Failing Distribution Strategies Smother Great Content

The old adage -- build it and they will come -- doesn't work for content marketing. More than 85% of marketers publish branded content, but only 36% feel they're doing it effectively, per Forrester Research. Much of that content doesn't get seen or shared.

The problem is an abundance of content. Marketers keep creating it, although only a small portion gets noticed. Since it takes great content, but better distribution strategies, Forrester analyst Ryan Skinner suggests that brands step down content production and step up distribution.

Forrester defines distribution as getting your branded content in front of your target audience, through any channels that the audience has selected to use, to drive brand awareness and conversions such as subscription or registration.

Skinner, the author of "Put Distribution At The Heart Of Content Marketing," explains that placing too high a priority on content may help to close sales, but marketers miss the opportunity to reach a larger audience. The proof comes from a SAP Web content audit where the company discovered the content was only relevant to a minority of its target audience. After focusing more on distribution, SAP's site grew to more than 200,000 unique visitors per month in 18 months.

Build a distribution framework by looking for engagement opportunities, identifying channels to grow audiences, and including influential folks who like to share content, suggests Skinner. If content gets distributed through a URL in Facebook to an available audience of 50,000, maybe 4.5% will see it, engage and click through, totaling about 2,200. Take that same content to an audience of 1,500 through a blog and 16% might see it -- about 240. A third-party influencer with a following of about 20,000 will take that piece of content and push it out, for a 14% engagement rate of about 2,800. These are Hypothetical figures, allowing Skinner to make his point.

Building a content distribution strategy and establishing a framework will enable marketers to link content marketing to performance. That's if the marketer builds organic distribution methods by investing in paid services, and content distribution to drive long-term marketing objectives. Skinner suggests looking for specific audiences to push out content, identifying social content mavens to amplify the reach, and utilizing emerging technology that will make that content visible and easy to distribute.

15 comments about "Failing Distribution Strategies Smother Great Content".
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  1. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, October 4, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.


    Those numbers sound great, but read the fine print. They aren't real.

    For over three years our agency has provided the influencer based distribution approach, (having influencers create content and distributing to their followers). When we are at our most successful, with incentives, we see audience engagement rates of 10%.

    14% is very high.

    The percentage rates and numbers that you are citing from Skinner's presentation ( at least in version of the slides I saw) were *made up* for the purposes of illustration. Fictional.
    Nevertheless, we think his instincts are probably right...the author channel is the most engaged audience.

  2. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan, October 4, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.

    Good point, Andrew, regarding the hypothetical example or "made up numbers," but he's right on the money in terms of the distribution.

  3. Serena Ehrlich from Business Wire, October 4, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.

    Actually your numbers are close to what FB and Twitter mention (as shown in this infographic.

    Of course, the CTR and rate of response will vary drastically based on offers, most brands are not able to offer incentives every time.

    Which means most content is still not acted upon. Laurie, great, great post. Its not about the content, it is about the distribution of the content. Hear hear!

  4. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 7, 2013 at 9:20 a.m.

    Disguise the brand message in sheep's clothing all you want but the fact remains that in an on-demand world, there is simply no demand for advertising in any way, shape, or form. It has nothing to do with distribution.

  5. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, October 7, 2013 at 9:45 a.m.

    Manufacturers should manufacture, service providers should provide service, advertising agencies should create and place advertising... leave creating content to professional publishers...learn from history... its better to buy adverting on soap operas than produce soap operas

  6. Joe Gruchacz from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, October 7, 2013 at 9:47 a.m.

    I agree with you, Mike. Distribution alone is only one half of the package. But good content marketing goes beyond a disguised brand message. The content needs to be something the audience wants and, more importantly, needs. If you pair your distribution with a secondary focus on creating and providing, useful, educational content, that's when the true success happens.

