The 4 Phases of The Content Lifecycle

A Guide to Content Marketing

“Content marketing.” is a term that is coming into vogue in the digital marketing space lately. What’s the buzz all about? But it is much more than a buzzword. It is a discipline that will revolutionize marketing and your marketing process.

What is Content?

No matter the platform, publication, or format, content is everything that conveys meaning. Wikipedia defines it as “Information and experiences that may provide value for an end-user/audience in specific contexts.” Rahel Bailie says, “Simply put, content is contextualized data.”

Web content is anything that appears on a website, and any of the elements that make up an interactive experience, including:

  • text
  • logos
  • graphics
  • video
  • audio
  • downloadable files (PDF)
  • buttons and icons.

What is Content Marketing?

Content Marketing is earning eyeballs through content.  Hollis Thomases of Inc. defines content marketing as:

Producing and leveraging one’s own branded content for marketing purposes, rather than ‘renting’ advertising time and space” on someone else’s media.

Why Content Marketing Now?

Content marketing is becoming an explosive force in marketing today for several reasons:

  • Diminished efficacy of traditional advertising: There have been diminishing returns on  ad dollars spent.
  • People crave good information: In the past, marketers were limited to buying visibility within someone else’s content using media  they felt attracted the right audience. The Internet now allows companies to create their own content, and the quality can far exceed whatever else the audience can find.
  • Control of the consumer experience: As people become more skeptical of mass advertising, they are tuning out, or switching the channel. Why rely on expensive media when marketers can instead attract, engage and sell to its audience from within its own content?
  • The Explosion of Social media: Social media ups the need to to constantly “feed the content beast.” But poor gets ignored.
  • Search Engines Require Content: Search engines value fresh and relevant content. Now they also integrate social sharing into their algorithms and query results, so new content plays a greater role than ever.

Caution: Not a Free or Stand-Alone Strategy

An article by Inc. discusses the fallacy of using social media as an excuse to cut marketing spend.  One of the world’s largest advertisers, Procter & Gamble, with an annual ad budget of about $10 billion, announced that they would be eliminating “1,600 ‘overhead’ or nonmanufacturing jobs, including in marketing,” deferring to “digital marketing to help contain media spending long-term.”

Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald credited the “1.8 billion in free impressions generated by the Old Spice campaign in recent years,” stating that with “things like Facebook and Google and others, we find that return on investment of the advertising when properly designed, when the big idea is there, can be much more efficient.”

The fallacy of this is that social media isn’t free.  Although the Old Spice campaign went viral, these “free” impressions didn’t come free. P&G hired one of the most innovative – and expensive – ad agencies, Wieden & Kennedy, engaging a talented team to conceive, script, produce, and  distribute and these “non-ads.” The strategy required the talents of a  hunky guy (Isaiah Mustafa), and the purchase of strategically placed media spots, the bulk of which were on broadcast and cable TV. The spots and ensuing viral campaign were supported by Isaiah’s appearances on late-night and radio shows and his own overnight talk show. The total cost of this “free” social media campaign: one industry insider estimated it at $10 million to $15 million.

It is also important to bear in mind that digital marketing, while increasingly important, is just one tool, and different products call for different strategies and mixes of  media and marketing tools. Marketing must be integrated.

Content Strategy and the Content Lifecycle

Content strategy is an emerging field of practice encompassing every aspect of content. Kristina Halvorson, in Content Strategy for the Web defines content strategy as “the practice of planning for content creation, delivery, and governance.” It includes such aspects as:

  • design
  • development
  • analysis
  • presentation
  • production
  • management and governance
  • measurement and evaluation.

The Content Lifecycle:  Rahel Bailie recognizes the iterative content lifecycle as “a repeatable process or methodology that manages content within the entire content lifecycle.”  She shares her methodology: “The content lifecycle is a repeatable system that governs the management of content. The processes within a given content lifecycle  are  system-agnostic. The processes are established as part of a content strategy, and implemented during the content lifecycle.”

The content lifecycle covers four macro stages: 1.Strategic analysis, 2. Content collection 3. Management of the content 4. Publishing (publication and post-publication activities.) The Analysis quadrant relates to content strategy, while the other three quadrants are tactical , focusing on implementation of the strategy.

