Content Marketing

3 Strategies to Make Big Content Work for Your Brand

bridge with big content

“Big Content”, also known as content that requires significant time and resources, is all the rage today. But how do you turn these ebooks, whitepapers, videos, webinars, Slideshares, etc., from fun, long-term content creations to powerful projects that really drive business?

I interviewed 3 marketers who make large content projects work for their companies and clients to find out how to make sure to get a return on investment from Big Content:

Cyrus Shepard

cyrus for post

Cyrus Shepard is Senior Content Astonaut for Moz. Follow him on Twitter and Google+

How do you measure the ROI of your big content initiatives?

Our process at Moz isn’t much different than most companies. We look at the numbers of social shares, links, mentions and page views. Down the line, we also look at the number of assisted conversions the content contributed to our software Free Trial conversion funnel.

That said, the number one measurement of ROI can’t actually be measured. Our primary goal is to deliver value to our audience, and this is often hard to quantify through traditional means. The numbers can suggest value, but often you go with your gut.

What factors – ideation, production, promotion – are key to realizing a return on your investment? Where should companies new to big content focus?

Can I choose all of them? They all need to be excellent if you want to proceed. If I had to choose one, I’d choose ideation, because most people start way too small for success. If your ideas are big, the content follows and everything falls in place. You can always scale back from a big idea, but it’s harder to scale up.

Typically when researching an idea, I look at the best resources that have been created on the subject, and ask myself, “How can we top this?”

We’ve all launched pieces we thought were great that underperformed for a variety of reasons. How can you manage risk in your content  marketing?

Always have your next 2-3 projects in the pipeline. That way you are always looking ahead and not getting caught up in the success or failure of your current project.

One challenge in making big content work is driving longevity through maintenance. How do you plan for upkeep and continuing to get value out of content for a long time?

This varies by industry, but in our industry we find we need to update our “big” content pieces every 2-3 years. In all honesty, we could probably do a better job of this. There is a constant push to produce things that are “new”, while updating older content isn’t as sexy.

To help with longevity, we try to move our big content pieces away from the blog (which by nature has a transient feel) to a more permanent home. This allows us to drive more traffic to the project over time, and helps it earn more natural links – folks are reluctant to link to a 2 year old blog post, but not as hesitant to link to a piece of evergreen content that stands on its own.

Can you share a little bit about a ‘big content’ project you’ve been involved in, and how it worked?

Let’s take an idea that started as a simple, small project: The Google Algorithm Change History. This started as a simple goal to publish a record of Google updates.

moz example

I acted as the project manager. My job was to wireframe the original concept and detail the project specs. I then worked with the design team to create the visuals and we brought Dr. Pete on board to do the research and write the content. In the end, Dr. Pete did such a phenomenal job we passed the whole project over to him, and he’s been driving it forward ever since. It’s now one of the most visited single pieces of content on Moz.

What do you think is the future of big content in terms of form, style, approach, and and concepts?

Tech is so simplistic now, to the point that “interactive” is still a big deal. I think the future of big content is multi-platform. Imagine a campaign that delivered content across your browser, television, and Google Glass.

The best big content projects go way beyond the form and achieve something that is really hard, which is storytelling. Personally, this is something I’m trying to improve on myself. If you get the story right, the content takes care of itself.

Kelsey Libert

kelsey for post

Kelsey Libert is the Director of Promotions at Fractl. She has refined the art and science of digital PR, which often has an unparalleled impact on campaign awareness, link-building, and search engine rankings.

Prior to joining Fractl, Kelsey’s knack for creating and placing content has led to featured placements on Mashable, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool,, ESPN, and many more.  In addition to Kelsey’s work, she often writes and speaks about content promotion for several highly regarded industry publishers.

You can connect with Kelsey on TwitterG+, or LinkedIn.

How do you measure the ROI of your big content initiatives?

Our clients typically look at a variety of metrics that great content can drive. These metrics fall into short and long-term categories. Sometimes a client will know from past campaigns or other marketing initiatives how ‘valuable’ certain results (such as links) may be, sometimes this is something we help them evaluate over time.

We even have a simple ROI tool we often use to help clients roughly estimate the unique value specific campaigns provide.

Some of the specific numbers we tend to report on include:

Short Term:

  • Overall traffic generated & reach of the campaign

  • Total number of links and syndications achieved by the content

  • High profile placements (what major websites featured the content)

  • Social media penetration (total share numbers on-site and across syndication channels)

  • Immediate conversion events

Long Term:

  • SEO impact for campaign related keywords as well as across the board

  • Growth in branded keyword volume from organic search

  • Volume of traditional PR opportunities that often arise from highly viral content

What factors – ideation, production, promotion – are key to realizing a return on your investment? Where should companies new to big content focus?

Without a doubt, the idea matters more than anything. The vast majority of content creators falter at this step, and it spells doom for the entire campaign, regardless of the level of production quality.