  7. James McDonald from SuperString Theory, October 7, 2013 at 9:50 a.m.

    Actually Serena the infographic is not accurate for confirming the percentages on engagement. These are apples to oranges. BTW the publisher of this infographic is an SMS company skewing the numbers to show how great SMS mktg engagement is. Their methodology is dubious comparing unopened emails or unviewed newsfeeds to delivered SMS messages. The central point of this article is correct though, clients need to focus on both Content & Distribution. It would be like spending 1MM on a great ad but not buying media to run it. Or worse buying 10MM in media and not investing in a kickbutt spot to deliver their brand msg. The future of branded content is a dual strategy just like its always been. Rolling the viral dice just isn't a strategy anymore.

  8. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 7, 2013 at 10:18 a.m.

    Hi, Joe: With all due respect, branded content is something no one outside of our industry knows or talks about, let alone demands. Take search, for example. How much branded content is found via search? The answer is zero, because search is all about informed intent, whereas branded content is all about insider foolishness that merely serves to keep desperate brands and their intermediaries busy chasing their own long tails. It all comes back to the sober reality that no one demands the ads, "relevant" or otherwise.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 7, 2013 at 10:27 a.m.

    This is a recommend for Mike Einstein's response.

  10. Fredrika Nihlén from Vendemore, October 7, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.

    Laurie, thanks for a great article. Many B2B clients that I meet confirm that distribution is a problem when talking content marketing. They have complex sales processes and are struggling to be top-of-mind and perceived as the thought leader during a long period of time. One sale involves many decision makers and it is costly and difficult to broaden the network within the client, month after month. I believe good content, distributed with targeted channels can help in doing just that; supporting the sales organization in keeping a "high urgency" feel to the problem they want to solve and stay top-of-mind.

  11. Joe Gruchacz from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, October 7, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.

    Mike, with the same respect, and to Fredrika's point, in the B2B space, we see many of our clients across industries effectively using content and distribution to address the multiple decision makers involved in purchasing complex technical products. There might not be a great deal of demand in the retail consumer space where most branded content serves as pure awareness/entertainment. However, when your product requires a great deal of education to the multiple approval layers involved there's plenty of demand.

  12. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, October 7, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.


    Your point about "how much branded content is found through search" is nonsense. If you are basing your business model on what Google is doing today, you will almost certainly lose. How content is found on search doesn't reflect the first thing about whether it satisfies demand or not. It simply reflects Google's current editorial choices, which will change in six months. If you google "freefall from space" you see Red Bull is the number 4 result (they should be number one, really) because they created the branded content around the idea. And as I recall, on the day Red Bull did this, it was all anyone was talking about.

  13. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, October 7, 2013 at 4:48 p.m.

    This if fundamentally the problem with online video. It's relatively simple to create interesting online video with excellent content. It's effectively impossible to distribute it to a wide enough audience to have a detectable impact in mass channels (e.g. retail).

  14. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 7, 2013 at 5:26 p.m.

    Thank you, Doug. I was about to make the same point to Andrew, namely that no one is looking (searching) for branded content, creative, relevant or otherwise. Distribution of something no one wants -- something we willingly pay extra to avoid on TV -- is just plain idiotic and would explain the dilemma at the heart of this article. As for Red Bull, that story is starting to wilt under the glare of so many ill-advised attempts to catch lightning in a bottle.

  15. Philip Golobish from DigitalRelevance, December 16, 2013 at 12:43 p.m.

    Late to the game on this; however...

    I'm not sure the arguments for content distribution must be strictly relegated to the "branded" world and I'm also not convinced it must all be based in advertising (paying for placement). In my mind, non-branded content can and should be generated by brands for prospects that are still very early in the decision process but aren't ready to make a brand choice. There's still a whole mess of "zero moment(s) of truth" to go through as a customer that brands aren't addressing. Further, earning placement (not paying) either in a tweet from an influential person or publication adds a diversity to the marketing mix that all marketing communication plans should consider.

    P.s. even if you're a manufacturer and the great insight is just to do great manufacturing to win over customers, if you want people to know about you and find you online, you're going to have to create or foster some sort of digital content creation, whether that's on your site or off.

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