The new “liquid” model for content marketing strategy

content marketing strategy

I had a great conversation with my friend Jay Baer recently and he commented that he didn’t know what the “spine” of his content marketing strategy should be any more. “It used to be the blog,” he said, “but I’m not sure there IS a spine any more. There is an expectation that your content will be published and discovered everywhere.”

He was referring to a recent post I wrote describing how Facebook is baking “dwell time,” or time on content into their algorithm, suggesting that we need to publish directly on Facebook. LinkedIn wants you to do the same thing. Does this now become the spine?

It’s time to build on rented land

Conventional wisdom is drive people to your websit and never “build your business on rented land” but we may need to re-think this idea as our favorite channels make a play to own the attention of OUR customers.

For the first time in history, our marketing strategy is dictated by the channels and platforms, instead of the other way around.

Just a few years ago our marketing options were known, reliable, and predictable. Channels like TV, newspapers, and magazines had knowable reach and demographics. We did our research, crafted a message and went to work. The marketers were in charge.

But today it is profoundly more complex. Not only are the platforms changing, the rules of engagement are changing constantly, forcing us to adjust our strategy week by week to take advantage of new opportunities. We must prepare to add a dimension of liquidity and flow to our marketing plan.

Social media on borrowed time

Frankly, we have probably been living on borrowed time when it comes to the freedom and free lunch we have enjoyed on the social platforms. While we’ll probably have a lot of griping and moaning about the new content marketing strategy realities, the fact is, these new rules are already familiar in many industries.

I have been doing a lot of work in the pharmaceutical industry for the last five years. Let’s look at their reality.

This is a business that spends mightily to build brand recognition for their products. The advertise on TV, magazines and the web. The promote through social and PR. They offer trials, coupons, and in-store displays.

And then, the big retailers control how the product is sold, where the product is sold, and the final price. They collect all the consumer data and then rarely share it with their supplier partners. And to make matters worse, as soon as they can, the retailers try to make a store-branded version to compete with the pharma companies and own their customers.

To succeed the brand has to surround that customer by publishing all over the place. Is all that promotion going to lead them back to the company’s website? Probably not. “Inbound” marketing doesn’t really exist in that environment.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

A new model for our age

The Porter Five Forces model isn’t viable any more. You can’t pick a strategy that is going to last five or 10 years. A more useful model for your content strategy might be represented by an American football game.

In that sport, a primary method of advancing down the field is to hand the ball to a strong and swift player called a running back. The idea is to create a “hole” in the defense so the running back can take advantage of the opportunity to sprint through a pack of opponents and pick up as much ground as possible before the competition eventually swarms and stops the advance.

Before the game, the team has an over-arching vision of what needs to be accomplished to win, but adjustments are made continually throughout the game. In fact, after each play, the team re-groups to consider where another hole might be created. Their strategy flows.

This is how you need to think about content marketing strategy today. As long as you’re in the game, you need to be looking for holes, or points of strategic leverage. You need to shift with the changes and charge through those holes as fast as you can to gain ground until the competition figures it out and closes in on you … whether that’s a few months or a few years.

Meanwhile … even as this is happening … you need to be looking for the next hole, the next point of leverage. Plotting a strategy becomes a continuous, liquid flow as new research, new platforms, new content ignition opportunities, and new content forms create opportunistic points of leverage. Like the running back charging through a hole, your successful strategy is multi-dimensional, a function of:

  • Space: What is the point of strategic leverage?
  • Time: How long will the space (or niche) exist?
  • Speed: How fast can you run though the gap and maintain the pace ahead of your competitors?
  • Strength: What special talents do you need on our team to take advantage of the gaps you find?

In an ideal world, a strategic committee would be scanning the environment and reviewing these dimensions constantly.

It’s a difficult time to be in business, a challenging time. The spoils will go to the swift, the nimble, the liquid.


Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Victor M

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  • Kristine Allcroft

    I read this post and immediately thought of 2 things: “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick . .. ” and the email I received from Chris Brogan over the weekend “No One Is Reading.” I think you’re right. We do need to keep surveying the digital marketing landscape to see emerging trends. But I also think Chris is right. As marketers it’s really easy to get distracted with “shiny object syndrome” – always chasing the “next big thing” to the detriment of everything, including our mental peace.
    As a culture, the challenge is to maintain our ability to stay centered and focused on a plan of action by deciding what’s important first, perhaps by forming our value statement. Then, evaluate all things “new” by the criteria of the value statement.
    In the words of Chris “We have to dust off our internal compass, empty out our mental backpack, and only put it in those things that will move us forward. We MUST ignore all the superfluous things, so that we can focus on what needs doing.”

  • Hi Mark,

    Yes, it’s a difficult time to be in business. The anxiety-producing swiftness of change (and what we have to do to keep on top of it) is immense.

    in regard to @kristineallcroft:disqus ‘s mention of Chris Brogan’s email (I read it, too): How can we ignore superflous things if we don’t know what is going to work for our specific business and customers without testing? How can we make a plan and stick to it when the game changes every few weeks?

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    It is such a pleasure to read your smart, forward-thinking posts, Mark. The thing about posting on our own blogs associated with our websites is the personal branding aspect. I wonder if the utility value of a business blog like this one of yours will ever be replaced entirely by social media posting.

  • Businesses and individuals who were able to be quick and nimble over the past several years were able to reap a lot of reward that, quite frankly, people today cannot.You are a perfect example of one who worked tirelessly while the system “worked” for those without 7 digit marketing budgets. And I might add.. ‘social media’ today is just not as fun as it was. No matter what move you try and make or put into place, it seems there’s either a barrier there or there is too much noise from other places.

  • You are already seeing people shift the spine, if not totally abandon in. It’s most common with the video crowd. YouTube is the spine for many of those stars, with Snapchat and Instagram a very close second.

  • Sally Falkow

    The concept of the need to constantly do an environmental scan is not new. It’s been part of a successful PR strategy for decades. And it is a vital component. Just when you think you have all the pieces figured out you look away and things change. It is a constantly moving landscape.

    Technology and social media have made it move much faster, agreed. But the basic idea still applies. It is vital to keep monitoring and adjusting your strategy. It has never been a good idea to have a “one and done” approach to strategy.

    What you do need is a framework that guides you in the research, monitoring, analysis and measuring of results, so that you can adapt fast and move. How else will you find those gaps, threats and opportunities?

    10-point social media strategy template.

  • I think that the first point you mentioned “space” or the “point of strategic leverage” is the most important. I think one thing that separates your blog is that it often takes an angle that no other marketing blog takes. To get a PhD, a person has to present something that “adds to the field.” They can’t just regurgitate what someone before them has already discovered. I think the same holds true in content marketing. In order to be successful you either have to be talking about a subject that no one has talked about before and that some group of people will find interesting, or find an ANGLE on a saturated subject that no one has found. I think if this is done well, it can be successful whether it’s done on rented space or not.

  • Steve Woodruff

    Content shock + publication fragmentation + accelerated evolution. I think there’s going to be a market for Extra Strength Social Media Advil.

  • Excellent commentary. I am glad SOMEBODY is still reading ! ; )

  • Great points Betsy, thanks for commenting.

  • Not entirely I don’t think. There will always be a place for long form content just as there has always been a place for books.

  • Very interesting observation. Social media was a lot more fun before it became a “strategy.” Perhaps that is why kids like Snapchat. Still not much of a corporate outpost.

  • Thanks for the comment and the inspiration, my friend.

  • Thanks for the very kind words Luke,

  • Well said. : )

  • I agree-ish. I’ve been thinking about the same thing (see also ) . But I’m not sure what to do with it. I keep resisting. I keep thinking, “this is a horrible idea.” But I am starting to see the value. Just like you.