When evaluating content ideas, we utilize an extensive vetting rubric. The purpose of each question in our rubric is to measure how strong each idea is from two specific vantage points. For example:

  1. Does the content say something that’s never been said before — does it bring something completely new to the Internet? Does it tell a story that hasn’t been told?
  2. Does the content resonate emotionally, does it initiate a reaction of surprise and delight?

Once you’ve fully vetted your idea, you need to choose a content medium that best helps you tell your story. If you can find ways to be innovative here, the novelty and surprise factor can go a long way. Ultimately, though, it’s important to choose a medium that is best suited to your unique data/information/message.

From a promotions perspective, involve publishers early on (as early as the idea generation process with those publishers you’ve formed strong relationships with). Find out what information they believe their audience wants to learn more about. Find ways to help them craft a story. Make it as easy as possible for them to do their job. Some things we often provide publishers with include:

  • Embeddable content with supplemental content to link to (give them various ways to embed or feature the content)

  • Details about the reason the content was created, including its purpose and mission

  • A full fact-checked document with sources

  • An article to accompany or introduce the featured content

We’ve all launched pieces we thought were great that underperformed for a variety of reasons. How can you manage risk in your content marketing?

It’s important to realize two things about content marketing, which help shape your perspective on the place of ‘big content’ in the overall scheme of your marketing mix:

  1. The most effective content marketers don’t focus on ‘one-off’ campaigns. Instead, they see content as integral to their overall marketing efforts, and the lifeblood that energizes each communication channel with their current customers and potential customers.

  2. Like applying to college, the success of any single piece of content is a bit of a crapshoot. However, if you check all the right boxes and are consistent, you will have more wins than losses. Over time, it becomes possible to accurately gauge the ‘average’ ROI of your individual efforts, and optimize on an ongoing basis through audience-specific learning that you acquire over time.

For certain metrics (like link-building & brand exposure) — single, correctly executed ‘big content’ concepts can have an absolutely unprecedented ROI (worth millions). Business can’t afford not to pursue this type of marketing.

One challenge in making big content work is driving longevity through maintenance. How do you plan for upkeep and continuing to get value out of content for a long time?

We love to create interactive content that updates itself (by pulling data from API’s for example) — but there are many ways to extend the longevity of your content.

Choosing evergreen concepts during ideation, using data and sources that are updated or known to be published every year, or creating comprehensive resources that can be consistently grown over time are all ways we routinely build longevity into our campaigns.

One big mistake many people make is to move onto new content initiatives before they’ve exhausted the potential reach of the content they’ve already created. Think critically about how, where, and when you promote the campaigns you create, and look for opportunities to expose that content to audiences that have not see it yet.

Can you share a little bit about a ‘big content’ project you’ve been involved in, and how it worked?

We recently worked on two projects for a client that aimed at visualizing the Drug Economy and its impact. They’re complementary, but unique in their own ways. Our approach was to use innovative types of content to help tell an incredibly compelling, data driven story in two different ways:

  1. Drug Bless America – Interactive Parallax

  2. Visualizing The Drug Economy – HTML5/WebGL Experiment (view in Chrome)

fractl example

These projects are just parts of an integrated, longer term content initiative aimed at brand exposure and growth. They have collectively driven millions of visitors, hundreds of high quality inbound links from unique linking domains, and exposure on some of the web’s most authoritative and highly trafficked websites.

What do you think is the future of big content in terms of form, style, approach, and and concepts?

The second half of content marketing is outreach — getting your content seen and shared by large audiences. There has been a massive shift in what potential publishers expect when it comes to sharing content created by third parties. They are inundated by pitches, and need to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.

Original research is essential to success here– you absolutely need to give publishers something new, something they can construct a story around. Rehashed, regurgitated information (even if beautifully presented) will eventually become impossible to place.

If you manage to create content that tells an original story, the next big step you can take is to innovate via the medium you tell your story through. New web technologies like WebGL and other experimental aspects of HTML5 will enable the next generation of interactive content. Spending more to achieve a very high production value can also pay you back in spades — your goal should be to convey your message in a stunning, original way.

If you strive to tell an original story, and tell it in a way people haven’t seen before, you’re winning.

Doug Kessler

doug for post

Doug is the Co-Founder & Creative Director at Velocity Partners.  He wrote Crap: The Content Marketing Deluge and the B2B Content Marketing Strategy Checklist.

Doug is a displaced Yank who started his career at Ogilvy & Mather, New York. Soap and fabric softener bored him rigid so he jumped ship to specialise in B2B.

Doug is a content marketing junkie. He’s a copywriter at heart but with a secret jones for analytics. And Lagavullin.

You can connect with him on TwitterLinkedIn, and Pinterest.

How do you measure the ROI of your big content initiatives?

Shares are our first key metric. We want to produce content that our target audience wants to share with their networks.

That may not be a direct, revenue metric but it’s a great indicator that we’ve hit the mark.

After that, we use every metric there is – from traffic to engagement to search-related measures – and, ideally track it through marketing automation and CRM right through to revenue. That’s the ideal scenario and it’s happening more and more. But often we’re looking at the metrics that correlate with revenue rather than tracking to actual money.

