The ExactTarget Strategy that Created Massive Demand Gen from Content

At ExactTarget, there was a constant evolution of testing, learning, and iterating around our demand generation efforts to ensure we were building a foundation that provided scale. One of the biggest insights we found during my time leading the Demand Generation and Global Programs team turned into a core strategy for driving demand — content campaigns. The goal of this post is to outline what we did and how we did it.

What are Content Campaigns?

We defined a “content campaign” as the focused effort of driving a concept into the market that fully leverages content, channels, and the sales cycle. With a content campaign structure we were able to align internal teams, get more content produced from our efforts, and drive massive demand for our products and services.

4 Steps to Creating Successful Content Campaigns

Essentially, the most important part of a content campaign was the internal alignment on what was important and why it was important. After we had that, everything else would fall into place.

1) Define the concept to be activated by the campaign

This is the underlying strategic message for your campaign. It will become the backbone for the marketing content. It does not have to be a tag line or a 10-page brief — it just needs to convey what you are going to focus on telling the market.

Example: Mobile has evolved from a marketing channel to a marketing platform.

2) Identify some big content ideas that articulate your concept

At ExactTarget, we found the best results came from content focused on helping a marketer become successful, even if it was not directly related to our products. Creating that content is very hard to do, which is why not many people are successful at it. We ensured these content ideas had the ability to span the entire path to purchase, but a majority started with top-of-funnel content.

Here are areas where we found concepts that helped fuel conversations:

  • What research or trends can we share that impact a marketer’s responsibilities?
  • What ideas can we share that will either increase revenue or increase efficiencies for marketers?
  • What is working at a macro level in the space? There are some pretty cool tools out there to help automate here.
  • Competitors: What are they talking about?
  • Partners: What are they interested in talking about?
  • Thought leaders: What is happening out in the market around us?

We would narrow the list down to a few items that would be considered for our marquee piece — the pillar around which all other content would be derived. And then the fun really began…

3) Map the stages involved in the path to purchase

This is where ExactTarget was really able to separate from the pack and gain true leverage with both production and promotion. Instead of thinking about content as a single item like an advertisement or ebook, we spent a lot of time thinking about content as the whole customer experience. It was the information they downloaded, the events they attended, the emails they received, etc. that carried them through the path to purchase.

Screen-Shot-2015-03-11-at-11.49.15-AM-570x419In order to ensure the success of your campaign, you need to know how it will carry people through the buying journey from initial interaction through to sale. We did this by taking these concepts and mapping out all of the stages in the marketing and sales cycle under three big buckets:

  • Top of funnel
  • Middle of funnel
  • Bottom of funnel

Download your own copy of the worksheet here.

We were very intentional in our approach, which helped drive internal alignment on priorities. Notice how this content aligns with the needs of the stage the audience is in and how it plays into further steps down the funnel.


What works well is once you complete a campaign, the next one you create will add to it instead of distract from it. It is a very complementary approach for content by layering campaigns.

4) Plan for agility

This is another area where ExactTarget excelled — cultivating the ability to change based on what was working and what was not. To do it we had regular weekly updates to team members on status of what was being produced as well as how things were working that had already been promoted.

Having this in place allowed us to create so much more content with so much more impact. We found that we were all in tune with what was being done, what was working, and when we needed to pivot.

Free Download: Content Campaign Planning Template

To help you develop your own content campaigns I’ve built a spreadsheet you can use as a template to start the planning process. It is intended to be very simple to focus on the core what, where, who, and when. Once you start to fill the template in, you will see how quickly ideas come together to make a content strategy that will actually drive results.


Editor’s note: A version of this post appeared on the Meta Venture Group blog

Photo by: Greg Wass

Shawn Herring
Shawn Herring
Chief Marketing Officer / Co-Founder

Shawn Herring is a SaaS marketing executive, CMO advisor, and investor in software startups. He works hard to simplify complexity and specializes in growth by combining brand and demand strategies that scale. Currently, he is the Chief Marketing Officer/Co-Founder at Torchlite Marketing.
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