  • Kitty Kilian

    If you think of a website like The Book Of Life (part of The School Of Life) – talking about longreads – that is a website I would never want to miss again. I love it. It is very good writing on all spects of life – by philosophers – beautifully ilustrated too. But honestly I can only think of a handful of websites that are so special. And timeless.

  • Brian

    Thought provoking post and not something routinely found on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or even LinkedIn. But if your audience hangs in those spaces then it would be foolish to ignore them. Content placement strategies must be customer avatar aware otherwise we may find ourselves chatting with the wrong crowd.

    BTW, love the football analogy. It’s also worth remembering that while each team may tweak their game plan during the game, usually it’s only the team that’s losing that completely abandons their game plan.

  • Nice addition to the conversation Brian. I like that!

  • Interesting perspective as always Kitty. Many thanks.

  • I’m fortunate to be in some indie writer communities that are younger and more nimble than I am. lol I’m able to get ahead of some strategies, though as noted, they change fast. So fast that most days I put my head down and write novels and try not to notice. lol But eventually I have to face the social media, so I’m also lucky, I also found {grow}.

  • I may be coming from a very different angle here, but to me – when you think about a marketing spine, I always think that your product and your service has to be the spine of your marketing. Where you do the marketing and where you connect with your consumers is important, but secondary. I think the obsession with “where” is weighing over the more important “what” – and that’s what consumers care a little more about.

    While I agree that you’re talking about this from a content backbone, I think my I process this in a different way wherein instead of making the platform your backbone, you should make your product your backbone. The channels are merely adaptation channels, where you tell the story based on how the platform wants it to be told, and how your consumers want to receive the story.

    I think that approach allows us to be a little more agile. We don’t want our channels to inform our strategy, we want the strategy to be flexible enough to adapt to the channels. Sometimes we got lost in storytelling because we create a disconnect between the what we’re selling and what the consumer looks to buy. Am I being too abstract here? Or too off the mark?

  • In a presentaton today, I used the word “queasy” to describe my reaction to these changes. And thanks for sharing your post!

  • Awwww… Thank you!!! You made me smile today!

  • As always, I can count on you for a nuanced and intelligent perspective Avtar!

    It is certainly a great question … where does your product begin and the marketing end? Is Coke a product or marketing? Is Red Bull a product or a content company? All of this is blurring today. But I do very much appreciate you grounding us in the fact that is starts with the problem you are trying to solve or the need you are trying to serve and I thank you!

  • I remember having a strategy vs tactics discussion with you when you visited Tallinn years ago. It looks to me, too, that today we need to replace the word “strategy” with “long-term goal” and focus on short-term tactics at the operational level. Be that the production of a physical product or selling an intangible service.

    I have recently been doing a lot of work for a big IT services company, and it is evident in all industries from manufacturing to forest to retail — even public administration — that customer experience is the lodestar around which all business revolves. As we know, customer preferences are fickle, which means we as vendors need to be able to change course very quickly.

    In marketing, it seems long-form content serves two purposes these days:
    1) it establishes your expertise, thought leadership and relevance
    2) it is a repository of search terms for being found

    By and large, business is clearly moving from planned activity to quick reactions.

  • George Stenitzer

    Where the customer is the sponge, yes, be the liquid

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  • The concept of building content and publishing in places other than your blog is particularly hard to stomach when your website is where you earn money.

    But, is publishing full content on Facebook and LinkedIn really that much different than a newsletter? Your audience is where your audience is. Unfortunately, many of them will be somewhere else tomorrow.

  • EvansMediaGroup

    David Ogilvy said “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.” Ogilvy died before content became a thing … but his words ring true. If you want to sell what it is you are talking about, publish your content where the audience is, even if today that is LinkedIn or Facebook.

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  • Content is as valuable as it is contextual. This sounds simple enough at first, but that context now has many layers and players (i.e., the social platform, the timing, the brand, the target audience, the ethos of the moment, etc.).