Finally, it’s important not to forget the harder-to-measure things that great content generates. We call these ‘Ripples’ and they include invitations to guest blog, speak at conferences, new friendships with prospects and influencers. These are the types of things that wouldn’t have happened without the content.

What factors – ideation, production, promotion – are key to realizing a return on your investment? Where should companies new to big content focus?

A fantastic piece of content that breaks through and resonates with people can make up for a lot of bad strategy and weak promotion. So we emphasize the primacy of the idea: a powerful timely insight that hits a nerve with the intended audience. Start with one of these and you won’t go far wrong.

Of course, terrible production values and listless promotion can kill ROI. But a great idea, well argued can overcome even these obstacles.

We’ve all launched pieces we thought were great that underperformed for a variety of reasons. How can you manage risk in your content marketing?

Content marketing risk feels lower than many of the risks in traditional marketing (like backing a massive ad campaign).

In even the best content marketing program, some pieces win and some lose. Often they’re not the ones you’d predict. The thing is to fan the flames of the winners, move on from the losers, and learn from both.

It’s important to be honest in any analysis of both success and failure. Many factors affect results and we often see people leap to conclusions based on very little science. Things like, “eBooks don’t work for us. We tried one and it flopped.”

For me, the risks in content marketing are more reputation risks than financial ones. You mitigate the financial risks by tracking everything and correcting as you go. Reputation risk is when you go out there and say something that alienates your target audience. We protect against this on the riskier pieces by running them by some friendly prospects before going live.

One challenge in making big content work is driving longevity through maintenance. How do you plan for upkeep and continuing to get value out of content for a long time?

If you treat content marketing as if it were a campaign, it will fizzle out and stop delivering returns. It’s not a campaign: it’s at the heart of any marketing strategy and you can’t stop doing it (any more than you can stop doing marketing and expect the world to still beat a path to your door).

The ‘fire and forget’ approach means that there’s a hell of a lot of untapped value locked up in content libraries out there. In B2B, we always look to use the content assets in ongoing nurture flows, so they can keep performing long after they’re day in the spotlight.

Watching the numbers is critically important in maintaining return on content: web analytics, lead nurturing, CRM will tell you what’s working and make their own case for continued investment.

Can you share a little bit about a ‘big content’ project you’ve been involved in, and how it worked?

For Salesforce, we helped get the Social Success content microsite up and running in a few months, from a standing start. It’s now packed with great content on social selling, social-powered customer service, and the social enterprise in general. The first results (mostly around traffic and engagement) have been fantastic. Now it’s all about using lead nurturing to translate all this into sales-ready leads.

salesforce social selling center is ideally positioned for content marketing: the company is packed with real experts, it’s got an open culture that enjoys sharing what it knows, and it’s walking the talk as a company.

What do you think is the future of big content in terms of form, style, approach, and and concepts?

As content marketers, we all need to keep looking for new ways to tell stories. That means new media (like Prezi instead of PowerPoint), new formats (like scrolling sites, mobile apps and purpose-built Slideshares) and new styles (attitude-filled rants instead of bland white papers).

I talk about some of our predictions for content marketing in a deck called Five Beyonds: The Future of Content Marketing (moving beyond print paradigms; the rise of content tools; stuff like that).  But it’s mostly about the ‘how’. Content marketing is still driven by ideas and always will be.

Special thanks to all of our panelists for participating. Now it’s your turn – how does your organization do big content, achieve an ROI, and manage risk? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on

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  1. says

    Terrific post, Matt.

    Thanks for inviting me to be a part of it.

    I love what Cyrus said about the “primary goal is to deliver value to our audience”. Hard to measure but surely a top goal.

    And Kelsey’s’ question, “Does the content resonate emotionally” is an issue I’ve been spending more and more time thinking about.

  2. says

    Great coverage, Matt. I love Cyrus’ want to strive for good storytelling. It truly is about what you’re communicating your brand mission as a whole to your audience. I loved Kelsey’s point about exhausting promoting one campaign before starting the next. This is absolutely something I could improve upon. And Doug’s goal to strike a chord with the audience is on point. I always think of how content would affect the audience emotionally – and if that would drive them to share, like, comment.

  3. says

    There’s no shortage of posts on content marketing. Reading posts that break through is rare these days. This post might not be epic but it’s huge for a number of reasons: Great angle: ROI, Great structure: with cases. Great coverage: excellent choice of contributors (not the usual suspects, but real practitioners). Ticks all the boxes for me and gets my vote (this one is a very special vote). Congrats Matt

  4. says

    Great post Matt, totally agree with the notion of creating evergreen content. Another great way I’ve found that helps is to re-purpose content across your different channels be it micro sizing the content for tweets, slides or video snippets. This then allows your audience to absorb the exact same content in their favourite medium.

  5. melissa says

    Every vendor should know how much content they
    have, what type it is, where it resides, and how it is performing. A complete
    content-mapping workout for your brand and key competitors is a must.Thank you for sharing such interesting post.

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