golf product. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.

Whenever creating content, it helps if you start with your ideal customer profile (ICP) first and then build the rest of the brief. I’ve written an entire article on how to identify your ICPs and why it’s essential to startup success, but, in short, leveraging ICPs will help you steer content in the right direction by pinpointing which customer segment you were creating for. Here you’ll notice the seed content is a blog article, which is usually what I recommend as a starting piece because it’s longer form and can serve as the basis for the rest of the repurposing. You’ll also notice a content pillar section which I recommend adding to help diversify your content. A few common content pillars include educational, promotional and entertainment. 

Building distribution engine 

Now that you have your aircraft selected, the destinations that you pick for your flight are what will create for you a well-oiled distribution engine. 

Determining which destinations (mediums) on which to distribute your content can largely be achieved by answering the following two questions: 

  • What type of content are your competitors leveraging? 
  • Where is your target audience hanging out on the web?

Example distribution engine plan for X golf product. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.

In the above example, I used a golf product with two ICPs (amateur and professional) who will certainly appreciate different content based on their golf skill levels. For amateurs, the educational pieces of content are focused on beginner tips versus the content for professionals, which is dedicated to mastering the golf courses in a specific US state, using their grass conditions. 

By starting with longer form pieces of content, the process of cutting the initial piece down for other channels becomes infinitely easier. Here’s what an efficient content production looks like:  

  1. Create a 1,200-word blog article.
  2. Cut the blog article down for an email series.
  3. Use blog article as a script for a video.
  4. Create said video and then chop to 2-3 short-form pieces.
  5. Form a short podcast episode based on article.
  6. Add all these pieces of content to social calendar.

This is a hypothetical example showcasing how one blog article is created and then repurposed across five mediums. This may seem complex, but it’s actually quite simple to create a system that makes this possible.

With this style of planning, it becomes easy to create a flywheel of content that becomes incredibly impactful to smaller startups where one’s resources are limited. Instead of creating original content for various mediums, you have your seed piece of content repurposed and deployed across multiple mediums. 

Optimizing distribution engine 

For the purposes of creating an efficient distribution engine, I strongly recommend leveraging a project management tool such as Trello or Monday, to keep all your ducks in order. There will likely be multiple stakeholders involved with the creation, editing and repurposing of content, so it will make the wheels spin smoother if you have an already outlined process. This can also be done on a GSheet for a lightweight approach, with columns representing the completion of each medium’s content.

Example GSheet project management for repurposing. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez. 

In the example above, the stakeholders involved for each medium can mark the completion in their respective columns. Rather than make graph this overly complicated, I omitted items such as brief links, deadlines and links to final content outputs that can be added in the future.

In addition to a project management tool or lightweight sheet, it’s imperative to constantly check which mediums are yielding the best results. I’d recommend that Seed content and mediums are evaluated holistically: How did Y piece of content perform across all mediums combined?. I’ve seen countless instances where a Seed blog article itself doesn’t bring in much organic traffic, yet its other mediums perform quite successfully. 

Outside of measuring performance holistically, it should also be measured by ICP and respective content pillars. Which content pillars are resonating best with each ICP? To ensure you not only have a well-oiled distribution engine, but also one that is targeting the correct planes, will require constant editing of the data segments available to you. Maybe you find that the entertainment content pillar resonates best with amateurs, but not so much with professionals? 

When building your content distribution engine, I always urge you to return to thinking of it as an airport with content Seed planes and destination mediums. As you formulate your plan, if you maintain this bigger picture in mind, it’ll help your efforts go further and in a more efficient manner. 

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