  • Katra

    Kirstin, you couldn’t have said it any better. Being aware of what’s happening is great but jumping on it right away isn’t the way to go for everyone. I think what’s happening is there is a fear of missing out and forgetting what’s our central focal point.

    Great read and commentary.

  • Kristine Allcroft

    I think the challenge is to find the constants. Mark does this on his blog. Storytelling. Relevance. Being helpful. With those qualities as a baseline for our center and balance, writing can then be molded into the new platforms and delivery methods. Just because the form of delivery changes (e.g., Mark’s latest post about dwell time on Facebook) doesn’t mean our heart or our commitment to storytelling changes. The methods of broadcasting don’t change the human need to connect. And isn’t that what marketing is really all about?

  • I completely agree!

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  • Building on this train of thought – if the shift continues (although it may slow), does it mean that it actually isn’t very wise to build on rented land? As I look through the comments already made here, I notice several similar sentiments. The “Strategy” seems to require us to continuously adapt to the shifts, make wise decisions whether to adopt a platform or not.

    Back in the days of print, some brands made it a point not to advertise on certain platforms, like newspapers, as they may dilute the brand. That was part of their media strategy.

    Today, I still see the same. Some of these brands may choose to advertise on Facebook but not Snapchat. They may adopt Periscope but not Vine.

    I personally believe that while the shift is still happening, it is slowing down, and we may see it come to an almost complete stop as we begin to consume the new media platforms wholly. The combination of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat, Linkedin, may very well be the 21st century version of what TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers meant in the 20th century.

    So my point is, if I don’t expect the platforms to drastically shift over the next 5 to 10 years, it may well make sense to invest more to build on rented land, and adapting those platform-specific strategies to your own digital strategy. The contrary is also true – I would hesitate to invest too much on rented land if I think that the shift will continue to happen at the pace that we’ve experienced in the last 5 to 10 years.

    This sounds a little incoherent at the moment – pardon me.

  • I think I get what you are saying. I don’t think the actual platforms are changing that much, for example we will still have Facebook five years from now. However, the rules of engagement — how we use Facebook is changing week by week. The Faceook of five years from now will be unrecognizable from what it is today, requiring constant shifting.

  • Excellent perspective Kimmo and I agree. Would love to get back to Estonia. We had such a great time with you.

  • Ha! Love that : )

  • Yes, a big difference. You still own the newsletter. Still drives people to a call to action. Hard to do publishing on Facebook.

  • Thanks for connecting the dots like that. Much appreciated.

  • Well said Edwin

  • Next time, let me show you the South. Quite different from the rather superficial Tallinn, beautiful as it is. Maybe your next European tour? 🙂

  • That makes sense Mark, although that also changes the equation a bit. Some businesses who built their pages are now unable to recoup their initial ROI (for whatever) reason, while others who did are able to make use of their established community as a launchpad/leverage. What do you think is the future for Facebook and “Rented” land in general? Does it make sense to “pay” to build follower-ship?

  • I’m in!

  • Two different questions really. I think I answered the first one in the post. I don’t know about “paying” for followership but advertising and promotion must certainly be a piece of most content strategies today.

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  • Christoph Trappe

    Create Once Publish Everywhere. The blog should be the home base but not all social media should link back. Reformat content over and over.

    I use the 60-30-10 formula on social media.

    60 percent – share thoughts, content, etc. no link

    30 – respond, RT

    10 – links

  • Nice advice Christoph!

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  • Content is the king. No matter how much we try to deny it but content is crucial for digital marketing success. Your content marketing strategy plays an important role in bringing success to your business or website.

    Content marketing strategy is not something that we can come up with in a few hours or overnight. Research is very important to come up with an effective strategy.

  • Mike Myers

    Thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post, as usual, Mark. To me, the spine of any content marketing effort should be the audience. Once selected, the target audience will define the right message, the right time and the right place (media). It sounds cliche but, just like publishers, we need to wake up each day concerned with what our audience wants, not with what we may have to offer. My two pennies.

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