Content marketing has become one of the dominant, if not the dominant form of online marketing today. But frankly, it takes a lot of time to work. At least that’s what I hear from some of my clients.

I know we’re supposed to tell our clients, bosses and stakeholders that content marketing takes patience—that we shouldn’t treat it like a campaign. But there are many companies who may never have the patience, the resources or the stomach to stick with a content marketing strategy long enough for it to bear fruit.

Does that mean you can never do content marketing? Or if you do, that you’ll be perpetually stuck with the other 62 percent of content marketers who aren’t seeing results?

No. I believe there’s a middle way.

I believe that you can borrow tactics and strategies that others (such as direct marketers like Jeff Walker and Rich Schefren) have used before to short-cut your time to content marketing ROI without investing in building a full-fledged in-house media department.

How can this be possible?

Introducing the Modified Content Marketing Approach

To explain what the modified content marketing approach is, I think it’s best to compare and contrast it to classic content marketing, as we know it.

With classic, full-blown content marketing, your goal is to build a content destination. You create a blog, a resource center or a honey-pot that you hope will become a major content resource for your niche. Think American Express’s OPEN Forum for small business, or Blackbaud’s npENGAGE for online nonprofit fundraising.

These efforts are characterized by:

  • A regular schedule of frequently published short form and long form content
  • Building a visible content brand for your industry
  • Use of content that spans the sales cycle—from attraction content to conversion, sales and loyalty content
  • Driving traffic via keyword optimization, social media promotion, native advertising, PR and guest posting

In other words, large, coordinated efforts that look more like a publication than a marketing department. In fact, “becoming the media” has been the rallying cry for content marketers for a while now.

The modified content marketing approach, on the other hand, is a lot less ambitious. Its goal is not to create a content destination, drive tons of SEO traffic and social media shares, or follow a strict editorial calendar.

The goal of a modified content strategy is to drive a niche target market of subscribers into your database through the use of a content cannonball, and then execute a focused spurt of blog and email content to nurture your prospects into customers.

A modified content marketing strategy pushes the content destination and content brand concepts to a much lower priority. Instead, it focuses on driving as many subscribers as possible through an initial, focused campaign with the content cannonball as the catalyst. It is then followed by a spurt of short-form content that is used in an email automation campaign to nurture your prospects.

It looks something like this:

The Modified Content Marekting Approach

The initial focus is an epic long-form content piece (e.g., an eBook, guide to your industry niche or major research report). This is called the content cannonball because its purpose is to make a big splash in the market. It is designed to be the focus of PR efforts, attract buzz in the market, and drive subscriptions.

Following that, another focused effort is spent on creating between 10 and 20 blog posts and associated content that will be used in an auto-responder campaign designed to build demand for your product.

The dripped articles, sent over a period of weeks or even months, serves the same purpose as the classic online product launch. Each communication is designed to progressively take the prospect from know and like, to trust and finally buy.

Let me delve into the individual pieces of the modified content strategy, with specific examples to illustrate my points.

The Content Cannonball

As I mentioned above, the content cannonball is your magnum opus. Wikipedia says the magnum opus is: “…the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of an artist.” You’re really trying to make an impact with this piece of content.

The content cannonball can be an ultimate guide to your industry, a new concept, original research, or even a full-length book.

A perfect example is Relevance’s eBook, “The Content Promotion Manifesto,” written by Chad Pollitt. The Manifesto put Relevance on the map as the content promotion agency. It was originally designed to be sold on Amazon and is subsequently longer and more in-depth than the standard lead generation eBook. It was even mentioned by OneSpot as one of their 10 must-read content marketing books.

It is definitely Pollitt and Relevance’s “magnum opus.”

Promote the Content Cannonball

The next part is promotion, the focus of the Content Promotion Manifesto. With modified content marketing, the promotion of the content cannonball is planned from the very beginning, and takes on many of the characteristics of a book launch. But instead of driving sales, the purpose is to drive subscriptions.

When big data provider Infochimps was pivoting from its earlier business model as a seller of data into a big data infrastructure provider, their challenge was to attract a completely new client base.

To quickly attract a large number of new leads, Amanda McGuckin Hager, Infochimp’s director of marketing at the time, commissioned a joint study with the SQL Server Worldwide User Group ( about big data. They published the results in a major research report entitled “CIOs and Big Data: What Your IT Team Wants You To Know”.

This was one of the first reports of this kind ever published, and became Infochimp’s magnum opus. And because the study was conducted jointly with SSWUG, promotion to all association members was a fait accompli, garnering a large number of downloads and subscriptions in a very short period.

But McGuckin Hager went further. In her presentation to the Austin Inbound Meetup, McGuckin Hager described how she used traditional PR to promote the study to industry press, generating industry buzz for the report.

So did the Infochimps content cannonball make a splash? It sure did. They increased their house database by 94 percent, and grew demand 358 percent to produce a multimillion-dollar pipeline.

Drive Email Marketing Through Automation Sequences

After you make a splash with your content cannonball and have driven as many subscribers into your marketing database as possible, then you must nurture them to the point where they’re ready to buy (or at least ready to talk to a sales person).

Use an auto-responder to drip nurturing content to them over time using a sequence of emails designed to generate awareness and trust, and ultimately get your prospects excited about your offering. The concept is similar to a product launch sequence.

A recent example of a marketer successfully using this method is Neville Medhora and his Kopywriting Kourse blog.

Medhora is a brilliant copywriter, but his blogging is fairly sporadic. His last three blog posts were published July 30th, August 14th and Sept. 3rd, or more or less every two weeks.

But I receive emails from him every one to three days. Just look at my inbox:

Medhora Inbox

It feels like Medhora is producing content all the time (and the content is really valuable). But they’re all blog posts he’s written in the past scheduled into his autoresponder sequence.

I read almost everything he sends, and I even bought a couple of courses as a result of the emails he’s sent, all thanks to his autoresponder marketing.

Content marketing has become the most effective form of marketing in the era of almost infinite competition for attention. But it requires a long, sustained effort to really pay off. A content marketing consultant and friend of mine from Germany recently told me he advises his customers not to expect ROI until one year, or in some cases even two years, after they get started.

For those who don’t have the resources, in-house talent or patience, the solution could be the modified content marketing approach. By focusing on a large, up-front effort to create a content cannonball that drives subscriptions, and executing a product-launch type of email marketing sequence, you can leverage the concepts of content marketing (i.e., giving away value) without the long-term sustained effort typical of the media company approach.