The number one topic of conversation around the office these days is the content marketing stack, and it’s not hard to see why. Choosing the right collection of tools can be frustrating and confusing, especially for a new company operating on a budget.

But it’s not only the newbies who want to know. We work with dozens of content marketers from companies of all sizes, and it seems like everyone is asking the same basic questions:

What is the optimal content marketing stack? and How do I get the most bang for my buck?

There is plenty of information out there about content marketing tools— such as this graphic from Curata or this one from Marketing Tech. These graphics are awesome, but they often show a universe of tools large enough to trigger an existential crisis.

Luckily, the truth is that developing a content marketing stack doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. Avert decision paralysis by categorizing each of your content marketing tools into one of the following 4 buckets.

 

 

1. Ideation Generation & Research Tools

According to Kapost, 99% of marketers think that a steady stream of ideas is crucial for marketers, yet only about half of them feel that they lack enough ideas to be successful.

To be sure, coming up with constant content ideas is challenging, but I’ve found that a simple shift in mindset makes it much less intimidating. When I think of idea generation, I think of it as a combination of inspiration and research. Inspiration is the spark and research is how to stoke the fire.

Idea Discovery: There’s discovery the free way (Google.com) and then there’s advanced discovery. Google News Alerts and or a catered plan such as Mention.com (free, plans starting at $29) are a good way to stay up-to-date on things.

Influencer List Building: To become experts, writers need to follow industry leaders religiously until they learn the ropes. Buzzsumo is currently the best-in-class solution for building twitter influencer lists (with plans starting at $99), though Followerwonk (now owned by Moz.com) is gaining momentum.

For enterprise, there are many different solutions: Radian6, Sprinklr, Spredfast, and Percolate (with plans starting in the thousands). These offer targeted listening post options, though they are generally overkill if you’re not in the Fortune 1000.

Unique Data: LexisNexis is a great way to gather unique data (cost in the hundreds to thousands— though Contently.com has been offering Lexis Nexis plans for $23.99 to writers registered on their platform). The advantage of LexisNexis is that they provide sources you’re unlikely to come across on Google. Communities on Linkedin or Google Plus can also give you unique data, if you take the time to look through.

Audience Testing: Quora (free) is a great source if you have an idea for an article. You can ask a question on the platform to see if there’s any interest in the topic before you start writing. TypeForm (free, paid plans starting at $20) is most useful if you have a captive audience, or you’re sending people to your site. It allows you to easily survey your audience. If you’re looking for enterprise options, check out Nielsen Buzzmetrics or Brandwatch (plans starting in the thousands).

Comprehensive Ideation Solutions: Oz is a comprehensive idea generation (plans start at $40 and range to hundreds for teams) platform. Obviously, I’m biased here because I run this company, but a big reason I founded Oz in the first place is that content ideation is currently such a disjointed process. In fact, when I was running content marketing campaigns at my previous agency, research and ideation would routinely take up 40% or more of my budget! Oz integrates major functions such as list-building (including BuzzSumo integration); unique data sources (including RSS, Community Data, Quora); idea pipeline; as well as connects directly to Content Creation Workflow Management systems (Trello, etc.).

 

2. Content Creation Workflow Management

Trello is our favorite workflow management software (we use it at Oz), and it has the potential of working extremely well for most small to mid-sized marketing companies. Its interface is more intuitive than most of the paid options out there. One feature that it lacks is a calendar function—fortunately, you can easily use Google Calendars or WordPress calendar to manage that.

If Trello just doesn’t cut it for you, there are plenty of enterprise level options available. However, before you take out your checkbook, keep in mind that there are only a couple of scenarios in which enterprise options really become helpful:

  • Your team has grown to over 5 users
  • You have to have check-offs from management or legal for content you’re creating.

If you don’t fit into either of these categories, you’ll probably want to stick with Trello and save your extra budget for more writers. But once you hit that threshold, there are workflow tools made especially to meet the needs of content marketers.

Mid-tier options include Ebyline ($50/ user), which is probably the easiest to get up and going with a simple calendar as well as writer network and Rundown.

Some enterprise options are Kapost (plans start at $2500/month), Contently (plans starting at $2500/month and Newscred: (plans start at $2950).

 

3. Distribution

Optimizing distribution has been the most costly part of any ad campaign, yet most novice content marketers skip this part.

Don’t drop the mic on distribution, and help your content gain the traction it deserves.

