01 August 2023 |

A content type hierarchy to keep you sane and excelling

By Tracey Wallace

It seems like a whole era has come and gone since I left for maternity leave. 

  • The rise of ChatGPT and the mass confusion over how it would affect the content marketing world
  • Mass layoffs esp. for content folks across a variety of industries (not necessarily related to ChatGPT or any content AI tool…) 
  • News stories about the reduction in use of ChatGPT––and content AI still being popular, but less “doom and gloom”
  • The hiring by many orgs of more content folks as the importance of thought leadership, sales collateral, and more continues to shine on through. 

It’s really been a whirlwind, and to all of you working through it day-to-day, I hope you’ve taken a few vacations or mental health days to give your brain and your body a break. 

In the meantime, I want to level-set a bit. Content teams are often notorious for having too much work. It’s ultimately a prioritization issue (often with upper management, and sometimes due to an over-reliance on direct attribution methods, but I digress). 

So, today, I wanted to talk through my content type/theme hierarchy and how I like to prioritize my work. 

This isn’t at all about strategy. Instead,you can apply strategy as the layer over these content types. It doesn’t make these types any less important, nor does it necessarily change their order of importance. 

The only that that would change their order of importance is your company size and content backlog. That is to say that for many larger organizations, different teams manage different parts of this hierarchy. Like, product marketing may manage sales collateral. The web team and copywriters may manage landing pages. The education team may manage education content. 

And still, even with those other teams––and I’ve been lucky to work at many orgs in which I had that much support––content marketing teams often still get asked to write content that falls into a variety of these categories. 

So, let’s prioritize them. Talk about the benefits of each, and why I like to prioritize this way (hint: I think it’ll help you keep your job). 

All right––here’s my hierarchy. 

  1. Sales collateral 
  2. Landing pages
  3. Case studies 
  4. Downloadables 
  5. Education content 
  6. Thought leadership 
  7. Other blogs (i.e. example type content, listicles, round-ups, etc.) 

Now, a lot of content marketing teams focus on the latter part of this hierarchy without ever mastering the more fundamental parts. That’s a mistake––and it seems that it was a mad rush to SEO dominance over the last decade or so that made that mistake so ubiquitous. 

But SEO means nothing if it doesn’t convert. It’s better to reduce your SEO traffic, but increase its effectiveness. Plus, SEO shouldn’t be the driving factor behind why you create pieces of content (not all the time at least. It’s ok for that to be the reason some of the time, but that’s a different newsletter). SEO can be applied to all of the fundamental content types too––as an optimization tool rather than the primary reason it was created. And, you’ll often find in doing so that you increase the effectiveness of your SEO because you’re targeting the right (albeit smaller) audience. 

As I alluded above, there’s a method to the madness here and I truly think that this specific hierarchy helps shield you and your team from content AI takeovers within your company. That’s because this order of content types turns you and your team into both brand experts and reliable internal collaborators––at the same time. 

Always remember that the first audience you need to impress and build trust with in any job is your internal one. These are the folks who determine your pay and your promotions. They are your team, but also your jury. 

Here is how this line up on content type priority sets you up for success:

1. Sales collateral 

Sales collateral gets you close to the sales team and the objections they encounter regularly. 

The first content you’ll create here is likely objection handling one-pagers or even blogs (depending on how explicit the objection handling is). 

There are three huge benefits for this type of content: 

  1. You build close relationships with your sales team.
  2. You understand the biggest objections for your potential customers, and learn how to position against them effectively. 
  3. The feedback loop here is tight. If an asset doesn’t work for sales, they won’t use it. If it does, they will. This is a goldmine of learning for you and your team. 

2. Landing pages 

Landing pages are a broad content type, and at many organizations, content marketers don’t write them––copywriters do. 

But we aren’t in an economic environment to split hairs here. Most folks within the B2B SaaS world, for instance, don’t care about the difference between these two roles. They just care that what they need written gets done.

So, if your team is asked to do these or take these on, do it. It’s a good opportunity for several things: 

  1. You build relationships with cross-functional teams including product marketing, paid media / performance marketing, and the web team. 
  2. You can leverage the objection handling wins you’ve had to reduce those objections before they hit the sales team. 

**Rest assured that if your sales team is hearing a ton of a specific kind of objection, they are hearing only from the small minority of folks who think it—and are willing to admit it or tell them. Address these objections head on in landing page copy to increase conversion and to reduce the need for that specific type of objection handling. 