  1. Analysis:  The analysis phase concerns with the strategic aspects of content. A content strategist, business analyst or information architect examines the need for various types of content within the context of the business and the content consumers for multiple outputs on multiple platforms. On a new project with new content, this is the beginning of the process. The process may also start somewhere else in the cycle, as when current content is being transitioned to a future state.
  2. Collection: Collection includes the garnering of content for use within the framework set out in the analysis phase. Collection may include 1. development (creating content or editing the content of others), 2.content ingestion (syndication of content from other sources), 3. incorporation of localized content, or 4. content integration and convergence (such as integrating product descriptions from an outside organization with prices from a costing system, or the convergence of editorial and user-generated content from social media for simultaneous display.)
  3. Management: Management concerneds the efficient and effective use of content. In organizations using technology to automate the management of content,  management assumes use of a CMS. In organizations with smaller amounts of content, with little need for workflow control and virtually no single-sourcing requirements, manual management is possible. However, in large enterprises, there is too much content, and there are too many variations of content output, to manage the content without some sort of system to automate whatever functions can be automated. The content configuration potential is enormous, and builds on the information gathered during the analysis and collection phases. The solutions will be highly situational, and revolve around the inputs and outputs, the required content variables, the complexity of the publishing pipeline, and the technologies in play. The most basic questions are around adoption of standards and technologies, and determining components, content granularity, and how far up or down the publishing pipeline to implement specific techniques.
  4. Publish: Publishing deals with content delivery to its output platform, and ensuing transformations, manipulations, or uses of the content. Post-publishing considerations include as re-use and retention policies.

Collaborative Content Strategy Diagram

 Content Strategy Execution

The many perspectives involved in content strategy and execution can involve numerous professionals with varied training and education. Some may specialize in content analysis, involving work with metadata, taxonomy, search engine optimization, other ways to support content. Another discipline is web editorial, which involves strategies, guidelines, and tools, and may extend to organizational change management as it  may require developing new forms of content, such as multimedia, or various “presence management” technologies like microblogging. Another discipline in content strategy is information architecture. Content strategy may involve writing site copy for new website pages or adapting the content on existing ones.

Some factors and considerations in successful execution include:

  • What is the purpose/objective? You will want to build a content strategy to guide your process–with KPIs in mind like ones for branding, membership, lead generation, or ecommerce.
  • Resources: Who will do the production work, and how many different departments will need to be involved in the process? Who in your organization knows the subject matter? What kinds of content do you want to produce? Do you have capabilities in-house to produce them all?
  • Tools: To produce this content, you’re going to need: planning tools like an editorial calendar; production and creation tools like software and recording devicesdistribution tools get your content out effectively; and monitoring and reporting tools to measure results.
  • Ownership issues: Creating original content is one thing. But sharing someone else’s content for your own marketing purposes can lead to problems if you’re not careful–particularly about attribution.
  • What assets you currently have to leverage:  In your pre-existing assets, are there print ad campaigns you can turn into shareable slideshows? Research findings that can be turned into white papers? Blog posts that could become podcasts? Case studies that would make great webinars?
  • Quality first: Ensure your content has real value for your consumer. Inform your readers; educate them; tell a good story. You need to leave them feeling better off than before.


Shelly Bowen provides this deliverables list as a guide:

 What Are You Trying to Achieve?
  • Summary of company goals

What Do You Own?

  • Content inventory or audit
  • Content assessment (quality and quantity)

What’s Missing?

  • Content gap analysis
  • Comparative content analysis
  • Competitive analysis

How Do You Present the Words?

  • User personas
  • User scenarios (think believable stories)
  • Editorial strategy
  • Core messaging strategy
  • Sample content
  • Content templates
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy
  • Brand strategy
  • Metadata strategy
  • Style guide
  • Glossary

Where Does It Go?

  • Copy deck
  • Channel strategy
  • Content conversion/migration strategy
  • Content flow schematic
  • Community and social strategy
  • Visual presentation recommendations
  • Wireframes

How Do We Make It Happen?

  • Content approval workflow
  • Communication plans
  • Community moderation policies
  • Content production workshops and training
  • Content sourcing review and plans (people, tools, budget, time)

How Do We Stay Organized?

  • CMS requirements
  • Business rules
  • Taxonomies
  • Responsibilities
  • Schedules

How Do We Know It’s Right?

  • CMS requirements
  • Usability tests
  • Benchmarks
  • Checks and balances
  • Summary of company goals
  • Success metrics

 What’s Coming Up?

  • Editorial calendar

Reading and Resources:


Work Templates and Guides