There are a lot of decisions to make when setting up a new content marketing program or looking to optimize an existing one. Some of the more common ones that marketers try to address first include the correct content pillars, right to voice, tone and brand voice. But there are bigger decisions, in my opinion, that should be tackled first, specifically where to use content as part of the marketing funnel, what type of content to create and which formats you should utilize for the actual storytelling. This is what we call the content stack.
Let me explain what I mean by looking at each of those areas.
First, for the funnel stage, plenty of research out there tells us that content is effective at pretty much every step of the customer journey. For example, white papers and other longer-form content on big, high-level subjects can be effective for establishing a brand’s footprint or to help reposition it. In a B2B setting, for example, a consulting company writing a white paper on how organizations can better use technology to support remote work could really help to build the brand’s authority on the topic. This is probably why white papers are the preferred format for most executives when developing B2B thought leadership programs.
Likewise, a firm can create articles on specific subjects to help build consideration and preference. For instance, an article on cybersecurity can detail its impact on remote work, while containing tips on how to best review current weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and referencing the firm’s capabilities. Similarly, at the bottom of the funnel, specific cases studies and client stories with direct CTAs to connect with specialists in this area can really help to drive bottom funnel conversion. I could go on to talk about how content can help with client retention, but I think you get the point.
Next, let’s look at the type of content. Right off, I hear you say, “What do you mean by type? Is that articles versus infographics?” No, in this instance, the type of content answers this question: What function does the content play? Is this evergreen or FAQ-type content that really helps with SEO, or is it what we call franchise content, which is content on big, broad subjects that helps with branding? Or is it news content, which, as it suggests, is reflective of the news agenda and helps provide a sense that the content program is up to date?
Each of these types of content is equally important, and a good content marketing program should have a mix of each type. Note: If you are new to content marketing, then you’ll probably want to focus more on the foundational content and, over time, introduce news content and then finally franchise content. Ultimately, the mix between these three types will evolve over time.
Finally, there’s format. This is where we look at the best way to tell our story. It’s important to remember that successful content marketing, as with all forms of marketing, is neither all science, nor all art — it’s a carefully crafted combination of both right- and left-brain thinking. Great content isn’t created by a straightforward formula. Ideas for subjects and decisions on format are not all born in primary data, social listening or Google Analytics. They come from a combination of a deep understanding of the category (subject matter expertise), intuition, emotion and a knack for human-centered storytelling, as well as from data-driven insights, logic and digital best practices.
Initially, you need to consider (from an editorial perspective) the best way to tell the story. Ask questions like, “What’s the story arc?” and “What are the beats of the story we want to hit?” Then you need to consider what the goal of the piece is or the type of problem it is trying to solve for its intended audience.
For example, if you are trying to inject personality into a story or involve quotes from internal subject matter experts, then perhaps an article, a video or even a podcast might be the right route. However, let’s say you are trying to explain a complex situation that a consumer needs to navigate — dealing with taxes or finding health insurance are examples that come to mind. Then an infographic or a listicle stands out as a good format to choose. That’s the “art” part of the equation, but there’s also the “science” part.
You can find a lot of great research into the relative effectiveness of different content formats. One aspect that data will help with is making the choice of formats that will work best for the audience you are looking to reach. Among other things, research will help you to better understand what the audience needs from your content. You should also factor in what format it’s being published in, which will help (or hinder) the way it’s shared on social platforms.
“The biggest hack for success with content marketing, really, is to put your all into it and know what your audience needs. The more you feel it, the better that is going to translate to your audience and help address what they are looking for.” — Semrush blog on content marketing
Our parent company, Dotdash Meredith Corporation, recently did research  using native advertising programs that ran across our network. We relied on proprietary product analysis across almost 1,000 different native content campaigns that generated more than 41.3 million page views. What we discovered from this research is this:
2. Interactive Content Does an Excellent Job of Engaging Users, Especially for Franchise Subjects
3. Illustrations and Graphics Keep Users Engaged Across Content Formats
Again, there’s no clear right or wrong answer when it comes to format. Just engaging in content marketing helps increase visitors to your website by 55%, create 97% more inbound links and deliver 434% more indexed pages (helping to get you on the first page of Google search results).
The decision on which format to use will be partly based on (1) the art (which way the editor thinks is best to tell the story), (2) the science (which formats work best with the audience you want to reach and the KPIs you are trying to hit) and finally, (3) the affordability of the various formats. Not every asset is created equal — videos cost a lot more per asset than say a simple infographic or article might.
Clearly, a lot goes into building your content marketing program, but the content stack — the combination of the three areas outlined above — is the methodology we created that feeds into the overarching content strategy. If you need help developing your strategy or the content stack for your specific use case, please give me a call or shoot me an email, I’d love to hear from you.
Robin Riddle is the lead content marketing strategist at Foundry 360. He works across B2B as well as B2C and specializes in financial services, insurance and health care. Prior to his time here, he led content marketing businesses at both The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.
A passionate advocate for the value of content marketing, Robin is also heavily involved in industry issues and speaks at many events on the topics of content marketing and native advertising.
 Dotdash Meredith Corporation: Insights 3Q19–2Q20