If you’re reading this you’re likely a developer with a general understanding of what content marketing is:
Content marketing is marketing that involves the creation and promotion of online material (e.g., blogs, infographics, social media, email, etc) as means to facilitate interest in a particular brand, product or service.
As a developer that sounds pretty straightforward, right? Create content, share it and watch your audience magically grow. The reality however is that instituting and executing against an effective end-to-end content strategy is complicated and requires a sophisticated approach.
Last year I was fortunate to read Joe Pulizzi’s Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses. I was drawn to the book because I know how difficult it is for founders and developers to successfully market themselves and their companies.
About halfway through the book it dawned on me — implementing an effective content marketing strategy is strikingly similar to writing code.
The following captures the most notable content concepts that are analogous to programming. You’ll notice some are strategic and high-level whereas others are more tactical and detail oriented.
Let’s take a look.
The first thing we do with any web or software project is generate a project spec. The project spec is comprised of requirements that need to be addressed in order for our application to satisfy its intended purpose. Similarly with content marketing, we must first develop an end-to-end strategy that maps out all of the interconnected components necessary to successfully fuel audience growth (e.g., blog articles, automated email campaigns, social media outreach, long-term multipliers, subscriber entry points, etc).
In both instances the project spec acts as a compass. It guides our software development efforts in the same way it guides our content marketing strategy. A core component of this guiding compass is the architecture.
A software product’s architecture is critical to building an effective and reliable system. As developers we map out a product’s architecture before we implement anything. This is done to facilitate communication, address key decisions and ensure requirements are being addressed. The same can be said for content marketing architectures.
Here you’ll see an automated email workflow comprised of sequences of emails (i.e., campaigns). These campaigns are coupled with corresponding rulesets and actions based on user behavior (i.e., emails opened, trigger links clicked, etc).
As you can see, the content architecture itself is fueled by objectives defined in our content strategy or “project spec”. It ensures that all meaningful scenarios are mapped out and inline with our goals.
Additionally, with a software architecture we identify all of its interworking components (e.g., technical stacks, communication protocols, etc). The same can be said for a content marketing architecture (e.g., user personas, communication channels, etc). With both we define their underlying and interworking units, and ensure they’re appropriately aligned with our goals and the architectures themselves.
Automation and Methodology
Along with requirement driven architectures, automation plays a fundamental role in both software development and content marketing. As developers and systems engineers we seek out opportunities to automate tasks and improve efficiency. The same can be said for content marketers.
To effectively build an audience through content we must develop valuable content and consistently deliver it through appropriate channels.
This process is repeatable and made up of the following phases:
There’s a variety of ways to automate these phases, particularly within Promotion and Measurement (e.g., email and social media automation, report generation, etc).
For the others which are more human-dependent (e.g., ‘Content Creation’, ‘Editing’), we instill methodologies which help streamline the process. It’s no different than the ways in which software methodologies are used to help streamline a team’s development process.
So we’ve touched on some of the high-level similarities between software development and content marketing, but let’s dive a bit deeper.
Classes, Objects, Functions, Variables
When we first began offering content marketing services to clients, I was amazed at how often I found myself pulling from software development concepts. For instance, understanding your audience is instrumental to content marketing.
Here’s the thought process I’d take:
- As I would onboard clients and research their markets I found myself treating their audiences as different classes.
- With these classes or templates of characteristics associated with each audience type, I envisioned instantiating objects or audience members of a particular class that I could communicate with.
- To do so, I’d need to pass object variables, like a recipient’s first name, to different functions in order to more capably connect with them on a personal level.
- With the outputs from the functions (e.g., automated emails, social media posts, blogs, infographics, white papers, etc) I could ensure the objects of a particular class (i.e, the recipients), were receiving the right content at the right time.
To someone without a software background I imagine this thought process seems convoluted and cryptic. However, for those of us accustomed to building different products for different audiences, this line of thinking is pragmatic and straightforward.
Either way, it‘s easy for a content marketing strategy to become complicated and unwieldy when many stakeholders and their varied thought processes are involved. This is when good documentation comes into play.
As developers we know how important documentation is. It helps keep track of all aspects of an application and improves its overall quality. It does so by supporting development, maintenance and knowledge transfer to other developers.
Similarly, documentation is a key component of any content marketing strategy. It maps out important processes, audience personas, lead generation mechanisms and scheduling practices. Doing so improves the quality of the content marketing strategy overall and boosts the effectiveness of the team executing against it.
As developers we know maintaining documentation requires consistent care and attention. The same can be said for content marketing. It’s an ongoing process that progresses as an application or content marketing strategy evolves over time.
Iteration and Optimization
This notion of living documentation is nothing new. The same can be said for software development and content marketing in general.
As it is the case that no software application is ever truly complete, no content marketing strategy is ever truly complete either. They both require continuous iteration, feedback solicitation, measurement and optimization in order to be successful.
- Continuous Iteration — With content marketing we must continuously evaluate the value we’re bringing to our audience. This involves systematically improving the quality of the content and how it is being published and disseminated.
- Feedback Solicitation — We must repeatedly seek out opportunities to obtain feedback from our audience and ensure our content is resonating and providing value. From the feedback we might ultimately find that our content better serves another audience or perhaps is more useful when shared through another channel.
- Measurement — With all of this content we’re generating we’ll want to track its performance (i.e., views, read ratio, engagement, etc). We’ll also want to track our publication outlets, promotional channels and the entry points we have in place (e.g., email subscription forms, calls to action, etc).
- Optimization — We then use this feedback and the measurements we gather to continuously refine and improve upon our strategy as a whole (i.e., processes, content quality, promotion, entry points, etc).
As you can see, your content marketing strategy is a living strategy. It requires ongoing care and attention in order for it to be successful long-term.
A software developer who understands content marketing is unstoppable. Yet for whatever reason few developers are taking advantage and using content marketing to gain actual paying customers for the products they’ve built. The good news for developers is that content marketing done right is remarkably similar to software development.
With both we start with a project spec or strategy document which clearly captures our goals and the intended purpose of our efforts. We then architect how we intend to execute: What processes will we institute?What tools will we use? How will we measure success?
From there we identify the methodologies that will help streamline our efforts and improve efficacy. We pursue opportunities to automate and accelerate how we implement.
As developers we have a tactical advantage. We’re able to pull from many core programming concepts we’re familiar with (e.g., classes, objects, functions and variables) and align them with our overall content strategy. This includes documentation. I.e., detailing processes, audience personas, lead generation mechanisms and scheduling practices in order to improve quality and effectiveness.
Lastly, just as no software effort is ever 100% complete, no content marketing effort is ever 100% complete. Both require ongoing iteration and optimization in order to have long-term success.
So go ahead, empower yourself as a developer. Give content marketing a try. I think you’ll find with your skill set you’re uniquely positioned to be very successful.