One of the greatest challenges content marketers face today is publishing enough content to fuel their campaigns. A Forrester study offers a solution: “Step down content production and step up content distribution.” It seems that many companies are doing too much of the former and not enough of the later. As a result, their content isn’t reaching enough people.

“Too many brand marketers fail to plan for the distribution and discovery of their content. The result? Significant content investments don’t reach the intended audience and have no chance to deliver value for the brand,” stated Senior Analyst Ryan Skinner and author of the report, Put Distribution at the Heart of Content Marketing.

Forrester is not the only thought leader reporting on the lack of effective content distribution and promotion. Several experts agree with this diagnosis.

“Marketers always ask me how to make more or better content, and it’s almost always the wrong question. The right question is: ‘How do I get my content in front of the right people?’ ” said Joe Chernov, vice president of marketing at InsightSquared.

“The notion that you can simply create interesting content people will magically find is a lie. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. You have to treat your content executions like a product, and launch them the same way you would launch a product,” said blogger Jay Baer, a speaker and author of Youtility.

“Great content goes unread every day on the Internet. Rather than trying to produce more or better content, marketers should focus on their distribution plans. It should be part of their overall strategy,” said Chad Pollitt, vice president of Audience at Relevance. “However, it’s likely just an afterthought for most of the 64 percent of marketers who feel they’re not using their content effectively.”

Refresher on 3 Content Distribution Avenues

You’re likely familiar with the three ways companies distribute and promote their content. Let’s briefly review them, including their pros and cons.

1. Paid content distribution. This avenue allows companies to pay to reach more people using:

  • Social media advertising
  • Content discovery tools
  • Native advertising (for example, paid-for articles)
  • Sponsored content or promoted blog posts
  • Display ads and AdWords

Pros: Paid content can help expand reach. Offers a high level of control.

Cons: Paying for content distribution is expensive. Paid content often delivers less credibility.

2. Earned content distribution. In its truest sense, earned media involves natural relationships in which customers, peers and the media recognize a company by sharing its content in these ways:

  • Social media
  • User reviews
  • Traditional media
  • Non-sponsored blog posts

Pros: Content from external sources is more credible and more trusted by consumers. It humanizes brands. It boosts SEO.

Cons: Content from external sources is the hardest to get. Companies have no control. Earned can be negative as well as positive.

3. Owned content distribution. This is content distributed over companies’ own channels, including:

  • Website and blog
  • Email marketing list
  • Followers on social media (reach varies depending on the platform)

Pros: Gives companies maximum control over content they own.

Cons: Owned delivers the least reach, because companies can only reach people who are following their owned channels.

Let’s look at three successful content distribution strategy examples.

Case Study 1: How Intel Does Paid Content Distribution

Intel has cracked the code on paid content distribution. Unlike most companies who have a “Field of Dreams” attitude (“If you build it, they will come”), Intel has adopted a “Moneyball” approach to content distribution (what the analytics tell them).

The company’s basic strategy is to publish blog posts without any initial media spend and then promote only those that gain some organic traction within hours of going live. “We’re really going to optimize and act like a day trader rather than hedge fund manager who buys and holds,” stated Intel’s Global Content and Media Strategist Luke Kintigh.

About 62 percent of Intel’s blog referral traffic comes from social, and 63 percent of social traffic comes from Facebook. As a result, about 70 percent of the company’s promotion spend is dedicated to Facebook. Intel also pays to distribute blog posts through social-recommendation widgets and experiments with promotion through, for example, Flipboard and native ad network Nativo.

Kintigh believes in the 90/10 rule: 10 percent of the content drives 90 percent of the traffic. Which posts will succeed must be discovered early. “The sooner you take action, the greater the velocity and efficiency you’ll see from your media.”

Before his current position, Kintigh was managing editor of the company’s blog, iQ, which has more than 2 million unique monthly visitors. “In the early days of iQ, we were like a chef who spent all day cooking an incredible meal—only to find an empty table come dinnertime.” Like other content marketers, Intel had “this mindset that content is king, but really distribution is more important.”

Kintigh eventually learned how to fill the dinner table with owned content distribution. He shared his insight in an eBook, How Intel iQ Does Content Promotion. Its central premise is that the distribution of content is at least as important as the quality of the product itself. Now, paid distribution is woven into Intel’s brand journalism initiative.

Case Study 2: How Coca-Cola Does Earned Media

Even though some companies believe that earned media—social media in particular—doesn’t generate tangible sales lift, Wendy Clark, senior VP of integrated marketing communications and capabilities at Coca-Cola, stands firmly behind her investments in earned media, saying that “today’s progressive marketers know better.”

Coca-Cola has generated multiple earned media success stories including these three:

London Olympic Games. Leading up to the games, Coca-Cola’s earned media campaign was activated in 110 countries with a variety of content including:

  • A 60-minute documentary on the making of the global anthem (“Moving to the Beat of the London Games”). It was broken up into multiple webisodes and mobisodes to share on social media.
  • A Beat Maker app that lets consumers create their own beats as ringtones and upload them to the Global Beat on Facebook.

2012 Super Bowl. Coca-Cola leveraged second-screen engagement during the game by live streaming the Coca-Cola polar bears. More than 9 million people tuned in to engage.

2013 Super Bowl. The company aired a 60-second ad that ended with a cliffhanging call-to-action directing viewers to, “where they could help decide the outcome by voting for their favorite team and even sabotaging their rivals in fun, ridiculous ways.”

Coca-Cola further engaged viewers by delivering real-time updates on the teams’ progress through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and photos of the Coke Chase on Tumblr and Instagram. Across these channels, fans found themselves in the middle of the action and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the characters in their pursuit of “the ultimate refresher.”

Case Study 3: How Oracle Vitrue Does Owned Media

When social media firm Vitrue (before merging with Oracle) was getting ready to launch a new brand campaign, it led with an owned media distribution plan. The campaign, called “Like Can Never Replace Love,” stressed the importance of building meaningful relationships versus merely getting clicks. Fittingly, the company’s campaign promotion focused on its own relationships with employees, partners, influencers and customers.

Erika Jolly Brookes, Vitrue’s former vice president of marketing, was clear on the channels the agency needed to reach to make an impact. The firm launched its new campaign by promoting content directly to its four key owned distribution channels—all on the same day:

  • Employees. Vitrue considers its staff to be major ambassadors for the firm, so it went big and pumped up the employees by hiring a marching band to come to the office and perform.
  • Partners. The firm built a solid base of partners on social channels, like LinkedIn. It promoted its message to them in several ways, including sending fortune cookies and Popsicles in a customized flavor, which got people sharing the news about the campaign across their social channels.
  • Influencers. Vitrue also amassed a cadre of influencers, including analysts and thought leaders who were willing to share content and promote the news.
  • Customers. Vitrue engaged customers by presenting content from the consumers’ perspective, such as success stories. The firm sent information to get customers excited and sharing the new campaign.

While paid, earned and owned content distribution channels each offer their own advantages, most agree that a mix of avenues works best. Companies should base their unique content distribution and promotion strategies on critical questions such as: What are our content goals? Who is our target audience? What format works best for each audience?

To round out this discussion, let’s compare the content distribution challenge to a long-standing philosophical dilemma: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear, does it make a noise? Similarly, if you publish your content into the world, and no one sees it, will it have an impact?