ADOTAS – The maturity model is usually applied in the context of the stages of business growth. However, one of the best times to use a maturity model is when you explore new ideas. A maturity model creates a framework or self-diagnostic to determine new idea progression and decide where you want it to go. In other words, it’s your very own marketing road map. And nothing is more buzzy in the digital marketing world than content.
Content marketing has stages of implementation. For some businesses, getting from stage one to two is a reasonable goal. But unless you understand what the stages look like, it’s hard to grow any content marketing strategy. Here are the five stages of content marketing.
Stage 1: Chaos or Ad Hoc
Everything that you do with your content at this stage is a one-off action, not tied into strategy, and the content isn’t connected. That’s not to say this method can’t be successful, as all of us have witnessed the viral video phenomenon. But any success at this stage is usually dependent on a few heroes within the company (or agency) combined with the right timing in the market. It’s not repeatable and it’s not sustainable, especially if one or all of the people who created the content were to suddenly leave. The point of the maturity model is to make you less dependent on individuals and more dependent on processes. At this stage, it’s very hard to do that.
The kind of technology used to create, share and track content at this stage is also ad hoc. It might consist of a free or basic email tool, YouTube, or even an expensive technology that you think you need but don’t know why or how to use properly.
Stage 2: Defined
Once you’ve defined an approach to creating and using content, you’ve hit stage two. Congrats! You’re no longer throwing slime at the wall and seeing what sticks. At the defined stage, those ad hoc processes start to have some formality to them. There’s a tradeoff at this stage, though. Stage one has you attempting to move mountains; at stage two you’re trying to move anthills, and more of them. You’re probably producing many relatively small pieces of content, with adjusted expectations.
This is when you start to “feel” success, but you don’t have measurements in place to back up your gut. You’re more focused on creating systematic processes that the team can create, no matter who’s on the team, and you’re no longer dependent on the heroics of a singular person. This stage is about setting up the process and finding the right tools, which means you’ve probably adopted a CRM and/or a marketing automation tool.
Stage 3: Measurement
This is a great stage for companies to attain, and in many cases, companies can stop here. At stage three you know specifically why you’re making content choices. You know which leads will receive links to videos once per month and which leads will receive weekly emails, all fully automated. You’ve purchased the right tools and they are all working – but they may not be 100 percent integrated. Data may be duplicated and, occasionally, things slip through the cracks due to this lack of integration. Your tactical content process is so systematic by now that you’re thinking big-picture again – about your brand. Now you’re not focused on the nitty-gritty of the content, but rather, how it all fits together. How does it all tie back to your broader campaigns and business goals? Now, the videos and the blog posts are designed specifically to complement each other.
At this stage, you’ve gotten back to good old-fashioned marketing.
At stage three, you’re also applying analytics and learning how to master those metrics. You now know how to get full usage of your CRM and marketing automation, and you’re probably adding in a more sophisticated video sharing platform, as YouTube doesn’t track content as deeply as you need. You’re now expertly measuring your marketing, advertising, and social content, and it doesn’t stress you out anymore.
Stage 4: Deep Analytics and Integration
You’ve figured out the metrics that matter to your business, and you’re not producing a single campaign or piece of content that you can’t measure. You know precisely how to use content to nurture a lead from acquisition through the funnel to sales. At stage three you’re sophisticated and you’re doing all of the right things, but at stage four you measure the performance so you know how to begin tweaking. You don’t just measure the success of the overall campaign — you measure the success of each individual piece of content. For instance, you’re not just interested in knowing if a lead clicked on a video, but how far they got into the video before they signed off and how that corresponds to other links they’ve opened from your website. You’re tracking at a far, far more granular level.
You likely have a team of people, possibly a combination of in-house and outsourced, who are executing on a content strategy with a level of precision and drumbeat that would have made Henry Ford envious. If you lost someone on your marketing team at this stage, it wouldn’t make a dent in your content strategy, and your brand reputation certainly wouldn’t feel the hit. You are now completely free from dependence on a single hero.
And your technology sings like an orchestra. It’s complementary and well-integrated, and the glitches are ironed out. You probably have a full suite of sales and marketing tools, and your developer has built applications on their APIs. Welcome to your well-oiled, marketing machine.
Stage 5: Master
This is the Jackie Chan of content marketing. Very few companies get to this stage, and very few need to, so don’t make yourself crazy. If your company is performing at this level, it means you can show monetization from every point of your content marketing. You’ve publishing content on a daily basis. You’re feeding conversations from every touch point that your leads encounter. At this stage every system, technology, measurement and thought process is well in place. You simply need to monetize and tweak, monetize and tweak. Is it realistic to try to attain this stage? Not in most cases.
Watch for Traps
There are several obstacles to avoid when thinking about the content marketing maturity model.
One Level Fits All. There is a huge mistake in thinking you need to achieve a particular level of maturity. While almost every company should try to flee from Level One chaos, every company must determine toward which level they aspire.
Sequential Thinking. You don’t have to start at Level One and progress from there. Some organizations have successfully started at Level Two with careful planning and execution. Additionally, savvy organizations may be able to leapfrog levels. For example, you can go from Level One to Level Three with the right strategy, people, processes and technology. It also stands to be said that you don’t need to spend a lot of time at each stage. You could move very quickly through stages one and two and then stick around at stage three for a while. You can even take a step back if you’re finding chaos at a certain stage.
Overinvesting. A company experimenting with content marketing could get caught up investing in expensive technology and cumbersome processes that they aren’t yet ready to take on. It’s important to be careful in your decisions if you’re following a maturity model road map. Buy tools that can naturally grow with you through a couple stages, or even help you progress from one stage to another. Don’t invest in the big, robust marketing automation platform that’s designed for a large company just because you hope to be there someday. The system won’t serve you, and you’ll have wasted a lot of money. At the same time, and holding all other things equal, don’t invest in tools that will not or cannot grow with you along the way.
Content marketing is a great frontier. We can hardly call it new anymore, but we certainly can call it expansive and vastly undiscovered. The maturity model is simply there to help you navigate. So ask yourself: Where is your company? And where do you want to go?