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The 5 Stages of Content Marketing Growth

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The true power of a content marketing campaign only makes itself clear with a suitable investment of time. Initially, you won’t see much in the way of results; your readership will be small, your authority will be negligible, and your content archives will be scarce. However, each new piece you create will serve as a semi-permanent landmark, and each new reader you attract will feasibly stick around for the long haul. These features make content marketing a strategy with the potential for exponential growth—provided you’re able to grow your efforts proportionally.

content marketing growth

(Image Source: Portent)

Most people “get” content marketing conceptually, and may even be able to piece a basic strategy together, but people really get thrown off when they try to devise a strategy for long-term growth. It’s a confusing process, often manifesting in fits and starts, but you need to be able to predictably control it if you want to eventually reap the benefits.

To help you better understand this growth process, I’ve split the “typical” content marketing timeline into five key stages of growth:

1. Incubation.

During this stage, you’ll be laying the groundwork for your campaign. When it starts, most of your work will be conceptual, manifesting as plans, strategies, and outlined processes for success. From there, you’ll be creating the building blocks for your vision, such as designing your blog, filling out your social media profiles, establishing your author profiles, and filling up your website with a suitable archive of posts. You’ll need these materials to work with as you start building your strategy, so you’ll be moving forward, but don’t expect a huge influx of readers and fans from the start.

2. Anchoring.

The next phase of growth is all about establishing certain “anchor points” for your campaign—think of these as the main spokes of webbing a spider would use to build a web. These can come in a variety of forms; for example, you might build up an initial following of a few hundred people by tapping your close contacts. You might create one or two “landmark” pieces, like eBooks or comprehensive guides. You could start working with one or two major publishers, developing your own powerful outside channel. The point is to secure some major mechanisms for growth early on.

3. Experimentation.

Here, you’ll start playing around with the tropes, methods, and tactics you’ve started growing accustomed to. It’s probably the biggest and hardest leap for content marketers to make, since it’s so easy to get used to your initial series of habits. Once you start seeing decent results, it’s common for marketers to just keep doing what they’ve been doing, but if you want to grow, you need to strive for something bigger and better. Experimentation comes in a variety of forms, all of which can be helpful. For example, you might try to appeal to a new audience, tinker around with a new medium or channel, or get yourself featured in a new line of publishers. Think outside the box here, as the further outside your comfort zone you go, the more you’ll stand to learn about what’s possible in content marketing—and of course, measure everything to a rigorous degree.

4. Stabilization.

Experimentation is inherently volatile—you’ll get some major wins, some major losses, and some results you aren’t quite sure what to do with. The stabilization phase of growth is all about sorting out what does and doesn’t work, and piecing together a strategy that’s cohesive, and relatively stable. It’s not going to come quickly or easily, as experimentation offers much more flexibility, but what you want is a stable, secure line of revenue, so a stable, secure means of content production and promotion is what you need to complement it. First, cut off your experimentation for the time being (you can always come back to this later), then retain and refine any bits and pieces of strategies you found to be especially helpful. Mold these into a new wing of your strategy, and start keeping it consistent. As more readers grow used to this approach, you’ll earn more loyalty and a more predictable return.

5. Scaling.

After stabilizing your campaign, the final phase of growth is sheer scaling—taking what you have and making it “bigger” in some way. In concept, this is a simple matter of quantitative growth; if you produce five posts a week, shoot for seven. If you have a network of eight publishers, shoot for a dozen. You’ll want to step up your posts, your syndication channels, your following, and your publishers, all iteratively, and all with the strategies you’ve already proven to be successful. This demands significant investment, but the results are worth it.

These five stages aren’t universal, and they aren’t as concretely divided as they would seem on the surface. As I mentioned earlier, it’s more likely that your path to content marketing growth will happen in fits and starts, launching forward when you least expect it and stagnating even when you pour extra effort in. You’ll also experience blurrier lines between each phase, sometimes skipping around, and sometimes repeating phases (especially phases three through five).

What’s important here isn’t the order or precise boundaries of growth, but the general trends and influencing factors. These will help you set better priorities, aim for more specific goals, and ultimately push your content strategy toward the appropriate next stages.

Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.

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Samuel Edwards

In his 4+ years as a digital marketing specialist, Sam has learned the ins and outs of online marketing. Additionally, he has worked with countless local businesses as well as enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including: NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP, and human rights organization Amnesty International. Today he continues to work with and establish SEO, PPC and SEM campaigns.

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1 Comment

  1. avatar

    John Schnettgoecke

    Sam, I’m glad to see you included Experimentation as one of the stages. Often times, I think clients have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that “tinkering” can be a good (and worthwhile) investment—even if it doesn’t produce immediate returns. Too often, we, as content marketers, don’t do the best job of explaining the long-term benefits of intentional experimentation. Just my two cents. But, this post definitely serves as a good reminder!

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