Content Strategy

How Portfolio Marketing Can Address the Problems of Your “Stretched” Content Strategy

By Kyle Harper on May 23, 2017

It's been a long, hard fight for our marketing director. For five years, she's helped grow her mid-size B2B tech brand into an online presence closer to that of a huge publisher. The team has first position SERPs coming out of their ears, consistently growing site traffic, and a well-oiled machine for producing content.

But something still seems off. Despite a seeming portfolio marketing effort, the team's ability to hit ROI-oriented goals hasn't been growing or isn't as healthy as their overall awareness performance. Engagement hasn't been as consistent as traffic, spiking and dropping off with little rhyme or reason, and all the while her brand continues to crank out new products, initiatives, and brand ideals.

It's a mess.

So while the C-suite remains largely pleased with the traffic and conversion the team is pushing, our marketing director wants to move in a new direction. She wants to reorganize and reorient so their second step after traffic is much more powerful, directing people to the specific sub-brands, product lines, and tailored experiences that actually tell the stories they're most invested in. She wants to make sure that traffic, engagement, and conversion are all growing at similar rates. She wants to make sure her content strategy isn't just pushing out content that doesn't actually make a dent. But how can she do this?

Man stretching leg

Image attribution: Abigail Keenan

Brand Stretching

Your intrepid marketing director has found herself in a position that isn't too uncommon for brands with long-standing content strategies. Your team builds a content plan around a condensed brand, works for a couple years to get that engine up and running smoothly, and in the process just pulls in any new brand developments under the ongoing strategy.

The challenge with this trap is that it's difficult to detect anything wrong. Shoehorning new products or brand ideals into your already effective strategy doesn't often result in large dips in performance (after all, it's likely that at least a portion of the audience you're already targeting might also be interested in your brand's new offerings). But it usually results in serving less specifically targeted material to an audience purely for convenience's sake, translating to poor performance that at best brings down your overall average performance. At worst, it can push away some of your previously qualified audience members who no longer feel like they're getting what they ask for when they visit your site.

It's a phenomenon I like to think of as "brand stretch." Imagine a company brand like a bag, and inside it's filled with a collection of stuff-content, products, statements, experiences-that are meant to entice specific people to reach in. When your content team has to begin accommodating a hodgepodge of new additions to the bag, you begin to run out of room. The bag stretches and gets weaker. It becomes more difficult for passersby to see what they want and reach for it. Fewer people stop by and reach in, or sometimes the bag bursts.

This is an idea that product marketers have known about for some time, speaking to the idea with terms like "the paradox of choice" or "brand confusion." But what it simply comes down to is that people expect information, products, and experiences that feel specifically tailored to them. Your brand will never have a single strategy that's able to satisfy your entire audience.

Portfolio binders

Image attribution: Michal Kulesza

Moving to the Portfolio

Once your company has grown to a point where it's no longer typified by a single product line or brand statement, it's time for your strategy to also adapt.

Portfolio marketing is one powerful way to adjust your marketing to better suit a rapidly expanding brand. It presents a simple change in thought: rather than approaching your company as a single entity to be pushed as a whole through a collection of key terms, ideas, and stories, approach your company as an array of sub-set brand experiences, each with their own essential topics, language, and goals. This doesn't necessarily entail creating separate brand identities for each of your separate offerings underneath brand. Food companies, for instance, do this all the time. General Mills cereals each have a different mascot, product title, and aesthetic that are recognizable in and of themselves, rather than just pointing to their parent company.

With a portfolio approach, every subset should remain clearly identifiable as a part of your overall brand presence, even if the expression of that overall presence is tweaked a bit for each portfolio offering. It's a model we're more familiar with than you may think. For instance, hop onto the website of most higher-education institutions, and you'll dive headfirst into a portfolio-based strategy. A more traditional, four-year university might promote their university motto as an overall brand but then offer different experiences for each major. Those interested in English probably aren't seeing much about the school's cutting-edge labs, while a biology major likely isn't learning much about the school's century rare book collection. But both of these student tracks can still support the same overall university principles.

Southern New Hampshire University is a great example of this approach because their "portfolio" is also based heavily around the nature of the student experience. Rather than just speaking to fields of study, SNHU heavily targets online and distance learners and spends time creating separate paths of content to promote these types of learning experiences differently from each other.

SNHU student experience

Outside of academia, computer tech is a common place to see this sort of strategy. Hewlett-Packard has a large amount of crossover between the printers they offer for at-home use and for use in a small business, but the content experiences that back each of these applications remains distinguishable without creating separate identities under HP. Graphics cards are another fun (and often extreme) place to also see this difference in action. While a portion of the market wants to use a graphics card to improve their video gaming performance, another portion of the market is seeking the power necessary to run complex multimedia editing or engineering software. They work and play as distinct branding style experiences that tie back to the same single product and brand.

Reorganizing your marketing efforts around a portfolio allows you the flexibility to approach each of your offerings as its own experience, without going through the work, headache, and bureaucracy necessary to create new sub-brands. It's a reorganization that provides a handful of powerful benefits for a marketing team.

Reveal Optimization Opportunities

Overall brand strategies can sometimes make it difficult to identify exactly what isn't working with your content engine, because everything is mixed together with one goal in mind. By creating subsets of your content, however, it makes it much simpler for your team to quickly know which ideas or tactics aren't working and then address them.

Simpler Structure for Focused Efforts

The more your company scales, the more difficult it becomes for your team to keep all of their balls in the air at the same time. Organizing your content strategy around buckets of product lines, brand ideals, or similar experiences makes it easy to focus your team's efforts on a single project at a time to keep moving forward.

Built-In ROI Reporting

C-suite professionals are always looking to know the exact value of the marketing efforts they're funding. It's a constant struggle for marketers to keep up with-especially with ever-growing marketing tech stacks. By organizing your content around products and experiences that have similar goals, it gives your team a chance to regroup and set up tracking that meets the needs of your specific marketing efforts.

A portfolio setup might look different from brand to brand. Some companies have a long catalog of products that should each have their own specific content plan. Other companies have a shorter product list but have to contend with wildly different purposes or presentations for each of those products. Identifying what's best for your own team simply comes down to two questions: what specific values do we offer that actually bring people in, and toward what goals do each of these product lines aim? In this way, your team will be able to pivot to focus on customer interests that lead to better storytelling, while keeping your brand's ROI concerns as a forefront focus of everything you produce-all without "stretching" your brand.

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Kyle Harper

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?