You can rinse and repeat sales collateral and landing pages all day long as needed. For a lot of content marketing teams, especially those that are only one person, this might be all they do. 

That isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of work in here. 

  • You can apply SEO strategies within the blog content you post. 
  • There’s design work to be done for the one-pagers (and many content marketers take that on. Helloooo Canva!).
  • There’s a lot of research to be done to address the objections themselves, get that out in market and test its effectiveness.
  • You’ll likely need nurture stream copy updated with proper objection handling as well (I love to copy AI for this since I’m not as skilled at writing short form, but can feed AI my longer form, and get it to give me several iterations of draft email copy. I can edit from there, but it’s a huge time saver). 

And then much of this will need to get updated as you learn what works best, as the company you work for or your competitors release new features, etc. 

Just sales collateral and landing pages alone can have an SEO strategy applied, a demand gen strategy applied, etc. 

But, let’s keep building because the next content type can be critical.

3. Case studies 

Now many of you may be thinking: “What? Case studies as the third priority? No way. My sales team says these are the #1 priority, and we need case studies to link to on our landing pages anyway. We have to start with these!”

If this is you, then you are likely further along on the content hierarchy than you think.

I’ve worked at plenty of companies that had no sales collateral or landing pages, and as a result, struggled to get new clients. And, you need clients––happy ones!––to produce case studies. 

Cart before the horse, here. 

But yes, case studies are incredibly valuable as sales collateral by themselves, and they can support existing sales collateral by just adding in a quote from a customer and linking off. 

Here are the benefits of case studies as a content type:

  1. Gets you the voice of the customer––and inside the customer’s head. Heck, you can even leverage what you know about common objections to hear how happy customers perceive them, and then use their own language to help capture more potential customers just like them.
    1. Moreover, the more customers you talk to, the better you understand your tool, the value you provide, the customer types that it works for, the objections they maybe haven’t even told sales, etc. With this information, you can share customer suggestions yourself with the development team or customer support to create a strong feedback loop between interviews and brand action. 
  2. Build strong relationships between you, sales, customer support, the dev team, and the customers of course. 

One thing I really love to do with case study interviews is to, where it’s possible, expand them into longer storytelling pieces for the blog. 

Most case studies are short, necessarily so, and don’t always get into the real nuances of how a customer leveraged your tool. That’s OK, because you can create a blog post that tells that larger story, links back to the case study, and even tries to rank for some keywords. 

One interview. Two assets. Great SEO fundamentals (interlining across blog and landing pages for the win!). Two varying points-of-view to share on social. 

If all you did was sales collateral, landing pages, and case studies––you’d be in a great place. 

4. Downloadables 

Downloadables are typically used as part of a demand generation effort. 

Once you have the sales collateral you need, some landing pages up, and some case studies produced––often you’ll find that a company wants to build a lead pipeline (for several reasons) and one of the best ways to do that is with downloadable or gated assets. 

This can come in the form of:

  • White papers
  • One-pagers 
  • Online tools like calculators 
  • Webinars 
  • Online conferences 
  • Research 

Anything that someone has to give their email in order to view or use falls under this category. 

Please don’t get discouraged or close off your creative mind based on the term “downloadables” itself. These are so many cool ways to capture folks’ email for demand gen, and the more creative and relevant you can be for your target audience, the better! 

What this helps with:

  • Builds strong relationships with the performance team and often also with the PR team, the development team, the creative team, the partner team, and again with customers. 
  • Puts content as a strong touchpoint in pipeline generation, and therefore downstream revenue. The more you can make the case that content positively impacts revenue, the better off you are within your organization––and downloadables often draw a clearer line than other content types (not that the other types aren’t as important). 

You are likely noticing a trend with the hierarchy, but let me repeat it: if you stopped here and only worked on sales collateral, landing pages, case studies and downloadables––you’d be in a great spot. 

5. Education content 

Depending on the size of your company, education content is sometimes covered by the “education team.” This is true at Klaviyo. It was true at BigCommerce. From my colleagues I’ve worked with from Shopify, it was true there, too. 

But, it’s not true everywhere—especially if you are a smaller organization. And this kind of content is crucial because your company needs to be the expert at using your tool. Otherwise, why would anyone trust you that it does what you say it does?