Consider that traditionally, for every 25 cents marketers have spent on creative and production, they spend 75 cents on media and distribution. And that’s for a CPG brand. For a luxury brand, it’s generally closer to 10 cents for creative and 90 cents for media buy and distribution.

Social Distribution: Consider that social resharing drives more traffic than just about anything, according to Tomasz Tunguz. If you’re just starting out, try Buffer or Hootsuite (free to cheap for starters), or Edgar (currently $49/ mo).

Email Distribution: Shane Snow of Contently mentioned in a meetup chat that about 80% of their content engagement comes from their email newsletter. For most marketers, email solutions should be the second thing you set up after social distribution. Some options include Mailchimp, (12,000 emails for free, plans start at $10) which offers easy emails with decent templates, and Curated.co (plans start at $25/ month).

PR Tools: If you’re doing blogger outreach there is a lot of innovation going on in the space. Consider for example, GroupHigh, or Diadoki (plans start at $1500). Both plans streamline the outreach process to ask for prospective influencers to share your content.

Paid Distribution: Once you’ve mastered the above, consider Taboola and Outbrain as tools for distribution (start at $10/ day).

 

4. Metrics

If money makes the world go ‘round, measurement data makes the content marketing world go ‘round.

Analytics: Analytics will help you determine what works and what doesn’t. A free program is Google Analytics: “GA” will show you 80% of what you need to know as a beginning content marketer, though to get the most out of it, you’ll have to do a few things such as set up goal tracking. For paid options, look at Chartbeat or KissMetrics, (both good mid-tier options). Simply Measured, and Simple Reach cater themselves to the largest tiers of publishers.

Conversion Optimization Measurement: These programs really straddle two buckets—distribution and metrics—but on our team, we consider these tools as part of our metrics bucket because the skillset required is generally more associated with a marketing operations person rather than with a writer or editor. (Although all writers and editors should get intimate with analytics output at some point.)

These tools are also much more specific to B2B or lead capture-based marketing because at this point, you’re optimizing for lead conversion. Payboard is a useful tool for conversion optimization (plans start at $30/ month). It will track your lead to conversion path and allow you to optimize continuously. Their weekly reports are helpful to track where a user drops off on the onboarding flow. A lot of this can be done through Google Analytics, but unlike GA, Payboard offers the ability to insert “Boosters” or recommend pages to a user. SumoMe is also a good option which offers both lead capture boxes as well as heat-mapping. (free to $100+)

Landing Page A/B Testing: Optimizely and Unbounce are the most commonly used, and both work well for testing which landing page is mostly likely to convert a user.

Comprehensive Conversion Optimization to Engagement Suites: I recommend Intercom (plans start at $50 — thousands), as it has really become the gold standard for this category. The Intercom solution also encompasses a lot more than simply conversion optimization.

 

Here’s your bill:

Even if you’re just starting out, you’ll want to have a solution in place for all 4 of these buckets. Yet a basic package doesn’t have to be costly, for each of the options, you’ve got paid or free versions.

 

Oz’s content marketing stack cost:

Idea Generation and Research:

  • Oz ($40/mo plan)

Workflow Management:

  • Trello (free)
  • Google Drive (free)
  • Google Calendar (free)
  • WordPress Calendar (free)

Distribution:

  • Hootsuite ($14.99/ month)
  • Mailchimp ($10/month)

Metrics:

  • Google Analytics (free)
  • io (free)

Total Monthly Cost: $64.99*            

*though, of course, we don’t actually bill ourselves for Oz

 

Enterprise client’s content marketing stack cost:

*This is an approximate budget for one of our client’s at a Fortune 1000 brand.

Idea Generation and Research:

  • Google, Google Alerts, Radian6 Social Listening (~$5,000 /month)
  • Buzzsumo ($299/month)
  • Oz Plan ($299/ month)

Workflow Management:

  • Newscred billed annually ($10k/ month)

Distribution:

  • Hootsuite ($400/ month)
  • Mail Stack= Marketing Automation= Hubspot ($2400/ month)
  • Adwords, Adroll, Outbrain, and direct media buy of sponsored content (~$75,000/ month)

Metrics:

  • Chartbeat ($500/ month)
  • Unbounce ($4,000/ month)

Total Monthly Cost: $103,000

 

What’s does your content marketing stack look like? I’d love to hear from you– leave any short cuts, pro-tips, or funny jokes in the comments, or say hi on twitter @ideasbyoz or @mattlovett.