Education content, then, is exactly what it sounds like: How-to do something content leveraging your company as the tool / method of use. It should increase screenshots––videos are helpful, too! And it should get detailed. Someone should be able to follow this step by step and accomplish their goal. 

What this content is great for:

  • To hit goals around branded SEO (typically mid to bottom of funnel) and retention––or help the teams whose jobs those are (the SEO / web team and customer support). 
  • Helps sales to close deals in the funnel by making it clear how easy something is to solve on your platform. 

It’s even better if your how-to content makes it clear how to do something easily on your platform that cannot be done on your competitors. 

6. Thought leadership 

If you’ve been following me for a while, I really dislike the term “thought leadership” as a content type. I’m a big believer that “thought leadership” is an outcome of content marketing, not a type of content marketing. 

Alas, executives use this language and I don’t want to lead you astray by thinking you won’t also have to use this language. You want to speak in the language your executives speak, so––we’re using the term here, as they typically use it. 

Thought leadership, as executives have defined it for me, is content that has a strong point of view on a topic, typically controversial (lightly so), and that makes the company look like they are ahead of the curve in thinking about a specific topic. 

There are a lot of ways you can create this kind of content. Here are just a few:

  • Research and reports 
  • Interview / ghostwrite pieces from an executive’s point of view 
  • Online conferences or webinars with experts in the field (and repurposing their controversial takes on your blog)
  • Brainstorming topics within your content team, similar to a news team, and then interviewing experts to see if that theory holds––and if so, publishing a content piece on it. That’s what we did for this DTC isn’t dead piece, for instance. 

Something that is really, really important for this type of content, though, is expertise. This of course makes it great content for SEO, too, since EEAT is more and more important. 

Also, in theory, this type of content is just more fun to produce than the final one in the hierarchy (below). That’s because it should have a new take, a strong stance, and proof and supporting evidence from reliable sources. 

These are the pieces most like journalism, in a way, and for me, they’ve always been my favorite. So much so that I’ve strayed from publishing *only* this type of content, to infusing this approach into everything my teams publish. 

But recently I’m seeing the tide shifts…and I can’t tell you right now with confidence that my team won’t be spending a whole lot more time on news-y pieces in which we leverage our network to tell stories no one else can. 

If that’s what so many folks say is thought leadership, well, call me a convert. 

Benefits of this type of content:

  • Executives love it! And you always want to be winning favor with your executives. 
  • It can be fun! It puts content folks in the seat as journalists, telling an interesting story, trying to prove a point, and doing it all in 2K words or less. 
  • It’s different from a lot of what is out there, especially if you do it well. And by being different, it stands out, stops potential customers from scrolling, and gets them to even––hard to believe––read! 

7. Other blogs 

And finally, we’ve reached the lowest rung on the hierarchy––but probably the most published type of content by B2B organizations. This type of content is typically listicle in nature, and includes:

  • Examples-type content. Example headline: 13 examples of effective user-generated content 
  • Ideas-type content: Example headline: 22 expert-backed ideas for your 2023 BFCM campaign 

There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of content, and in fact it can be incredibly powerful. It is often great for SEO (historically), and is where a lot of content marketing teams for larger organizations focus––since some of the content covered in this hierarchy is covered by other teams. 

The problem with this type of content is that it is so ubiquitous now. 

Moreso, the problem is that many teams publish this kind of content without the benefit of understanding their sales team’s most common objections, and how to properly handle them. 

Or, that teams write this content without having interviewed a ton of customers for case studies, and therefore not really being able to provide solid stats that prove the listed examples or ideas can work (and missing a strong interlinking opportunity). 

Content marketers must have a strong understanding of their target audience in order to do these kinds of posts well and honestly––rather than just putting up a listicle of the content marketer’s favorite brands on the platform, or the ones they think are the prettiest. Pretty doesn’t always covert, and we don’t want to get into a habit of lying or manipulating information for our readers. 

One big rule I have for my teams is that if we are recommending something, we need to know it can work. And to know, we must have proof. 

OK, so the benefits to this type of content:

  • It can be a lot easier than other types of content listed here, esp. If you’ve followed the hierarchy. Therefore, it can serve as filler content on slow weeks. 
  • It can help an SEO strategy and diversify the keywords you go after––especially for your non-brand SEO work.